Alan Smith names Man Utd star who can rescue top four hopes this season | Football

Martinez is back in training after his most recent injury setback (Picture: Getty)

Former Manchester United star Alan Smith believes the return of Lisandro Martinez will lift Erik ten Hag’s side back into the race for Champions League qualification.

Martinez enjoyed a superb first season in Manchester following his arrival from Ajax in 2022 but has been limited to just 10 starting appearances this term.

The centre-half was sidelined in September after suffering a recurrence of a foot injury, requiring surgery for a second time in the space of six months. He returned to action in January but just four games later, he was sidelined once again after suffering a knee injury in the victory over West Ham United in early February.

Martinez is targeting a return against Brentford on Saturday with United needing to hit the ground running following the international break to stand a chance of closing the gap on the top five.

Aston Villa and Tottenham currently sit in fourth and fifth spot, nine and six points ahead of United respectively.

While his old side have their work cut out, former United striker Smith believes the return of Martinez could have a transformative effect on the squad and give them their best chance of qualifying for the Champions League next season.

Asked if Martinez’s return can lift United back into Champions League qualification, Smith told Metro.co.uk via Casinoservice: ‘Definitely. He’s an essential part of the team, and he’s left-sided which has been a huge loss for them this year.

Manchester United striker Alan Smith

Smith spent three years at Old Trafford (Picture: Getty)

‘Nearly all the left-sided players have been decimated with injury, Luke Shaw’s been out, Martinez, [Tyrell] Malacia. I know that Ten Hag as a Dutch coach likes that balance, and you see strange decisions as managers just to see if you can get a left-footed or left-sided player in the team.

‘I think just or giving the balance, makes it hard when he’s not in the team.

‘Not only is he a great defender that looks like a real good leader, but being left footed with so few left-sided options would have a massive impact on the team as well for the balance of the team.’

Manchester United midfielder Mason Mount

Mount made his long-awaited return against Liverpool before the international break.

United also have Mason Mount available once again after an injury-hit first season at the club. The former Chelsea midfielder has managed just 13 appearances this season with just a single assist to his name but retains the backing of his manager with ten Hag insisting he will still have a key role to play.

Smith, who spent eight months on the sidelines after a horrific leg break playing against Liverpool in 2006, sympathises with Mount, but admits proving you are good enough ‘is the hardest thing to do’ when you have suffered injury setbacks.

‘Obviously it has been a difficult introduction, not just for himself, but at this moment in time there was a lot of pressure on the players that were signed,’ Smith said.

‘I don’t know him personally or his characteristics, but he kept his head down and kept working to try and make an impact, and then had an injury which is difficult for any player – especially when you’ve signed somewhere and you want to fit in, do your best and prove to people that you’re good enough to be there.

‘It’s probably the hardest thing to do when you get a setback, and then to come back and prove your worth to people. If you hit the ground running and you start off well, it’s a lot easier to settle. I’m sure he himself won’t be expecting to just walk back into the team.’


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