Man Utd's injury crisis means it's time for Lukaku & Sanchez to step up

MANCHESTER UNITED'S INJURY CRISIS DEEPENS

It's been a season full of highs and lows for Manchester United, but under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer the club has some new hope. The Norweigan was the surprise choice by the clubs board to replace Jose Mourinho who was sacked back in December, a decision which cost the Red Devils upwards of £20m. Solskjaer is a firm club legend after enjoying a glittering playing career with the Red Devils under Sir Alex Ferguson, but his managerial career hasn't had the same highs so far.

After his move from Molde was confirmed no one really knew what to expect from United but whats followed has been quite incredible. 12 wins from his opening 15 matches and still unbeaten domestically, the Red Devils look like they're back and they're currently in the midst of a vital stage of the season. Their Champions League hopes look diminished after a 2-0 home defeat to PSG but they're firmly involved in the race for the top four along with booking their place in the quarter-finals of The FA Cup - where they travel to Molineux to face Wolves for a trip to Wembley.

The mood around the club is so positive at the moment but Solskjaer has a real job on his hands maintaining that due to his sides current injury crisis. The 46 year-old revealed on Tuesday that United could be without up to 10 players for their trip to Crystal Palace on Wednesday night, with the likes of Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata and Anthony Martial expected to miss out.

It's a major blow at a key part of the campaign but it also opens up the door for others, with two under-fire players in particular looking to win over the supporters and manager. Romelu Lukaku and more-so Alexis Sanchez have had their fair share of critics since arriving in Manchester but injuries mean they could play a prominent role for United this week. They're both evidently talented players but it just hasn't worked out yet, but this a massive opportunity to step up and win their place in the side.

BIG PRESSUE ON £75M ROM

A season or two ago both Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez in-particular would've walked into pretty much any sides starting XI in the Premier League. The pair have been two of the top flights most prolific attackers in recent years so when they were signed by Jose Mourinho last season, the fans were understandably excited about what the future may bring. We've seen flashes of the talent of Lukaku, who's physicality makes him an absolute nightmare for any defender when he's fully at it. He gets a lot of stick for his technical ability (mainly his first touch) but he still managed to produce a decent debut campaign at Old Trafford last term, ending with 27 goals in all competitions.

But this year he's found things much more difficult, a return of 9 goals in just 34 appearances isn't good enough for a forward at a club the size of Manchester United and it's pretty fair to say that his confidence looks shot. The big bustling striker was virtually an ever present under Jose Mourinho but since Solskjaer come in he's found himself second fiddle to Marcus Rashford - who's made the position his own up top. The Belgian has found the back of the net just twice in 13 games under the Norweigan which makes incredibly worrying reading.

Romelu Lukaku Manchester United Old Trafford

But if anyone is to get the best out of a misfiring forward it is indeed Solskjaer. The Norweigan hit 126 goals in an 11 year spell at the club as a player so he knows exactly what it takes to perform at this level, which can only be a good thing for Lukaku - who looks a shadow of the player who hit 25 league goals for Everton in 2016/17. He's known for being an out-and-out centre forward but he has been utilised on the right of a front three recently which has worked to varying degrees.

He gives United a good out-ball and his strength & power make him difficult stop for opposing full-backs, but on Wednesday evening at Selhurst Park he's expected to feature through the middle in his preferred position. There's a lot of pressure on him to deliver in the absence of Rashford & Martial but he's certainly capable of doing so, which is why United shelled out £75m on him in 2017.

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TIME FOR ALEXIS TO SILENCE HIS CRITICS?

When Manchester United announced the signing of Alexis Sanchez it was seen a huge moment in the clubs recent history. Since making the move to the Premier League and Arsenal back in 2014 the Chilean has been one of the top flights most prolific and dangerous attackers, which made signing him a real coup. The Red Devils fought off serious competition from arch rivals Manchester City to sign the then 29 year-old but his arrival came at a price - and a huge one at that. United are thought to be paying him a jaw dropping £500k-a-week which comfortably makes him the clubs top earner and with that comes massive responsibility.

His final season at Arsenal saw him net 30 goals in all competitions which included 24 in the Premier League, but since leaving North London he's come no way near those figures. 5 goals in 39 appearances for the Red Devils marks a pretty unbelievable drop off in performance and consistency and quite frankly his displays have done little to convince fans that the Arsenal Sanchez is going to arrive anytime soon. But with three-and-a-half years left to run on his United deal, Solskjaer will desperate to try and get that level back out of him.

Alexis Sanchez

Sanchez is a player who's played A LOT of football during his career so there's naturally been worries of him being burned out, but according to the United boss this isn't the case. He's recently said that the Chilean is "chomping at the bit" to get his Old Trafford career up and running, also stating "When he plays he needs to finds himself because we know there's a quality player there." It's a frustrating situation all round but now with United approaching a crunch stage of the campaign, this is his time to shine.

The injury crisis at Old Trafford has led to him making appearances off the bench in the Red Devils' defeat to PSG (0-2) along with their goalless stalemate with Liverpool on Sunday. Both games were difficult ones for him to get into but on Sunday his work rate impressed some of the supporters, but he still has a long way to go. He's expected to start against Palace and they're a side he's enjoyed a fair bit of success against during his time in England, contributing 5 goals (3G 2A) in 8 appearances against the Eagles and the travelling fans would love him to produce something similar.

SEASON DEFINING PERIOD FOR SOLSKJAER AND MANCHESTER UNITED

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has made an unbelievable impact since taking over United as interim boss and you'd think that he's a shoe-in for the job on a permanent basis come the summer. But before that he has some vital games to come which will really define United's season. After their Premier League double-header this week against Crystal Palace and Southampton they travel to Paris looking to overturn a two goal deficit in the Champions League. They then travel to the Emirates to face Arsenal in the PL before facing Wolves in The FA Cup quarter-finals - which is their last realistic chance of winning some silverware.

If they can end the campaign with a top four finish and The FA Cup it would definitely be seen as a successful one, especially after the abysmal start they made under Jose Mourinho. His hopes haven't been helped by the current injury crisis but football is very much a squad game and in Sanchez & Lukaku he has two player with big reputations ready to step in - as Solskjaer touched upon in his pre-Crystal Palace press conference:

“It’s a chance for them to play to their potential, reputation is one thing – but the potential is high. The two are good mates, link up well together so this might be a chance for them to find some form and give a selection headache for when everyone gets fit."

With up to 10 players potentially missing, this could really go either way so it's going to be interesting to see exactly what unfolds at Selhurst Park on Wednesday night as the Red Devils look to extend their domestic unbeaten run.

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