Manchester United will resume their Premier League campaign on Saturday 21 November against Watford with one slight problem, a lack of strikers.
Anthony Martial left Wembley on crutches last Tuesday following a heavy challenge in France's friendly against England while skipper Wayne Rooney is ill. Both will have no role to play at Vicarage Road on Saturday, Louis van Gaal confirmed at a press conference.
It gets worse. Occasional stand-in number 9 Marouane Fellaini is also unavailable through injury. James Wilson, 19, is fit, but having played just 54 minutes of first-team football this season, van Gaal has warned his lack of "match rhythm" means he will not play the full game.
United have struggled to find the back of the net even with all those options available this season. So what do they do now? In all likelihood, van Gaal will look to Wilson or Memphis Depay to lead the line with Jesse Lingard taking up a role on the left. But as van Gaal has demonstrated by calling up academy youngsters Axel Tuanzebe and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson – the latter who made his first-team debut against West Brom on 9 November – he has no hesitation in looking to the club's youth ranks to complete his match-day squads. On Saturday he will have no other choice but to do the same.
Ashley Fletcher is the most likely to benefit from what is an otherwise desperate situation. The 20-year-old forced his way into Warren Joyce's Under-21 squad towards the end of last season and has remained there ever since. His progression can continue this term having scored on his debut for England's Under-20 side earlier in November just 10 minutes after coming off the bench.
A hat-trick for the under-21 side in the 3-2 victory over Rochdale in the Lancashire Senior Cup in September further underlined his credentials as a potent goal scorer in the United ranks. Looking at Fletcher, you would assume he was in the mould of an old fashioned target man, given his height. But his technique and control with the ball are two of his best traits. Conversely, the striker's heading needs the most improvement, as he noted in a recent interview with the club's official website.
But having been enthused by the sight of Paddy McNair, Andreas Pereira and Wilson moving into the first team over the last year, strengthened more so by the recent call-ups for Tuanzebe and Borthwick-Jackson, a first-team role has remained at the forefront of his mind. "Just looking at Paddy McNair and players like that, Andreas Pereira for instance, got their chance last year and took it. Hopefully, if I can get that one chance, I can prove to the boss that I am ready."
Given the spate of injuries in attack, that chance could come on Saturday.