Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag has confirmed Anthony Martial is out of Sunday’s visit of Brighton through injury, but refused to reveal if Cristiano Ronaldo will start in his place.
Martial’s absence leaves United with only Ronaldo and Marcus Rashford as direct striker replacements, unless Ten Hag opts for a false nine as he experimented with in pre-season.
However, Ronaldo, who has asked to leave United, only has 45 minutes under his belt from pre-season and is behind the rest of the squad on fitness after a family issue kept him away from the summer tour.
Asked if Ronaldo will start in Martial’s place, Ten Hag said: “We will see on Sunday.”
Ten Hag also said he is “really happy” to have the five-time Ballon d’Or winner in his squad.
The United boss is unsure how long Martial will be unavailable for, but is confident he has the tools at his disposal to cope without the France international.
Asked about the length of Martial’s injury lay-off, he added: “It’s always difficult to say, I hope not too long. I think we will have solutions to sort it out.”
Ten Hag: We can still strengthen, we’re searching for signings
United have made three signings this summer – bringing in Lisandro Martinez, Christian Eriksen and Tyrell Malacia – but Ten Hag is still looking for further additions.
Eriksen and Martinez, who were signed too late to join United on tour, are fit to face Brighton, says the Dutchman.
Barcelona midfielder Frenkie de Jong has been United’s priority target since the start of the summer and they have also held talks for RB Salzburg’s teenage striker Benjamin Sesko.
United have a broad agreement for the transfer of De Jong with Barcelona as they look to strengthen their midfield, which has been a problem area dating back to Sir Alex Ferguson’s tenure, but deferred wages owed to the Netherlands international have delayed the deal.
Ten Hag says the club are “still searching” for new signings, but stressed “you don’t need any player, you need the right player”.
Asked if he is happy with his midfield options, Ten Hag said: “I think so. As we saw in pre-season, we did pretty well there. We have a good team. But we can still strengthen the squad.”
Is Martial now ahead of Ronaldo?
After missing United’s pre-season tour of Thailand and Australia due to family reasons, Ronaldo’s place in the side was seized upon by the returning Martial following a disappointing loan spell in Spain with Sevilla.
His days at United looked numbered but the 26-year-old impressed in pre-season, scoring three times and assisting once as he made a strong case to start the new campaign as Ten Hag’s main central attacker.
Ronaldo was United’s top scorer last term with 23 goals but having only featured for the first time in a 1-1 draw with Rayo Vallecano on Sunday, it looked likely Martial would continue to spearhead Ten Hag’s forward line.
What are Ten Hag’s other options?
Throughout the majority of the summer, Ten Hag has preferred a front three of Martial, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford. Should he decide not to start Ronaldo, one possible option is playing Rashford through the middle and bringing Anthony Elanga – who started in friendlies against Melbourne Victory and Atletico Madrid – into one of the wide positions.
The United boss could also choose to use some less experienced players in his first-team squad should he decide to be a little more experimental.
Tahith Chong and Alejandro Garnacho both started in the draw against Rayo Vallecano. Amad Diallo, who recently spent time on loan at Rangers, scored in that game and is another possible option Ten Hag could call upon. Facundo Pellistri, who twisted his ankle against Atletico Madrid but later said he felt “fine”, is another.