The Top 5

The top 5 United players not going to the 2018 World Cup

The greatest event in world football returns in just under two weeks time. On June 14, the 2018 World Cup in Russia kicks off, and a number of major United stars will represent their nations throughout the competition.

Being able to watch their favourite players express themselves on the field without United’s integrity on the line will be a much-welcomed break for fans.

The World Cup makes or breaks players. Some, such as James Rodriguez, use it as a platform to announce themselves on a global stage. For others, their tournament could spell misery and frustration as they fail to live up to expectations.

Not every United player will have the blessing of representing their nation at the coveted tournament this time around, however. Whether it be through injury, not making the 23-man shortlist, or even not qualifying altogether.

Here are my top picks for United players who won’t be playing in Russia this summer:

Honourable mention: Chris Smalling

It’s good to see that at least one of Chris Smalling’s managers has recognised he is not the player he once was.

Smalling has frequently featured at the heart of England’s defence in recent years, though another disappointing season has seen him be left out of the 23-man squad that will travel to Russia.

Interestingly, his United compadre Phil Jones has, in fact, made the cut – despite his abysmal performance in the FA Cup final. However, the chances of him starting ahead of Gary Cahill, John Stones or even Kyle Walker at the centre of defence are pretty slim.

Even Leicester City’s Harry Maguire made it into the team ahead of Smalling, which just goes to show the kind of forgettable season he’s had.

Whether he’ll ever play another game in a United shirt again is another discussion, but I certainly know what Red Devils fans would wish for if they had it their way.

5. Sergio Romero

This exclusion is probably the hardest to swallow, both for United fans and Romero himself.

The Argentine arrived at Old Trafford in summer 2015, as Louis Van Gaal prepared for him to replace the inevitably-departing David De Gea.

Thankfully, that didn’t happen. But since then, Romero has asserted himself as a reliable backup to Spanish Dave, and perhaps the best second-choice keeper in the league.

For years, Sergio Romero has been Argentina’s first-choice keeper. But it has now been revealed the United star will miss this summer’s World Cup through injury.

Argentina’s official Twitter account broke the news towards the end of last month.

Whether it was Romero’s last chance to win a World Cup with his country is yet to be seen.

But one thing’s for sure. If the 31-year-old opts to leave Old Trafford in pursuit of first-team action, it will be hard to deny him that given his quality.

4. Antonio Valencia

Another star whose last chance at World Cup football is likely to be gone is trusted Manchester United right-back, Antonio Valencia.

Unlike Sergio Romero, Valencia’s absence from the tournament is not due to injury, but due to Ecuador’s failure to qualify.

Despite being 1-0 up against Argentina in October, a hat-trick from Lionel Messi secured his country’s qualification at the expense of Ecuador.

Given Valencia’s service to the Red Devils over the years, seeing the full-back represent his nation at another World Cup would have warmed the hearts of United fans across the world.

Ecuador are just one of the many nations whose absence from the tournament comes as a shock.

However, more shocking entries are still to come…

3. Eric Bailly

For years, Ivory Coast have dominated Africa as the continent’s strongest footballing nation, winning a number of AFCON trophies.

Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure, Gervinho, and Salomon Kalou – just a few names to make their mark on world football, particularly in the Premier League.

This year, however, the nation has failed to qualify for the World Cup, meaning that fan-favourite centre-half Eric Bailly will miss out on a trip to Russia. Even Bailly’s domestic has suffered because of this.

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has opted to field his other options at centre-back because of their involvement in the World Cup, even though Bailly has been injury-free for the last few months.

A 2-0 loss against Morocco in the qualifiers was the nail in the coffin for Ivory Coast.

Thankfully, Bailly is only 24-years-old, a relatively young age for a defender. So I’m sure he’ll be involved in plenty other World Cups to come.

2. Anthony Martial

Perhaps the most controversial entry into this list, Anthony Martial is one of the many casualties of France’s incredible depth.

France are one of the leading favourites to win the competition. But if they do so, it will be without the help one of United’s best attackers.

Whittling his team down to just 23 players, manager Didier Deschamps has excluded a range of high-quality talents such as Alexander Lacazette, Adrien Rabiot, Kingsley Coman and more.

Had Martial continued his pre-Christmas form, or even started a similar number of games, he may well have been on the plane to Russia this month.

However, since the signing of Alexis Sanchez in January, Martial has not been given the play-time he, along with United fans, have craved.

Whether this will spell the end of Martial’s career at United is yet to be seen. But even staunch supporters of Mourinho must admit the young Frenchman needs more game-time, wherever that may be.

1. Alexis Sanchez

Alexis Sanchez and Chile’s failure to qualify for this year’s World Cup came a few months before the forward signed for United. So thankfully, his lacklustre start at Old Trafford isn’t to blame.

In recent years, Chile have established themselves as another South-American powerhouse in world football.

The side were runners-up in last year’s Confederations Cup in Russia, losing to Germany in the finals – well, they’re B-team at least.

After a 1-1 draw between Peru and Colombia, plus Argentina beating Ecuador 3-1, Chile needed to beat Brazil to book their place in Russia.

With Arturo Vidal out for the game through suspension, Sanchez failed to carry his team to glory as Brazil won 3-0.

However, the extended break from football could work wonders for Sanchez.

The 29-year-old has not had a break from football since 2013. A refreshed Alexis could be vital for United’s success next season.

Maybe then he can prove fans why he deserves to start ahead of Marcus Rashford or Anthony Martial.

Nevertheless, if United get even half of the player Sanchez was at Arsenal, they’ll be laughing.