Sir Alex Ferguson began the season with seven strikers; the Scot could end the year with just three, and none of them currently in scintillating form. Injuries leave Ferguson with just two senior strikers for Manchester United’s visit to FC Basel in the Champions League this week – Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck – but potential departures may reduce the Scot’s options even further come January. It is a concern for which there is no easy fix as United continues to grind out single-goal results.
Javier Hernandez’ sickening and unfortunate injury during the Reds’ 1-0 victory at Aston Villa on Saturday has reduced the Scot’s attacking options, with Michael Owen also on the sidelines until the New Year, and Dimitar Berbatov missing the next fortnight after suffering a recurrence of an old ankle injury against Crystal Palace. The early injury to Hernandez, who rolled over on his left ankle and is believed to have torn ligaments, will keep the Mexican out of action for at least a month, according to Ferguson. But that could be an optimistic prognosis; those who have suffered similar injuries, including Robin van Persie and Jack Rodwell in recent seasons, spent far longer on the sidelines.
Meanwhile, Owen, who strained his left hamstring in United’s 2-0 Champions League win over Otelul Galati at Old Trafford, is unlikely to play again this side of a busy Christmas programme. With Berbatov set to miss matches against Basel and Wolverhampton Wanderers, Ferguson will fall back on Welbeck, who has only just returned from injury, to partner the misfiring Rooney in Switzerland.
Still, Ferguson chose to reflect on the positives from United’s controlled but ultimately narrow victory over Villa on Saturday evening.
“I thought we deserved the victory. We had great possession at times and I think we were a bit wasteful with chances we had in the second half,” said Ferguson of United’s victory at Villa Park.
“But a win away from home at Villa Park – which is always a difficult place to come – is a good result so we are happy. I think we should be finishing games off and I’d like to do that, but the one good thing is our concentration levels away from home. I thought we controlled the game. Some of our football was good, there were some good performances from the lads and there was a good rhythm in our game. Yes, we could do better in the finishing department but I think consistency will help us in terms of confidence.”
Injuries will do little to help United’s attacking rhythm though, with Ferguson’s side having scored just once in each of the last seven Premier League games since derby defeat to Manchester City in October. It is a period in which Rooney has failed to hit the net, although the 26-year-old Scouser has frequently been deployed in central midfield.
Attacking injury problems could open the door to Mame Biram Diouf and Federico Macheda. Yet, neither made the bench for United’s fixture at Villa, or indeed, has started a game in the Premier League this season, and Ferguson is expected to sell or loan the pair come January. With just 16 matches remaining in the reserve season it will aid neither man to remain at the club.
“The problem is the type of reserve league we have now, it’s really a youth league, and that is a big problem,” added Ferguson after defeat to Palace last week.
“It bothers me in the sense that the level of training we do was let down. For us it was Rafael’s first game, Darron Gibson’s first game, Mame Diouf’s only played four games this season, Macheda only his third game. That’s not enough football to play in the quarter-final of a League Cup I’m afraid. That caught us and I was surprised of the level of fitness of Crystal Palace against us. In terms of match play we were certainly short.
“[Loans] work well for all young players to get game time and that’s what we are looking at for Macheda and Diouf, they need game time, there is no question about that. Every young players wants to play and we have to give them that opportunity.”
Yet, while Macheda remains in Ferguson’s long-term plans, it is surprising Diouf has any future at the club nearly two years after joining for around £3.5 million. In that period the Senegalese striker has made nine United appearances, scoring one goal. In between joining and last month’s disaster against Palace there was the unsuccessful loan spell at Blackburn Rovers, where Diouf scored six times in 26 games. Three of those came in a Carling Cup tie against then Championship side Norwich. Ferguson is unlikely to make any return on the investment.
Macheda, meanwhile, played only his second senior match for the club in the past year against the Championship side. The Italian is still only 20, but suffered for a six month loan spell at Sampdoria, with i Blucerchiati relegated to Serie B at the end of last season. These likely departures leaves Ferguson hoping that his injured senior strikers return soon, and that they hit the ground running.