Manchester United’s two most disappointing attackers this season have been Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes.
Fernandes has just five goals, a poor return considering he scored three on the opening day of the season, while Rashford has three, and none in his last 11 games. Worryingly his form looks to be getting worse, rather than better.
So what is the root cause of the issue? Each player’s situation has it’s quirks, like Rashford potentially putting himself under too much pressure or still feeling the burden of his Euro 2012 penalty miss.
If you look at two defensive players who have also struggled badly for form, Luke Shaw, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Harry Maguire, there is a common denominator which tracks back to former manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Overplayed by Ole
- Marcus Rashford
135 times selected
- Harry Maguire
121 times selected
- Luke Shaw
118 times selected
- Aaron Wan-Bissaka
115 times selected
- Bruno Fernandes
97 times selected
When considering the time frame Solskjaer had in charge, less than three full seasons, these are high numbers, and Bruno Fernandes joined 13 months after the Norwegian took over.
Marcus Rashford played more than any other Manchester United player under the former boss, and so his struggles now should not come as a surprise.
These 135 games Rashford played included a stretch where he missed two months of action before the lockdown in early 2020, or the numbers would be even higher.
After the lockdown, Solskjaer selected Rashford in nearly every match, instead of easing him back after a serious back fracture injury.
Last season he played through shoulder and foot injuries without a rest, and his late season form suffered for it.
One particularly egregious selection came in United’s Europa League second leg against Real Sociedad last season, when the team were already 4-0 up from the away leg, and Rashford and Fernandes were still selected.
Then against City earlier this season, Solskjaer called on Rashford off the bench when he should not have been playing.
Now feeling the effects
Solskjaer’s lack of team rotation eventually came back to bite him. Players like Fernandes, Shaw and Maguire all saw their form fall off in the first part of the season.
Whether the issues be mental or physical, or both, fatigue has played a part, and there have also been other effects, with other squad players frustrated at being overlooked.
Anthony Martial was left frustrated at being overlooked for Rashford in the City game referenced above, while Donny van de Beek and Jesse Lingard have both suffered from the dependence on Fernandes.
The likes of Alex Telles, Diogo Dalot, Axel Tuanzebe and Eric Bailly were also overlooked too often in favour of Solskjaer’s favourites, and it was widely reported that this unbalanced team selection caused issues within the squad, leading to a loss of form and the manager’s eventual demise.
There have been international matches mixed in too, for the likes of Rashford and Fernandes, taking their game numbers during this stretch to even higher numbers.
Solskjaer may be gone, but United’s players are still feeling the after-effects. He went ‘all in’ with a smaller group of players than he needed to from a wide pool, leaning too heavily on his core group, and in Rashford’s case, it is hurting him now.
Rashford played some of his best football under Solskjaer, scoring 55 goals under the Norwegian. But now he is back at square one, going through the toughest stretch of his career.
The kindest decision Ralf Rangnick could make is to give him a rest and leave him out of the side for a stretch so he can get his body and mind right, and he may not be the only player who needs a break.
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