One man’s dream ended with an awkward fall at Old Trafford last week, but Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s devastating knee injury has presented a new opportunity for two of Manchester United’s marginalised men.
Ibrahimovic will have no triumphant homecoming, his chance of lifting a long-awaited major European title, back in Sweden, was ripped from his grasp along with his ACL.
On Sunday, however, manager Jose Mourinho had two reasons to celebrate as Wayne Rooney and Anthony Martial made goalscoring returns in a vital Premier League victory in the race for Champions League qualification.
Premier League great Wayne Rooney made yet more history when he hit United’s second in the 2-0 victory at Burnley, drawing level with level with Frank Lampard and Andrew Cole by having found the net in 149 different Premier League matches – a total bettered only by Alan Shearer (190).
But the ageing England international has endured a tricky personal campaign. With six games remaining, he made his 20th appearance of the season on Sunday and is now guaranteed to make the fewest number of Premier League outings in a single campaign since his career began.
Martial, likewise, has seen his playing time restricted significantly under Mourinho. The flying Frenchman has made just 10 starts and completed just three full Premier League matches under the Portuguese, and was left out of the squad completely for the last league outing, against leaders Chelsea.
But both were given a chance on Sunday, and they came up big - Rooney earned a score of 88 and Martial 91, on the Goal Pressure Index, presented by Sure and powered by Opta data, which provides the first ever system to measure and rate a team and player’s performance under pressure.
The Goal Pressure Index uses more than 750,000 data points as well as factors including league position, point in the season and the opposition to calculate a rating out of 100 for every Premier League player every week.
"The lads who have come in have given the manager something to think about,” said Rooney. "We've both scored. It's great to have options.”
Mourinho was delighted with their respective performances and challenged Martial, in particular, to step up in Zatlan’s absence.
"If Martial wants to become a very special player - [and] he can do that - then he has to go in a certain direction and he showed this attitude and appetite,” said Mourinho. “We are happy because we have a new player until the end of the season."
Martial was inspired, his barnstorming run tearing the Burnley defence wide open before exchanging passes with Ander Herrera and slotting the opener. He then created the second, charging into the box before his shot was deflected into the path of Rooney for the second.
It was the first time Martial had both scored and assisted in an away game in his Premier League career.
And Rooney starred throughout, proving he too is ready for the fight. “I've had injuries off the bench which has been frustrating,” he conceded. “But I feel strong now.”
Mourinho’s men needed his strength on what could be a pivotal weekend in the race for UCL qualification through the league, as third-placed Liverpool slipped at home - haunted by their former striker Christian Benteke, who returned to Anfield to strike twice in a 2-1 win for Crystal Palace, earning a Pressure Index score of 91.
Fernando Llorente and Lazar Markovic also earned high totals on a weekend they inspired Swansea City and Hull City, respectively, to vital victories in their fight for Premier League survival.