With Wayne Rooney ruled out for ‘several weeks’ with a knee ligament injury, how could Louis van Gaal deal with the absence of his Manchester United captain? Here are five ideas…
Use Anthony Martial centrally
It isn’t a groundbreaking idea. Anthony Martial is, after all, a striker by trade. The Frenchman fulfilled the role for Monaco in his two years at the Ligue Un club, while he has impressed when used centrally at United since joining in the summer. The 20-year-old has been utilised mainly as a left-winger at Old Trafford this season, but his pace, skill and power make him an ideal replacement for Rooney when the 30-year-old leaves the club. This would be an extended audition of sorts.
Moving Martial from the wing could also provide an opportunity for Memphis Depay. The Dutchman has struggled under the weight of expectation as to which car he will drive this season, but the 21-year-old could benefit from a period in the first team. Whether Van Gaal would be willing to make two changes to the side instead of one – a straight swap for Rooney – is debatable, however.
Use Memphis Depay centrally
If Van Gaal is loathe to move Martial, then Depay could still be an option. “I am a striker,” was Depay’s simple message to fans upon his unveiling at the club in the summer. “Before I played on the left wing, and I thought I am a winger, but where he puts me, it’s on the boss.”
“It’s one of the reasons we bought Memphis,” was Van Gaal’s response. “He played striker in the Dutch team and learns very quickly. He can play in different positions. We have to wait and see in which position he can give the most benefit to the team.”
Necessity could be the mother of invention for the 21-year-old. It was as such back in November, when Depay was handed his only ever start as a striker for United. Within 11 minutes, he had opened the scoring in impressive fashion against Watford. Depay was man of the match at Vicarage Road in that 2-1 victory; could he be used there again?
Fix Marouane Fellaini
Because of course the best option hen one of your two senior strikers suffers an injury is to change your one-man striker formation to a two-striker system.
Manchester United have used formations including two strikers just three times this season. Louis van Gaal adopted a 3-4-1-2 in the 1-1 draw with Leicester in November, and the 1-0 defeat to Southampton in January. Rooney and Martial were the strikers on both occasions.
United found more success in their sole example of using a 4-4-2. As aforementioned, Depay enjoyed perhaps his finest game since joining in the summer against Watford, but he played alongside the also-impressive Jesse Lingard back in November. The 23-year-old performed admirably in the role, so could be called upon again. Perhaps even Adnan Januzaj could be used as a striker in such a system? Then again, perhaps not.
Start Will Keane
Only at Manchester United could a striker who scored one goal in 20 appearances from August to December at Championship side Preston be considered as a viable contender for a starting place. But such is the state of play at Old Trafford, Will Keane has emerged as a potential replacement for Wayne Rooney. The 23-year-old striker was handed his first United appearance in the defeat to Sunderland last weekend, only his second game for the club since joining the youth ranks in 2007. Keane has scored five goals in 51 career appearances across four loan spells at Wigan, Queens Park Rangers, Sheffield Wednesday and Preston. That he is only the second recognised fit striker in the squad behind Martial is equal parts hilarious and bewildering.
Recall James Wilson
This was supposed to be the season where James Wilson proved the doubters wrong. The striker has been in the Old Trafford ranks since the age of seven. His debut for the first team was symbolic in its nature, being handed a start by interim manager Ryan Giggs against Hull. Wilson scored twice in a 3-1 victory, and a legend was born.
But Wilson found opportunities difficult to come by thereafter. Louis van Gaal was appointed the following summer, and the striker made just two starts in all competitions in the Dutchman’s first season. The clamour for Wilson to start merely increased, despite the forward scoring just once all season. This campaign would be no different; the 20-year-old played two games amounting to 54 minutes before being loaned out to Championship side Brighton. Two goals for the Seagulls in his first three games almost exposed Van Gaal’s decision to loan him out as foolishness, but one goal in his next nine games suggests this is a striker well short of the requisite form to make an impact at United.