Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood have only played one full league game together this season. Manchester United won that game, albeit it was a chaotic and undeserved 3-2 victory over Brighton.
But the fact United have been shorn of what is their first-choice front three by a distance, is something that ought to have made more headlines than it has in recent weeks.
Due to a Martial suspension and Greenwood’s various issues with fitness and illness, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been deprived an attacking troika that brought him more goals than any other forward trio in English football last season. Yep, more than Pep Guardiola’s band of Sky Blue attackers, more than Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino of Liverpool.
Their form post-lockdown at the end of last season was irresistible and, with the help of a functioning midfield that included Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba, propelled United to a top-four finish. They would not have secured Champions League football without that run when the three forwards hit it off.
Let’s not forget how listless United looked up front at the start of the 2019/20 campaign when Martial had a thigh injury and Greenwood was considered too green for a regular spot. And let’s compare that to the trio at their red-hot best, for example in the stunning 5-2 victory over Bournemouth in July, when Greenwood grabbed himself a brace and Rashford and Martial both scored too.
That kind of form drew comments from pundits arguing, with justification, that the trio were the best around.
Former United man Phil Neville said: “I looked at it at the start of the lockdown and thought ‘what areas do United need to invest in to close the gap to Man City and Liverpool? Straightaway I thought of the centre-forward [position], but them two [Martial and Rashford] are now causing Ole that bit of a problem.
“They’re the best three — with Greenwood — in the league, up there with the Liverpool front three and the City front three. I think they have the ability to interchange positions and link with each other. I don’t see any better.”
Of course, United still desperately wanted to strengthen their attacking line-up in the summer transfer window, though they did not land their Number One target in Jadon Sancho. Edinson Cavani was a smart addition but a different kind of signing altogether, someone to offer variety to the United attack rather than complement the current style, as Sancho would have done.
But the fact Sancho did not arrive merely reinforces the point that United are missing some attacking swagger. They don’t have Sancho, they haven’t had Greenwood and they haven’t had Martial for much of the season as well.
Cynics might claim that Solskjaer’s favourite trio have only really clicked into gear against teams like Bournemouth, Crystal Palace and Brighton — the lesser lights of the Premier League — but they are exactly the kind of teams United must start sweeping aside. They drop too many points against teams who should be beaten, with all due respect to them, especially at Old Trafford.
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United get their Premier League campaign back underway on Saturday when they welcome strugglers West Brom to Old Trafford.
The under-pressure Reds came from behind to beat Everton last time out thanks to Bruno Fernandes’ double and Edinson Cavani’s first goal for United.
The players are returning from the two-week international break, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be hoping to have as few injury and fitness concerns as possible among the stars coming back from international duty.
We’ll be bringing you all the latest updates and build-up to the game, and you can have it all delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our daily newsletter by submitting your email address in the sign-up box above, or click here – it’s free and it only takes a few seconds.
This weekend’s game against West Brom arrives with a whole heap of injury and illness concerns stacking up for Solskjaer. Yet it also presents the Norwegian, all things being well, with the opportunity to start Rashford, Greenwood and Martial together in attack; a chance to cash in against one of the weaker sides in the division. A chance to end United’s home hoodoo.
The only games in which United have got close to their best attacking fluency this season have been in the Champions League against PSG and RB Leipzig, when two of the three started together. Rashford came off the bench to bag a hat-trick against Leipzig at Old Trafford.
Just think what United could achieve when all three line up together once again. The defensive issues have been solved since that Brighton contest, now it is about stringing attacking performances together.