Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s injury updates are notoriously unclear and his bulletins on Anthony Martial left murky waters before Manchester United kicked off against Brighton.
To in-house broadcasters MUTV Solskjaer said Martial could miss the rest of the season and that his sprained knee was a “bad one”, 10 minutes later he was telling BT Sport it was a few weeks.
Either way United will be without him for a little while, which should mean a sustained spell for Edinson Cavani to lead the line. We still don’t know if the 34-year-old will be at Old Trafford next season and neither party seems particularly sold on the relationship so far.
Whatever the word is to the outside world on Martial, Cavani would have had plenty of notice he was starting and he will know he’s going to be the man who needs to provide the goals now.
But the Uruguayan didn’t do his cause much good against Brighton with a rusty display. Solskjaer has said he’s a player who wants to train “really hard” before he plays and with no World Cup qualifiers for the previous two weeks he should have been able to fulfil that wish at Carrington, although it didn’t look like it as he toiled against Albion.
If United are to keep Cavani for another season then they need more from him on the pitch and in terms of availability. Cavani’s first start for United was more than four months ago but he’s started back-to-back games only three times and only once has he managed three successive starts.
Cavani must use Martial’s absence to show he is capable of leading the line in the Premier League deep into his 35th year, but this was not a good start.
His touch was poor at times and the timing of his runs wasn’t much better. Too often he had veered offside as he looked to give Bruno Fernandes a passing option.
Cavani lasted until the final 10 minutes as United pursued a winner but he never had a sight of goal and didn’t pose Brighton’s central defenders enough problems. It was Mason Greenwood who got the winner and five of United’s 15 shots came from the teenager.
Tellingly, Cavani didn’t manage a single shot during his time on the pitch. He has seven goals for United but none since February 6, a run incorporating five games and a stop-start period of his United career.
Cavani’s father has suggested his son wants a return to South America this summer, while United have had concerns over his fitness. Another year may be a marriage of convenience, but it might be what is required.
Injury might have ended Martial’s season early and the Frenchman has had his worse campaign for United. It would be a considerable risk to go into next season with the 25-year-old as the only senior striking option.
But United must make sure Cavani remains the right man. He will turn 35 next February and while his movement is excellent and his finishing sharp, he will need to be up to two games a week next season if United are to challenge in the Premier League and the Champions League.
The ideal solution would be a summer deal for Erling Haaland. Borussia Dortmund’s struggles to return to the Champions League next season makes a departure from the Bundesliga more likely, but competition for his signature will be fierce.
United will need a Plan B beyond the prodigious Norwegian. Cavani could yet be that man but he needs to use this run of games to prove that’s the case.