Has Louis van Gaal made promises to two Man Utd stars he just can't keep?
Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal has never been shy in defending his often odd and seemingly arbitrary selection policy, but contradicting statements regarding two of the club’s stars may now come back to haunt him.
Regardless of how Manchester United’s season ends, the emergence of Marcus Rashford - although an expedited one due to an injury crisis - will be viewed as a resounding success and tangible evidence that their youth system remains efficacious.
After skipper Wayne Rooney was side-lined with a knee injury, the youngster was jettisoned into the first team squad for a Europa League second leg tie against FC Midtjylland, who United were trailing by 2-1 from the previous week.
When Anthony Martial pulled up just prior to kick off, the baby-faced teen, who few in the wider world of football had ever heard of, was asked to lead the line in the Theatre of Dreams.
While many would have crumpled under the weight of such a fast-tracked and unexpected promotion, Rashford thrived. The local lad netted a brace as United ran out convincing 5-1 winners.
In the interim, the 18-year-old has been the focal point of United’s sporadically potent attack.
Martial has been shifted to the left flank, Jesse Lingard, the No.10 role and Juan Mata, despite a lack of power or pace, remains on the right wing.
Rashford has found the net seven times in 12 appearances across all competitions, and tends to do so on the biggest occasions; his double against Arsenal, the strike that settled the Manchester derby and, of course, in the past week, spectacularly giving the United the lead against West Ham in the FA Cup, before condemning Aston Villa to relegation over the weekend.
Heretofore, with Rooney convalescing, retaining him in the first team has been elementary for Van Gaal.
However, the former Everton starlet returned to action against Villa, and gave a fine account of himself during a 66 minute cameo.
According to Van Gaal, Rooney was less than impressed when replaced by Lingard, but the manager felt he had seen enough from his skipper.
Upon his appointment and beyond, the ex-Ajax boss has claimed that Rooney has ‘special privileges’ and would always start when fit.
If this is true, Van Gaal has a conundrum on his hands. First off, if he wants Rashford and Rooney in the same XI, then the dynamic Lingard is likely to give way. However, playing Rooney ‘in the hole’ has reaped mixed results, and Lingard’s pace would be sorely missed.
But this is the quandary for Van Gaal, as he chases an FA Cup and a Champions League place in what might prove his final days at the helm, with rumours of Jose Mourinho’s imminent arrival persisting with greater frequency.
Following the win over the Villa, he gave the distinct impression that Rashford was indispensable, and seemed more inclined to keep Rooney in reserve, rather than upset the balance of his youthful and athletic offense.
He even claimed that his initial urge was to draft Rooney in ahead of Rashford for the visit of the Birmingham club, but soon thought better of it.
“Yes I wanted to change him (Rashford)," he told the club’s website. “I had doubted for a long time. He is also young and he has played the last how many (12) matches but, yeah, at the end I don’t want to do that.
“I want to take profit of his momentum, and he was very positive. I thought I can change him before the end and the last 15 minutes is always very important for players. So I changed him for that.”
While he commended Rooney for his performance against the hapless Villa, an assurance of a place in the side for Wednesday’s must-win encounter with Crystal Palace was conspicuously absent.
“He (Rooney) has never played 90 minutes in the last two and a half months. I think he was very good in the first half, and I think the goal was also his goal.
“I think it is a good spirit when you want to play 90 minutes in spite of the fact that you cannot build up your capacity in three days of training sessions. I’m very positive about his first half,” Van Gaal said.
So, who is it to be; Rooney or Rashford?