Manchester United will have to play their next three matches in England without the services of their prolific striker, Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Swedish striker has 26 goals in all competitions this season, cementing himself in Jose Mourinho's starting XI ever since he arrived from PSG in the summer. The Red Devils will have to find a way to replace that production while he serves his suspension for violent conduct against Bournemouth's Tyrone Mings.
One out of the trio of Wayne Rooney, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial will likely be leaned upon over the next three matches. Which player should United go with? Here's a case for, and a case against, each one, although Mourinho won't be able to choose from any of them against Chelsea because of injury and illness.
The case for Wayne Rooney
Experience is the biggest advantage Rooney has over Martial and Rashford. He's Manchester United's all-time leading goal-scorer, and that has to count for something. The matches Zlatan will miss are tilts against Chelsea, Middlesbrough and West Brom. The FA Cup quarterfinal against Chelsea is the one that stands out, though.
Remember: Rooney won the Man of the Match in last year's FA Cup final. So, he won't shy away from the bright lights of the tournament.
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The case against Wayne Rooney
He's not a No. 9 anymore. Mourinho has conceded as much, and Rooney's form backs that sentiment, too. He has just 5 goals in 30 total appearances this term and he's on the wrong side of 30 years old. Oh, and that FA Cup final Man of the Match performance last year? That came with him starting as a deep-lying midfielder.
Rooney hasn't started as a lone center forward in months. Him getting the call in Ibrahimovic's absence would certainly be a surprise. He might feature, but it'd be quite the bluff if he started as a lone striker.
The case for Marcus Rashford
Who could forget the way Rashford burst onto the scene with the Red Devils last year? He came out and scored in seemingly every competition that he debuted in and looked like an unearthed gem for Manchester United. He's moved around the United formation quite a bit under Mourinho, but the 19-year-old hasn't exactly lost his finishing touch, especially in the FA Cup.
Rashford has scored three goals in two FA Cup matches, both of which were starts. Granted, they were against lesser competition, but he's can only perform when he's given the stage. The youngster is blessed with blazing speed, to boot. He's a nightmare for anyone to try and keep up with, although so is Martial. Rooney and Ibrahimovic? Not so much.
The case against Marcus Rashford
A large portion of Rashford's appearances this season have come as a substitute. Would he be ready to suit up in a high-profile match and put in a full 90 minutes? He seems to have a high level of confidence in himself, so his age doesn't really seem to be a speed bump. But who knows?
He does rely heavily on good service to make his bones, though. Yes, he can take on defenders, but his hold-up play doesn't instill much confidence. That's a far cry from what Ibrahimovic brought to the table. He also isn't much of a passing threat if he drifts out wide, either.
The case for Anthony Martial
Manchester United didn't fork over €50 million for Martial to ride the bench. With 7 goals and 7 assists this season, he's impressed in his somewhat limited opportunities. He's also started in each of United's last three FA Cup ties, so it seems Mourinho has softened on the Frenchman.
With pace to burn, the 21-year-old offers a different dimension than Ibrahimovic or Rooney. Rashford also has quicks, but Martial plays with a bit more control. He has 77 caps as a Red Devil, so he offers a comfortable middle ground between Rooney and Rashford in terms of experience.
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The case against Anthony Martial
One knock against Martial is his willingness, or lack thereof, to contribute defensively. Assuming Mourinho will stick to his usual tactics against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, would the Special One be willing to start a player that's not exactly amped up to track back? His mentality as a player overall has also been called into question at times.
Another question is: Is striker his natural position? He's certainly got the skill set and a keen eye for goal, but starting him at center forward might be robbing Peter to pay Paul. He's thrived in his more familiar left wing position when given the freedom to cut inside. If he starts, it might be prudent to keep him where he's been comfortable.
The choice: Marcus Rashford
Each player offers their pros and cons, but Rashford should be the one Mourinho taps to play up top with Ibrahimovic out. Being that it's Mou he could be put off by the teenager's age, but that doesn't mean he shouldn't be the choice. Moreover, he has more matches this season (6) as an out-and-out striker than either of the other candidates.
If Martial starts, he should start on the outside, where he can feed balls into Rashford and the pair and wreak havoc with their wheels. Rooney, well, should probably remain on the bench. Is Rashford the future at forward for United? There's only on way to find out. Give him these three matches to make an impression and go from there. Even if he winds up underperforming, at least there are lessons to carry onto the future.