Jose Mourinho is considering unleashing Anthony Martial, Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford together as he wrestles with how to keep his hungry young forward line content.
The Manchester United manager has identified six in-form, big-name players whom he currently has to fit into four starting berths — a centre-forward, with three attacking midfielders behind.
Lukaku, who has scored seven goals in as many games since joining United in the summer, currently looks the automatic choice for the number nine position.
And it was felt that the out-and-out attacking nature of French international Martial and his English counterpart Rashford would make it difficult for Mourinho to partner them behind Lukaku.
The United manager insists that is not the case although, with Juan Mata, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Jesse Lingard also displaying top form, the competition for places is intense.
“Yeah, Rashford and Martial can play together,” said Mourinho. “How many times has that happened? I think a few times, last season especially.
“It’s hard for Martial but it’s hard for many others. So many players are in good moments, playing well.”
“Nobody deserves to be on the bench,” he added. “But they are four, plus Lukaku and Mkhitaryan is six. I cannot play with the six.”
Martial, 21, had seemed like the odd man out under Mourinho as he followed an impressive debut season at Old Trafford with an inconsistent campaign last year that brought him just eight goals.
But the French forward has claimed half that total already this season and his desire to work hard as a wide player in Mourinho’s system has catapulted him into contention with the other five forwards for a starting role.
“He’s improving a lot,” said Mourinho. “Not just on his will, his desire to do it, but being effective in that defensive work.
“All of them give me options. All of them are fast one against one. All of them can score more goals than they do. They are different but in the globality, they are all very similar.”
– Shaw ‘has to work’ –
One player at the other end of the spectrum is full-back Luke Shaw, who was handed a rare start in the midweek League Cup win over Burton Albion but who still has a long way to go to regain full fitness following a series of injuries, according to his manager.
“He has to work. Just that. You saw the game. You saw the same as I see,” said Mourinho, who takes the Premier League joint leaders to Southampton on Saturday.
“Look, he doesn’t play for six months. I’m not expecting him to arrive on Wednesday and be man of the match or to be running up and down for 45 minutes.
“It’s a process. He doesn’t play for a long time. You have other players in the Premier League who are not starting matches and their managers just say they’re not in the best conditions.
“Luke had surgery and a long time without playing. I cannot expect him to be back and strong, strong, strong in his work.”