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Rashford and Martial's battle to convince Jose Mourinho

Ask a group of Manchester United fans what they think is Jose Mourinho's strongest team and you will get a range of answers.

David De Gea in goal is a given. So is Antonio Valencia at right-back. Most would pick Eric Bailly at centre-back, although his best partner would be up for debate. Even Mourinho hasn't settled on his best left-back.

In midfield, it would probably be Nemanja Matic, Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Possibly Ander Herrera. The striker would be Romelu Lukaku, at least until Zlatan Ibrahimovic is back.

There would, most likely, be a split when it came to the wide men. But many -- maybe even most -- United fans would pick Marcus Rashford on one side and Anthony Martial on the other.

It plays into what many supporters think a United team should be. Flying wingers on both sides like John Aston, Andrei Kanchelskis and Cristiano Ronaldo.

"The ability to counterattack and have wing play has always been Manchester United's way," Gary Neville said when asked last season about United's identity.

It is no coincidence that Neville played in a team that won the treble in 1999 with David Beckham on the right and Ryan Giggs on the left.

After a year of David Moyes and two with Louis van Gaal, Mourinho insists he is trying to bring back the philosophy of Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson. But it does not extend to picking Rashford and Martial in the same team.

Mourinho left Martial on the bench for the first two games of the season against West Ham and Swansea and twice the Frenchman came on to score. When Rashford was left out against Leicester, he did the same.

One solution to appease two players in good form is to pick both against Stoke at the bet365 Stadium on Saturday evening. But it is unlikely to happen. In 68 competitive matches in charge of United, Mourinho has picked Martial and Rashford in the same starting XI just nine times.

Last season, they were deployed either side of Ibrahimovic just once -- for the 3-1 defeat to Watford nearly a year ago.

When Rashford and Martial have started together under Mourinho it has usually been when Rashford has been used as the central striker. Last season it was when Ibrahimovic was rested or suspended.

Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford.
Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford are pushing for the starting spot in Jose Mourinho's first choice XI.

It means the chances of seeing Martial, Rashford and Lukaku line up at Stoke this weekend are slim to none. It is not something Mourinho likes to do.

There is a feeling at Old Trafford that between Martial, 21, and Rashford, 19, there lies Mourinho's perfect winger. Rashford is quick, direct and works hard. Martial has got plenty of pace, too, and is the better finisher. The view around Carrington is that Martial is one of the most composed in front of goal at the club.

Based on statistics alone, it should be a no-brainer. Martial has scored two goals this season and has one assist. Rashford has scored one and made one.

Juan Mata hasn't scored or made an assist. Yet the Spaniard has started each of United's three Premier League games while Rashford and Martial have rotated. For Mourinho, the reasoning is simple. Mata makes the team more balanced.

It is the reason attacking right-back Valencia is usually paired with a more defensive player -- Matteo Darmian or Daley Blind -- on the left.

Goals and assists are important but, for Mourinho at least, it is the balance of the team that is key. He has, for the most part, stuck with the same XI for the first three games of the season.

Martial has come in for Rashford but everything else has stayed the same. But Stoke is a different type of game, and there may be a temptation to make changes. Jesse Lingard, whose work rate is valued by Mourinho, could come in. So could last season's player of the year, Ander Herrera, to beef up the midfield.

But despite impressive starts to the new season, it is unlikely the travelling supporters will see Rashford and Martial start together.

Rashford is in form after a goal for United against Leicester and one for England against Slovakia during the international break. Martial should be well-rested after being overlooked by France.

However, history suggests only one will start against Mark Hughes' side.

Rob is ESPN FC's Manchester United correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @RobDawsonESPN.


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