2018 22under22 Countdown – #13: Marcus Rashford

Rashford

“Marcus Rashford’s a very good young player. I see some of myself in him for sure – he has courage and he’s fast and is very good with the ball. I think strikers have to be hungry to score and I see that with him. He has an amazing future.” – Ronaldo


Date of Birth: October 31st, 1997 (20 years old)
Nationality: English
Position: Striker/Winger
Club Appearances: 123 (32 goals, 14 assists)
International Appearances: 18 (2 goals)
EiF Ability Rating: 60


On the 25th February 2016 then-Manchester United manager, Louis van Gaal, put his trust in an 18-year old Marcus Rashford as United looked to overturn a 2-1 deficit from the first leg in the Europa League, Round of 32, against Danish club, Midtjylland. Anthony Martial had picked up an injury in the warm-up and thus the burden fell onto the shoulders of the Wythenshawe, south Manchester, born Rashford.

After 28 minutes, Midtjylland had taken the lead and, thus, the burden was suddenly increased as Manchester United would need 3 goals to qualify. An own goal from Bodurov after 32 minutes eased such and in the 64th minute…

“And Rashford has got the dream goal he was looking for on his debut and one he’ll never ever forget!”

Fast-forward 11 minutes…

“And there he is again! Marcus Rashford!”

2 goals in 11 minutes from the 18-year old put United on track for a comeback in the first and they ran out 5-1 winners in the end with Rashford becoming United’s youngest ever scorer in European competition, beating a record previously held by a certain George Best. Three days later, he scored 2 more goals and provided an assist in a 3-2 win against Arsenal. What was he set for after four goals and one assist in two games as an 18-year old? Greatness, right? Twenty days later he scored again against Manchester City, away from home, which turned out to be the winner. Club legend?

Two seasons, 123 games, 32 goals and 14 assists later, a fully-fit Rashford has found himself scoring once in his last 11 games whilst being a substitute for the majority in addition to going through a spell of 1 goal in 6 games, totalling a sum of 150 minutes of game-time (25 minutes per-game). What happened?

In Rashford’s first season which kicked off on the 26th February 2016, he amassed a total of 18 games out of a possible 19, scoring 8 times and providing 2 assists. In Mourinho’s first season (2016-17), Rashford played far more games – 54 in total – and he started 30 and was a substitute for 24 of them. He scored 11 times and assisted 4. The question is: how did he play 36 more games than in his first season yet only score 3 more goals and provide 2 more assists? Rashford spent much of the season playing on the wings whereas he was deployed as a centre forward in his initial season. Due to his age, and the presence of Ibrahimovic, Rashford found himself isolated in an unfamiliar wing position which demanded a change in his game. He was 19 and despite a very promising beginning to his career, he was moved to the side to cater for the 34-year old Swede.

Statistics

In his first season (2015-16), Rashford had 36 shots on goal with 13 on target, resulting in 8 goals. This all came from 18 games, a rate of 2 shots per-game. In his second season, Rashford accumulated 82 shots on goal with 33 on target, resulting in 11 goals. This all came from 54 games which highlights a rate of 1.58 shots per-game. As a young player who is looking to be a ruthless striker in the modern game, despite age, such figures are underwhelming especially when considering Rashford’s initial burst onto the scene. His progress was decelerated by the pressure placed on Mourinho to bring Manchester United back to the “glory days”.

2017-18

If we move forward to this season, 2017-18, we saw Ibrahimovic start it injured – picked up in the latter stages of the previous season – and it was believed Rashford or Martial would acquire more game-time under Mourinho. However, as soon as the summer began, and transfer rumours were floating, talk began to buzz around Old Trafford regarding two players: Álvaro Morata and Romelu Lukaku. With Mourinho opting to choose the latter, Rashford found himself, again, playing second-fiddle to a more experienced striker. Again, a closer look at statistics tells a familiar story:

Rashford played 51 times this season with 26 of them being starts and 25 as a substitute. He scored 13 times and provided 8 assists. Whilst he did improve on last season, his figures, again, do not highlight a player who was arguably on his way to becoming a club great. What further exacerbates this is that he started 7 games as a striker whilst mostly being employed as a winger, much like last season.

Some may argue that such versatility is useful for a young player and cite the case of Kylian Mbappé who occasionally played as a winger for AS Monaco during the 2016-17 season and has done so this season for Paris Saint-Germain. However, there is a clear rebuttal for this: Mbappé played 44 times for AS Monaco, starting 29 of them. For Paris Saint-Germain, thus far, he has played 40 times, starting 37 of them. This rate of starting games is vital for a young player in their quest for consistency.

As for Rashford, he has constantly been in and out of the team despite providing goals and assists; in his first 15 games of this season, he started 9 of them as he was challenging Anthony Martial for the position on the left side of midfield. Despite this, he scored 7 goals and provided 5 assists. However, in the next 8 games, he started only half of them, not adding to the scoresheet but provided an assist in a 4-1 win against Newcastle United. In his last 36 games for Manchester United, Rashford started 19 of them. In this time, he scored 6 times and provided 3 assists. One notices a clear contrast between the Rashford of the first 15 games and the Rashford of the last 36. The question is, why? One of the reasons is that he has not played consistently as a striker – his favoured position – for two seasons. In addition, he had to vie with Martial for a place on the left wing and with Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard for a place on the right. Another reason is the manager. Is he the right one to raise a young player like Rashford? A third reason is…

Alexis Sánchez

On 22nd February 2018, Sánchez made the switch from Arsenal to Manchester United in a deal that was celebrated by many Manchester United fans. However, one could believe that neither Martial or Rashford were as much a fan. Before Sánchez was signed, Rashford was being regularly benched by the great January form of Martial who, himself, was benched by Sánchez’s arrival. As a result, Rashford found himself a warmer and familiar seat on the side lines.

For 12 games leading up the arrival of Sánchez, Rashford started 7 of them. In the next 12 games after the arrival of Sánchez, Rashford started just 4. Within this time, he had two consecutive games against Liverpool (a 2-1 win) and Sevilla (a 2-1 loss) in which he scored twice and provided one assist however, despite this increase in form, he was benched for the following 4 games in which he played a total of 53 minutes. He was given a start against Bournemouth in which he played better than he did in the previous games however he was dropped in the game after as United faced Tottenham in the FA Cup Semi-Final.

At the end of the season, he started against Brighton, Watford and in the FA Cup against Chelsea. In all three games, Rashford was a shadow of his former self though picking up a goal against Watford in the final game of the Premier League.

It highlights that Rashford’s development, despite playing more games, has stagnated this season. In his first 11 games of the season, he scored 5 goals and assisted 4 goals. In his last 11 games, he scored once and assisted none. This simply clarifies his “development” in a nutshell.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Rashford’s strengths and weaknesses have changed over the few years he’s been involved in the first team. As of now, one could argue that his strengths are his pace on the ball, desire to close down defenders, dribbling and shooting technique. However, his weaknesses are his decision making, lack of clinical nature which, as a raised striker, he should have, crossing and positioning.

Moving Forward

There are two schools of thought with regard to Rashford’s progression as a footballer. The first opinion is that he should remain at Manchester United and improve his game as a winger, thus convincing Mourinho to play him on the left or right. However, with Sanchez at the club and Martial being the better player, Rashford would find it difficult to play much unless the latter leaves. The only other option is to be deployed as a right winger however this is not his natural game and he is far, better suited to playing as an inside forward off the left.

The second opinion is that he should go out on loan to a mid-table club as it will allow him to have a whole season “under his belt”. This would allow him to get to grips with the game and its requirements. If he were to go on loan abroad, it would be advised that he plays in Spain as, despite it being more technical, it is the closest to the Premier League in terms of the fast nature of its game. Also, the technical side of the game there would benefit Rashford upon his return.

There is a third opinion but I do not include it as a main opinion due to the amount of opposition it has: Rashford should leave. Why? Mourinho signed Romelu Lukaku in the summer and made it very clear that he will be the main striker. In addition, Lukaku is not an injury-prone player and has the physique to play 50 games in a season, starting every one. As a result, Rashford will not find much playing time in his favoured position as a striker. In addition, he will not play on the left wing due to Sanchez and Martial nor will he be good enough to play on the right. As a result, even if he leaves on loan and returns a year later, Lukaku will remain as the club’s number 1 striker and Rashford will be frozen out upon his return.

Conclusion

Marcus Rashford, in terms of talent, arguably fits into the bracket of Kylian Mbappé, Ousmane Dembélé, Marco Asensio, Anthony Martial, Leroy Sané and others. However, like Martial, he must consistently play games so that he can develop his mentality on the pitch. Just like in boxing, a fighter can have immense talent but due to not fighting regularly, they have “ring-rust” which is a concept that refers to the lack of mental awareness of a fighter due to the lack of time they’ve spent in the ring. Likewise, footballers develop the same thing when they are young. If they are not played regularly, they develop a type of “ring-rust” whereby they cannot adjust themselves mentally speaking. Inevitably this leads to “trying too hard” and not playing the game naturally – a problem many young players fall into when not played consistently.

Rashford is in danger of falling into the bracket of “he had potential to be great”. He needs to improve his game and he needs the means to do it.

Next season will be very telling…


Written by Sam (@SamKirklees)