Manchester United look set to be without 26-goal striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic for their next three domestic fixtures after he was charged on Monday for alleged violent conduct.
The Swede faces missing out on the FA Cup quarter-final clash with Chelsea and league fixtures against Middlesbrough and West Bromwich Albion after elbowing Bournemouth’s Tyrone Mings in the 1-1 draw at Old Trafford at the weekend.
Jose Mourinho’s task, should the suspension be confirmed by the FA this week, will be to find a way for his side to do without a man he has selected for all 25 Premier League games for which he has been available this term.
He does have a few options open to him, though.
First he could use the player who stepped into the No.9 position the last time Ibrahimovic was suspended, for the home game against Arsenal in November. Marcus Rashford was the man moved back into the lone striker role after being used on the left side of the attacking midfield line for much of the season.
The switch of the 19-year-old would give United a far more pacey outlet, but Rashford arguably falls well short of Ibrahimovic in terms of his ability with his back to goal which has proven to be a huge part of United’s game this season.
Anthony Martial might have arrived at Old Trafford in August 2015 with the No.9 on his back and the intention of then-boss Louis van Gaal to use him as a central striker but he has played in that role only once in 2016-17. Moreover, when he has started as a lone front-man for United he has scored only three goals in 16 matches.
That said, the Frenchman remains confident of his ability to lead from the front and he did play a hand in the 4-0 win over Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup in January when he was last asked to lead the line from minute one.
Much of the talk around Wayne Rooney in recent weeks has been in relation to one transfer rumour or another, but he might finally have the chance to do some talking on the pitch if Mourinho decides to have him leading the line in Ibra’s absence.
Mourinho arrived at Old Trafford last summer with the proclamation that his captain was a “number nine, a number 10, or maybe a nine-and-a-half” yet Rooney has started only twice as a lone front man this term, both against Fenerbahce. Should the 31-year-old start as a nine once more, it would give the manager the chance to play both Martial and Rashford in wide positions should he need greater pace on the flanks.