After back-to-back Premier League defeats at Old Trafford, the last thing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can afford is friction between his players.
However, Manchester United’s 2-0 loss to Manchester City added weight to claims of disharmony in the ranks, specifically between Cristiano Ronaldo and Mason Greenwood.
Solskjaer has reverted to a back-five system which uses two centre-forwards since the 5-0 defeat by Liverpool, with Edinson Cavani his preferred choice to partner Ronaldo up front.
The veteran duo showed what they are capable of against Tottenham Hotspur as Ronaldo, who scored the opener, assisted his strike partner to set United on course for a much-needed 3-0 victory.
Cavani and Ronaldo have a combined age of 70, but they make up for what they lack in pace with their finely-tuned attacking instincts.
Their combined performance in north London gave Red Devils fans a glimpse of a set-up which was potent on the counter-attack while sturdy in defence.
Cavani and Ronaldo were expected to continue their partnership in Saturday’s Manchester derby, but Solskjaer’s plans were thrown into disarray on Friday as the Uruguayan was ruled out through injury.
The 34-year-old made an appearance off the bench in the 2-2 draw with Atalanta on Tuesday despite suffering with severe pain in his tendon since the victory at Spurs.
“We’ve had a couple of issues since Italy; Edi has been one of them,” Solskjaer told MUTV before the derby.
In Cavani’s absence, Solskjaer may have wanted to turn to Marcus Rashford to partner Ronaldo, but the Englishman was only fit enough to make the bench against City due to an injury of his own.
This left Greenwood as the obvious option to line up alongside the five-time Ballon d’Or winner, but the pair failed to strike up a potent understanding.
This is hardly surprising given Ronaldo’s opinion of his young teammate.
The Portugal captain has been left frustrated by Greenwood’s tendency to shoot on sight rather than look to assist him at earlier points this season, according to reports in late October.
The 20-year-old is regarded as a brilliant finisher, but Ronaldo is undoubtedly the focal point in attack and requires a selfless partner in the Cavani mould to flourish.
There was a distinct lack of synergy in United’s toothless attack and they mustered just one shot on target against City.
The Greenwood-Ronaldo experiment failed, leaving Solskjaer sweating for a positive update on Cavani’s condition and adding weight to Ronaldo’s reported opinion that the pair are simply not a good fit together.