Despite being on a run of nine goals in his last ten games, there’s plenty to be causing sleepless nights for Marcus Rashford at the moment.
It’s a big season for the 22-year-old, who, for the first time in his Manchester United career, has been given the trust to be the club’s first-choice centre-forward.
It’s been a long road to get here for Rashford, who has technically seen off competition from the likes of Wayne Rooney, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Romelu Lukaku for that role, though that’s arguably a bit like claiming Man Utd saw off the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona to win the Europa League in 2017.
The England international’s stats don’t paint a picture of someone who’s improved a great deal since he first burst onto the scene towards the end of 2015/16, and that’s clear from watching him on the pitch as well. Into his fifth season in the United first-team now, Rashford has only once hit double figures for Premier League goals (10 in 33 games last term), with his highest ever tally in all competitions a distinctly unremarkable 13.
Players develop at different rates, and many United fans will no doubt be screaming into their keyboards right now about how long it took Cristiano Ronaldo to really get going at Old Trafford, but, equally, there have been the likes of Wayne Rooney, Harry Kane, and even Lukaku, who clearly looked more accomplished finishers and boasted better records at similar stages in their careers.
Put it this way, it seems very much like Rashford’s performances are a concern for arguably the man who matters most, his manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – someone who knows a thing or two about forging a career as an elite-level goal-scorer for the Red Devils.
Back in August, the Daily Mirror claimed Rashford was being put through similar training drills to those that Ronaldo went through in a bid to improve his scoring record. With Lukaku gone and no replacement coming in, it’s not for a lack of trust or faith being shown in him that Rashford has struggled to make the next step up.
Clearly, however, these drills, if they have been happening, are not having the desired effect. Speaking on the Transfer Window Podcast this week, Ian McGarry reported that Solskjaer and his coaching staff have become concerned by Rashford’s wasteful finishing. While Anthony Martial was also named as a concern, McGarry suggested that Rashford’s performance against Brighton may be contributing towards the club chasing attacking players in the transfer market.
Both McGarry and Duncan Castles discuss United’s transfer plans in the podcast, with links with short-term cover up front in the form of veteran Juventus striker Mario Mandzukic not likely to be a particular concern for Rashford, though the fact that other, younger forwards such as Erling Haaland and Timo Werner also seem to be on MUFC’s radar should perhaps set alarm bells ringing.
With misses like this one in the video below, it’s hardly surprising that Solskjaer might not be convinced he’s seeing much return in the time and work he’s reported to have invested in Rashford, with McGarry adding that the feeling was Rashford could conceivably have scored as many as six goals in that win over Brighton.
Look at just how fast Daniel James is here. With a 93% passing accuracy, 2 key passes and 1 big chance created, the birthday boy's display deserves a lot of praise?? pic.twitter.com/pIDsrGdKii
— UtdArena. (@utdarena) November 10, 2019
Of course, Rashford’s development up to now won’t have been helped by having to shift out wide on occasion, particularly under Jose Mourinho. In many ways, the youngster was desperately unlucky with the timing of the changes at the club just after his scintillating breakthrough under Louis van Gaal. He scored five goals in 11 league games under the Dutchman, but managed that same tally in 32 games under Mourinho the following season. Now expected to put in a shift out wide and track back and play in a generally less creative side under the more cautious managerial approach of his new manager, it may be that Rashford lost the chance to build on that early momentum at such a crucial time in his career.
Not everyone is that pessimistic, however, with Dale O’Donnell of Man Utd blog Stretty News sticking up for the player and even suggesting he could continue to be an option for the club up front or out wide in the long-term.
“Marcus Rashford only recently turned 22 and he’s already scored 54 goals for Manchester United,” Dale tells CaughtOffside. “He may not be a lethal finisher just yet, but he deserves more credit than what he gets!
“I think Rashford is better coming in from the left than he is leading the line, though I also reckon he could have a future in behind a striker. He has a future at Old Trafford regardless of who Ole brings in.”
These are strong words, though they do offer some perspective on a talented young player thrust into the limelight earlier than most. Though it would again appear Solskjaer does not necessarily agree, with another wonderkid, Borussia Dortmund and England winger Jadon Sancho, supposedly being lined up alongside Red Bull Salzburg striker Haaland in a double deal worth as much as £185million this January, according to the Daily Mirror.
That’s a lot of money to invest in two teenagers who both play in the two positions Rashford plays in, and is a clear sign of the emergency situation Solskjaer seemingly faces at Old Trafford, with his side nine points off the top four and on just 16 goals in 12 matches. For context, 17th-placed Aston Villa have scored more. Up the road, noisy neighbours Manchester City have more than double that.
While the Norwegian has clearly tried to build a team without big-name signings, shifting off two of Mourinho’s biggest flops in Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez without replacing them this summer, it seems his commitment to that approach can only take him so far. And even if he continues to try to put together a generally younger, fitter and hungrier squad of players than his predecessor, there seem to be players who’d be better equipped for that role than Rashford.
Haaland, who only turned 19 in July, has 26 goals in 18 games this season. Rashford, by contrast, has scored 22 times in his last 64 appearances in all competitions. Haaland has already netted seven times in four games in the Champions League this term, a higher tally at that level than Rashford’s five in his entire career so far.
It is worth noting again, as mentioned at the start of this piece, that Rashford is now on a run of nine goals in his last ten games for club and country. Even if he could clearly have had a few more against Brighton, there are perhaps signs of that confidence returning.
If he can keep this up for the period leading up to January, it could be perfectly timed by Rashford, or signs suggest the next transfer window could a fatal blow to his United career.