Still only 21 years of age, pundits and the football media consider Marcus Rashford to be at a sticking point his career already. Michael Owen has criticised the Manchester United striker as “not obsessed with goals”.
Paul Scholes described the Wythenshawe-born Red as a “scorer of great goals, but not a great goalscorer.”
England manager Gareth Southgate is “not certain that [number 9 position] is where he is happiest,” The Guardian reported.
Yet, come Saturday’s game against Leicester City, Rashford will likely start as a centre-forward for United. Questions will be asked throughout the season, the most pertinent being, ‘what is Rashford’s best position?’ and ‘is he a great goalscorer?’
Is Rashford a great goalscorer?
Generally played out wide to allow for main striker Lukaku, Rashford netted 10 Premier League goals last season.
He’s not yet shown that he’s a great goalscorer, but it’s worth remembering the context to his 47 goals for United in three-and-a-half years.
This has encompassed a tumultuous time at his club, with a majority of appearances coming from the wing (plus 35% of his appearances coming as a substitute), and playing for a team that, in general, has scored many fewer than their rivals.
Compared to his peers, he is considered to be well behind Kai Havertz (17 Bundesliga goals in 2018/19), Timo Werner (16 Bundesliga goals in 2018/19) and Luka Jovic (17 Bundesliga goals in 2018/19).
He’s certainly some way behind the breathtaking talent of Kylian Mbappé (32 Ligue 1 goals in 2018/19).
The reality is that Rashford has performed for longer than any of these talents, excluding Mbappé. Rashford has been one of the mainstays in the side under three managers, playing an average of 51 games per season over the last three campaigns.
In the 2016/17 and 2017/18 seasons, Rashford came off the bench in the league more times than he started. Judging him as a striker based on these stats isn’t right.
So, while it might not be a satisfactory answer for frustrated United fans, the truth is simply that we will have to wait and see whether Rashford can deliver as the main striker over the course of a season.
Style of play
Rashford’s best performances have indeed come from the left wing. Against Liverpool in March 2017, he thumped two home for a fantastic 3-1 victory. He tends to cause more problems in the space that’s given on the flanks.
Many have deemed Rashford’s problem to be related to his lack of action in the penalty area. Michael Owen compared Rashford negatively to City’s Sergio Aguero [Mirror].
10% of Rashford’s touches in the 1-1 draw against Southampton came in the six-yard box. 26% came in the penalty area. Contrastingly, Aguero never touched the ball inside the six-yard box in City’s 4-0 win against AFC Bournemouth, where he scored twice, and a smaller 22% of his touches where inside the penalty area.
Those stats are pretty meaningless, but only in the same manner that criticism of Rashford is founded upon myths and lazy analysis.
Rashford is developing as a player. He’s 21 years old.
Gareth Southgate came with some more knowledgeable input, explaining that “he isn’t as strong as Harry Kane with his back to goal and holding play up. A lot of his best work is in that inside-left channel coming in off the line.”
That explains the crux of the matter. For England, Rashford cannot be Harry Kane, he’s a very different player. For United, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer must decide what kind of striker he wants. If he wanted a player who could hold up the ball, then selling Romelu Lukaku was a senseless decision. If he wants a player like Rashford, then it may take some time this season for those adjustments to come.
Patience is needed
United’s other main striking option is Anthony Martial, another player criticised when starting in a central role. That’s a problem because as things stand, United’s build-up aides neither of their two strikers.
Against smaller sides, the pressing that is important to Solskjaer means counter-attacking is difficult and using the pace and directness of Rashford isn’t possible. There’s also such a lack of creativity in midfield that against these low blocks, Rashford is left having to penetrate the defence himself. That’s led many to critique Rashford as a Ronaldo-wannabe.
This defence of Marcus Rashford is not because he’s a young, Mancunian striker.
It’s because, by the age of 21, he’s scored a goal almost every three matches as he’s floated in and out of the side.
He’s scored against every top-six team, including doubles against Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea.
He’s played in a World-Cup semi-final and a European Championships, scored in a World Cup penalty shootout, won three trophies with United and is now trying to prove himself as the club’s main striker.
Patience is absolutely necessary with Rashford. There’s a reason Barcelona were interested in bringing him to Catalonia in the summer, and some United fans appear to be blind to it.
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