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Lack of Lukaku replacement costing United after toothless showing

LONDON (Reuters) - Manchester United’s decision to sell Romelu Lukaku, who was their top scoring forward in the previous two seasons, without a replacement coming in looks to be one they could regret after a toothless display in a 2-0 loss at West Ham United on Sunday.

Soccer Football - Premier League - West Ham United v Manchester United - London Stadium, London, Britain - September 22, 2019 Manchester United's Harry Maguire and Scott McTominay react after a missed chance REUTERS/David Klein

With Anthony Martial and 17-year-old Mason Greenwood missing through injury, the visitors finished the game having to also cope without Marcus Rashford after the England striker limped off with a suspected muscle injury.

Jesse Lingard was deployed through the middle as Rashford’s replacement, and the England forward is without a goal or an assist in the Premier League in 2019.

In fact, the United XI that finished the defeat at West Ham had scored just nine goals between them this year.

Should Rashford face a lay-off, and Martial remain on the treatment table, United could face Arsenal next Monday without a fit senior forward.

Such a paucity of options makes the decision to sell Belgium international Lukaku seem ill-judged, despite manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer defending the approach in midweek.

“Greenwood, Martial and Rashford -- all injured -- Lingard is now centre-forward for Manchester United,” former United defender Gary Neville said.

“You look at that spend, over the last six or seven years, of 900 million pounds ($1.12 billion) -- just a little less than Manchester City.

“And this is what they’ve ended up with? It’s incredible. 900 million pounds is a hell of a lot of money to have no centre forwards.”

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England striker Rashford himself looked shorn of confidence before pulling up with his injury and remains without a goal from open play for United since the opening day of the season.

Other than Rashford, only Daniel James and the injured Martial have scored this term, with the team mustering just six goals from open play in the league to date -- two fewer than Manchester City scored against Watford on Saturday.

“We have had historically loads of centre-backs out with injuries. At the moment it is strikers. It happens in football,” Solskjaer said.

“You are going to get highs and lows. There is a good atmosphere in the dressing and we have got the focus right.

“Hopefully Mason and Anthony will be back for Arsenal.

The fact Solskjaer is depending on a 17-year-old with two senior starts for the club highlights the lack of depth in the United squad.

The Norwegian has to be worried by United’s alarming dip in form since the initial positivity following his appointment to succeed Jose Mourinho last December.

United have lost seven of their last 15 league games -- as many defeats as they had recorded in their previous 40 matches in the competition.

It remains to be seen where the goals to turn United’s season around will come from. Lukaku divided opinion at Old Trafford, and never really hit top form after signing from Everton in 2017.

But taking out the Belgian’s his goal contribution, without bringing another proven goalscorer in, could be a decision Solskjaer lives to regret.

($1 = 0.8014 pounds)

Reporting by Peter Hall; Editing by Ken Ferris