Manchester United manager, Jose Mourinho, on Friday revealed that Wayne Rooney could be thrown into action sooner than planned as he solves a growing injury crisis.
Rooney has played just twice in almost three months due to injury niggles – the latest being an ankle problem, and the fact he has dropped down the pecking order of strikers at United, behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcus Rashford.
However, Ibrahimovic joined United's injury list on Thursday when he hobbled off with an apparent right knee injury in the Europa League win over Anderlecht.
Mourinho at his press conference on Friday, said the 19-year-old Rashford "cannot play every game."
So Rooney could get an unexpectedly quick reprieve, starting perhaps at Burnley in the English Premier League on Sunday.
"He (Rooney) has a good mentality, he is a fighter, he is a strong man, even if he is not in the best condition, even if he is not in the level of sharpness that you need to play high-level football," Mourinho said of Rooney, 31.
"But he has the experience and character, so he has to. Now we need absolutely everyone."
United will be playing a game every three or four days through to the end of the season because of its involvement in the Europa League and a backlog of fixtures in the Premier League.
United players are playing through knocks, and Mourinho also has a real problem at centre-back, with Marcos Rojo also getting injured on Saturday to likely join fellow defenders Phil Jones and Chris Smalling on the sidelines.
Mourinho's only fit centre-back is Eric Bailly, although Daley Blind, usually a left-back, can move inside and 19-year-old Axel Tuanzebe could also be promoted to the first team.
"We're in trouble. We're in trouble," Mourinho reiterated ahead of the team's game against Burnley on Sunday.
"In this moment, Eric Bailly played six matches in a row, and we lost Marcos Rojo, we don't have Jones or Smalling. We are in trouble.
“Eric Bailly has played six matches in a row – 540 minutes in a row,” Mourinho told reporters after Thursday’s game.
“We lost Marcos Rojo, we don’t have Jones, we don’t have Smalling," Mourinho told the club's official website.
“We are in trouble and, now, we lose Zlatan too but, in attack, we have options: Rooney is coming and let’s see if
Mata can also return before the end of the season. Let’s see what happen. Herrera plays [against Burnley]. He didn’t play on Thursday – one yellow card and he would have missed the semi-finals. I was thinking about him and [fellow substitute Marouane] Fellaini both at the same time but, because I made a change with Marcos Rojo, I couldn’t do that and he didn’t play.
“So Herrera is fresh to play. Ashley Young is fresh to play and who else? Nobody else is fresh to play! Now we need absolutely everyone and I don’t have to think about Axel Tuanzebe going to the Under-20 World Cup in Korea because maybe Axel has to come now. We need everybody.”
Rooney has been out of action with an ankle problem since the game against West Bromwich Albion on 1 April,
Marcus Rashford scored United’s 107th-minute clincher against Anderlecht, his 10th goal of a season in which he has racked up 44 appearances so far.
A journalist asked Mourinho about the 19-year-old's potentially being selected in the England Under-21 squad for the European Championship finals in June.
“I don’t want to go in that direction,” the manager replied. “I just feel that, when a player reaches a certain level, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to drop levels. It’s like me putting him in our Under-23s to win, let’s say, a derby against Man City. No? Nicky Butt could play him in that game because of his age.
“So when you reach a certain level and you’ve reached it for a long time, I don’t think it makes sense. But the power is in their hands.”