It tells you all you need to know about Manchester United’s depth that the remainder of a season still alive on three fronts rested entirely on one man.

Luckily for Erik ten Hag, to a point, the groin injury sustained by Marcus Rashford looks to be a weeks-long problem, rather than months. But that may still be enough to buckle a squad from which the sound of creaking has become increasingly alarming.

That heady spell where United burned through Barcelona and beat Newcastle to the Carabao Cup, all while stirring up hushed talk of a title challenge, seems a long time ago now. Let’s be clear, things have not exactly fallen apart since then – Ten Hag could still finish the season with three trophies, however unlikely that feels – but there have been enough warning signs to raise questions over how United will cope with their gruelling run-in.

Being battered 7-0 away at Liverpool was quite obviously one, as was the lethargy with which they gave up third place in the Premier League to Newcastle, in turn inviting Tottenham back into a top four race they have no business being a part of. Saturday’s defeat of Everton witnessed the return of some effervescence, but it came at a price.

Rashford, with a career-best 28 goals this term already, is the one player United did not want to blow up at this crucial juncture. He missed Thursday night’s Europa League quarter-final first-leg with Sevilla, and will not be available for the return leg. In addition to Europe, his team also have an FA Cup semi-final against Brighton and a crucial league trip to Nottingham Forest, all in the next 11 days.

As news of Rashford’s injury broke on Sky Sports, the background of their live report was dominated by the arrival of a fire engine. As far as unfortunate imagery goes, it was all rather foreboding.

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The knife-twist for Ten Hag in losing his top scorer is he will now be forced to rely upon the perennially unreliable Anthony Martial. It would be absolutely no surprise to anyone should the Frenchman contribute some crucial goals in the weeks to come, only to promptly join Rashford on the treatment table.

Martial is an undeniable talent, one whose luck is out far more than it is in, and those injuries appear to have prevented him from reaching his full potential. He has managed only 12 Premier League appearances this season, and the approaching final year of his contract leaves United with a decision to make – one of several looming large on the horizon.

Make no mistake, a key outcome from the approaching transfer window is to ensure injury to one player – no matter how valuable – does not immediately cause an emergency.

That window could well be a complicated one, though, as a takeover process which is threatening to become a protracted one hangs over Old Trafford. The Glazer Family have received a number of bids, including from Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al-Thani and Sir Jim Ratcliffe, but it does not appear as though a resolution is anywhere close. There has even been suspicion over whether United’s grossly unpopular owners really want to sell at this point, the suggestion being they are testing the water for a deal at some unspecified point in the future.

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The latest is that a third round of bidding is imminent, which suggests offers received thus far have not met their desired sum. It is an open-ended process, and that inevitably breeds a degree of uncertainty, something Ten Hag does not need heading into a monumentally important window. The former Ajax manager has revitalised the club quicker than anticipated, but to advance further he needs backed handsomely and efficiently.

As the season nears its conclusion, however, are we approaching a point where a drawn-out takeover affects those plans? Funds will be available for the manager, undoubtedly, but time is ticking away for a new owner to be in place to oversee it.

There is no denying United have spent heavily under the Glazers’ ownership, but the pace of business and timing of decisions has long been a source of frustration. Too often it has been reactionary and late in the day. It took a disastrous start to the season for United to make serious moves on top target Antony and the acquisition of a midfielder, eventually signing Casemiro after being turned down by Frenkie de Jong and Adrien Rabiot.

United fans had dared to dream they would perhaps never see another transfer window with the Glazers making decisions, but the longer this drags on, the less likely it will be a new owner controlling the purse strings heading into a new campaign.

There is also the justifiable concern that the takeover process could slow the traditionally glacial pace of business even further, when United can least afford it. That Ten Hag has breathed fresh life into a group that appeared fundamentally broken should not be taken as a signal that this squad does not need as much surgery as first anticipated.

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A new goalkeeper, right-back, centre midfield and centre forward should be the very least the manager is permitted to sign this summer, while at once trimming some fat from his squad’s edges. Having risen from the depths of last season’s disaster, the goal should be to press on harder than ever. Standing still really should not be an option.

The precedent for doing so, however, just does not exist in United’s recent history. After Jose Mourinho led them to an unlikely runners-up finish in 2018/19, his reward in the ensuing window was just two signings, an outcome that set in motion his eventual departure. His successor, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, found himself still having to play ageing winger Ashley Young at full-back the following season.

If the Glazers remain in-situ by the time the next window opens, it feels borderline delusional to assume there will be a sudden change of tact, especially if their intention is to head for the hills as soon as someone tables a satisfactorily mountainous pile of money.

Ten Hag deserves better than another slow summer.