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Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Paul Pogba lack creative edge vs. Southampton

Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Paul Pogba lack creative edge vs. Southampton


MANCHESTER, England -- Some Manchester United fans will, at least, get what they want.

With Zlatan Ibrahimovic out for a month and Romelu Lukaku expected to miss the next two games after suffering a head injury against Southampton, Jose Mourinho has been left with Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial as his options at centre-forward.

A section of United supporters will tell you that having the pace of Rashford or Martial up front is no bad thing. They are likely to find out at Goodison Park on Monday whether or not they are right.

It is a blow for Mourinho. In his mind, he has two strikers in his squad -- Ibrahimovic and Lukaku -- and both are now sidelined with injury. He already feels his squad is stretched to its limit and losing two more players -- and in the same position -- presents a significant problem. 

"Zlatan is one month out," he said after the 0-0 draw at Old Trafford on Saturday, United's third in a row in the Premier League.

"I don't know about Lukaku. Of course, you miss your striker and your target man. You only have two attacking players on the bench, Rashford and Martial and you lose one of them immediately. 

"I wanted a third change late in the game and I didn't have a third attacking player so that's difficult."

Mourinho has lost options. But the inconvenient truth, though, is that neither Lukaku or Ibrahimovic have been playing well. 

Lukaku's United career started with 11 goals in his first 10 games. But since, he has scored just four times in 20 games. 

He lasted just 8 minutes against Southampton before being injured but the Belgian had already managed to miss one golden chance after heading Juan Mata's early cross over the bar. 

Ibrahimovic, meanwhile, has not looked the same player since returning from a serious knee injury in October. He has scored once -- a good free kick against Bristol City -- but has rarely looked like adding to that tally.

Mourinho accepted at his news conference on Friday that the pair are "not in a good moment". 

Lukaku, he said, needed a rest after playing every minute of the first 20 Premier League games of the season. It is unlikely he would have got one had he not suffered an injury. 

Rashford and Martial offer something different.  Instead of trying to hold up the ball and thriving on crosses into the box, both prefer to play on the shoulder of the last defender. 

When it works, it can make United look faster and more fluid. There were flashes of it against Southampton. Rashford and Jesse Lingard linked up well in the first half. Henrikh Mkhitaryan, making his first start since Nov. 5, joined in occasionally but ultimately, he didn't do enough to convince Mourinho he should start again at Everton on New Year's Day.

Rashford might have had a goal had he been more ruthless in the box. That will have to improve if he is chosen to lead the line in Lukaku's absence.

It was Rashford who Mourinho turned to at the end of last season when Ibrahimovic's campaign was ended by a knee ligament injury.  But in five starts as United's central striker in April and May, the 20-year-old scored just once. 

His form in front of goal has improved this season and he already has nine, just two fewer than he managed in the whole of the previous campaign. 

For Rashford, the injuries to Lukaku and Ibrahimovic presents a chance for an audition. He wants to play as a striker but, under Mourinho, has often found himself out wide.

Had Lukaku and Ibrahimovic stayed fit, it is likely he would have stayed there. But if he can go on a goalscoring run at centre-forward, he may convince Mourinho to change his mind. 

The growing injury list may even earn 22-year-old James Wilson -- back scoring goals for the reserves -- a lifeline, more than two years after his last senior appearance.

Whenever Mourinho's injury problems have mounted, the 54-year-old has always stuck with the same message: "It is an opportunity for other players."

When Paul Pogba was sidelined with a hamstring injury, the beneficiaries were Ander Herrera and Marouane Fellaini. When Phil Jones and Eric Bailly were ruled out, Victor Lindelof stepped in.

Rashford -- and to a lesser extent Martial -- is the latest to be handed an unexpected opportunity. It is just what he, and plenty of United fans, have been waiting for.

Rob is ESPN FC's Manchester United correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @RobDawsonESPN.

Manchester United have had a difficult time in recent weeks and desperately needed a result against Southampton. 

This lacklustre response in a 0-0 draw was not what Jose Mourinho would have wanted to see from his players. 

United dominated possession but did very little with it. Having missed plenty of easy chances in the previous games United created next to nothing in this one. 

United could have won it with a late chance but Paul Pogba stuck a leg out, from an offside position, to get a touch on a ball that might have been going in on its own.

A draw was a fair result though, with Southampton probably having the better chances but spending most of the game with all of their players behind the ball. 


United didn't concede. Other than that, it would probably be scraping the barrel to find any real positives.  

Jesse Lingard's good form continues but he couldn't make the decisive impact this time. 


The players look exhausted and disinterested. There was no spark about them and they looked like they couldn't wait to get off the pitch. 

Henrikh Mkhitaryan was appalling. He gave away the ball pretty much every time he got it. 

When Pogba doesn't play well, United don't play well, and he was poor for large chunks of today's game. 

Manager rating out of 10

5 -- Mourinho kept Mkhitaryan on the field for far too long and failed to come up with any solutions to Southampton's rigid tactics.

Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)

GK David De Gea, 6 -- Made a good stop at his near post from a free kick. Outstanding save at the start of the second half to deny what looked a certain goal. 

DF Ashley Young, 6 -- Delivered a few decent balls in to the box. Came close to scoring with a free kick. 

DF Victor Lindelof, 6 -- Good in the air and dealt well with everything that came his way, although was guilty of one dodgy clearance late on. 

DF Phil Jones, 8 -- Made some excellent challenges to prevent Southampton opportunities. A solid performance from him. 

DF Luke Shaw, 6 -- A decent showing from Shaw defensively, although he did leave his man free to get a cross in that should have resulted in a goal. His delivery was poor though, with pretty much every cross getting blocked. 

MF Paul Pogba, 5 -- Played a few excellent passes but was quieter than usual. Didn't get involved anywhere near as much as needed. Denied United a goal when he redirected a goalbound attempt in from an offside position. 

MF Nemanja Matic, 4 -- Too slow to release the ball too often. Had several long-range efforts on goal that were largely poor. 

FW Juan Mata, 6 -- Delivered a good cross to Romelu Lukaku early on which should have resulted in a goal. Involved in lots of United's better moves. 

FW Jesse Lingard, 7 -- Brought his usual energy to United's attack. Played some good balls forward. Looked at times to be the only player that wanted to win. 

FW Henrikh Mkhitaryan, 2 -- Wasteful with a great opportunity for United on the counter. Gave the ball away every time he got it and was lucky to come back out for the second half. Continued to play as badly after the restart and was taken off with 25 minutes remaining, much to the relief of the Old Trafford crowd. Had one shot on target but it was an easy save. 

FW Romelu Lukaku, NR -- Had one chance to score before being substituted with a head injury. He should have scored it. 


FW Marcus Rashford, 6 -- Replaced Lukaku early on. Went on a few good runs but didn't have many chances. 

FW Anthony Martial, 5 -- Came on for Mkhitaryan. Was more involved than the Armenian but didn't do enough either. 

Scott is one of ESPN FC's Manchester United bloggers. Follow him on Twitter: @R_o_M.