Manchester United’s preparations for their opening Premier League game have suffered another blow with an injury to Anthony Martial leaving manager Erik ten Hag with a dilemma over unsettled striker Cristiano Ronaldo.
Martial is set to miss Sunday’s visit of Brighton to Old Trafford with a hamstring injury suffered during last weekend’s friendly defeat to Atletico Madrid in Oslo.
Already short of options upfront after the club’s failure to reinforce the attack so far this summer, Ten Hag must now decide whether to rush back Ronaldo despite his lack of match fitness, draft youngster Anthony Elanga into his starting XI or modify his system and employ an extra midfielder.
Ten Hag had been planning on starting Martial at centre-forward with Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho either side but the France striker’s anticipated absence will now force an untimely reshuffle and places a fresh spotlight on the chronic need for attacking reinforcements.
With Ten Hag admitting Ronaldo was “not on the level of our current squad” in fitness terms and required games and “a lot of training”, the prospect of the United manager parachuting the Portugal striker into the team against Brighton would be a surprise.
It seems more likely that Ten Hag will involve Elanga but that would likely mean starting Rashford at centre-forward with Sancho switched to the left to accommodate the 20-year-old Sweden forward on the right. Sancho is available again after returning from illness which forced him to miss the Atletico game on Saturday. Left back Luke Shaw had also missed that game in Norway due to sickness.
The alternative option against Brighton would be for Ten Hag to adjust his system to accommodate an extra midfielder and perhaps start both Bruno Fernandes and Christian Eriksen although United have spent all of pre-season working on a fluid 4-3-3 system.
United are interested in the RB Salzburg striker Benjamin Sesko but have still to recruit the holding midfielder that Ten Hag has prioritised and face the threat of Chelsea hijacking their protracted attempts to sign Frenkie de Jong from Barcelona.
With Edinson Cavani and Jesse Lingard having left as free agents at the end of last season and Mason Greenwood still missing, Martial’s absence has underlined the paucity of quality senior attacking options available to Ten Hag going into the new season. It is unclear at this stage when Martial will return.
Ronaldo - who was United’s top scorer last season with 24 goals - missed the club’s entire pre-season tour citing family reasons and wants to quit Old Trafford.
He was rebuked by Ten Hag this week for making an “unacceptable” early exit from Sunday’s friendly against Rayo Vallecano at Old Trafford along with a number of other United players but may now have to be reintegrated quicker than planned given Martial’s injury.