Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal says it was their “policy” to start the season with a thin squad so youngsters were given a chance.
Wayne Rooney’s likely absence for six weeks through injury means that Anthony Martial is now United’s only ‘senior’ striker available.
The loss of Rooney – as well as being a worry for England as they prepare for Euro 2016 – would appear a major setback for Van Gaal at a time when his team are struggling in the race for a top-four finish in the Premier League and the 64-year-old’s position is under increasing scrutiny.
Rooney, with 14 goals in all competitions, is United’s top scorer this season and the 30-year-old has netted seven times in his last nine matches.
However, when asked if he regretted not bringing more in for this season or letting ones he did have like Robin van Persie and Javier Hernandez go, Van Gaal insisted he did not.
He added: “Our policy is that we didn’t want a big squad, because otherwise you can’t try youngsters in your team. And normally you don’t have so many injuries.”
While making reference to the options he does have available up front – the key one being Martial – Van Gaal did mention Will Keane, who is among several inexperienced players in the squad for Thursday’s last-32 first leg, along with Donald Love, Regan Poole, Joe Riley and James Weir.
Van Gaal admits Rooney may have made the knee injury worse by playing through the pain last weekend.
The manager would not put a timeframe on Rooney’s absence, but we understand the Red Devils and England captain is facing around six weeks out.
It was then put to Van Gaal that Rooney had played the full duration of Saturday’s game rather than coming off, and the Dutchman said: “That’s typical Wayne.
“He’s a guy who wants to go until the end – if he’s feeling pain he doesn’t want to go off. He wants to win.
“That’s a fantastic attitude but sometimes it’s also bad for his body.
“But you cannot say (if he made the injury worse by staying on) because he didn’t know when it happened. That’s the difficulty.”
Van Gaal stressed United will simply “have to cope” after an injury that takes the club’s list of unavailable senior players to 12.