Roma have held talks with Manchester United about the prospect of taking Alexis Sanchez on loan next season, as manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer signalled his faith in Anthony Martial as a centre-forward by handing the France striker the No 9 shirt for this season.
Solskjaer expressed confidence on Friday that United will not struggle for goals, despite the departure of Romelu Lukaku for Inter Milan, but Sanchez’s role in the attack remains uncertain with just over three weeks until the close of the Italian, Spanish, German and French transfer windows on September 2.
Solskjaer said that he expects Sanchez to stay with United this season, but Roma are thought to have been given the opportunity to take the player on a season-long loan.
It is unclear if Sanchez would be open to the move, but any loan arrangement – while far from certain – would likely involve United having to subsidise a substantial part of the striker’s £391,000-a-week wages, which increase to around £500,000 a week with bonuses.
Sanchez returned to United only last week after an extended holiday following his involvement with Chile in the Copa America, and he could be omitted from the squad to face Chelsea at Old Trafford on Sunday.
Sanchez has played just 65 minutes in pre-season for United in a behind-closed-doors friendly against Blackburn Rovers Under-23s.
There was initially no mention of Sanchez as Solskjaer ran through his forward options on Friday in the wake of Lukaku’s £74 million move to Inter, before the subject of the Chilean was raised by reporters.
“Alexis has come in and trained well. Of course he’s four or five weeks behind the boys and has not played apart from the one behind closed doors here,” Solskjaer said. “I think he’ll see this [Lukaku’s exit] as an opportunity to make his mark. I do expect him to stay, there’s a striker there we think is going to be able to score some goals.”
However, Solskjaer admitted there could be departures before September 2, with the futures of defenders Matteo Darmian and Marcos Rojo also in doubt.
“There might be, yes,” he said. “The thing is it’s not about who we don’t want here, it’s about who we want here, and you’re going to see that in the team selections and who’s going to be with us in the long run.”
United’s failure to replace Lukaku, who had been their best guarantee of goals over the past two seasons with 42 in 96 matches, has raised concerns among some fans that they will be left light up front.
But Solskjaer believes his side will not lack firepower as he backed the likes of Martial, Marcus Rashford and 17-year-old Mason Greenwood to step up.
In a move that further points towards Solskjaer’s intention to play Martial at centre-forward after a summer trialling the player in the position, the Frenchman has been given the No 9 shirt, which he was stripped off in 2016 following Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s arrival. Martial did not react well to that, but his restoration as No 9 is viewed as shrewd management by Solskjaer, who has told fans to expect a “new Martial” this season.
Solskjaer is also confident United will be a goal threat without Lukaku. “Of course Rom has a good record, he’s one of the top No 9s around when you want to play with that kind of striker,” Solskjaer said.
“But for me I’m very confident that we’ll get goals from Martial, Rashford, Dan James will come in and create, Jesse Lingard will get more, I’m sure we do have a different attacking set up this season.
“Towards the end of last season we didn’t score a lot of goals, did we? You do have players that you think will make an impact and Mason Greenwood’s pathway would have been a lot more difficult if we had another forward there. I believe that Mason is going to be playing and involved a lot and, when he is, he will score goals.”
Solskjaer also said the “negativity” towards United’s summer recruitment from some fans dismayed there were not more signings was “not the feeling inside the club”. And he struck a diplomatic tone when asked about Lukaku’s behaviour over the past week after he was fined for missing training without permission.
“It was time now for Rom to go, I think we got a good deal and he’s happy,” Solskjaer said. “I have always had a good relationship with Rom, we’ve spoken to each other openly and frankly and have no issue between me and Rom.”
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