Manchester United came into the season with a lot of hope and expectation after an encouraging pre-season. However, two games in, the alarm bells are already ringing.
They came through the Wolves game with a win despite a disastrous performance but the Spurs game wasn’t so forgiving. Lacklustre finishing allowed Spurs to come back in the second half and put United to the sword to condemn Erik ten Hag’s side to yet another away defeat against a top PL opposition.
They conceded two goals, but the problem lies up top. Marcus Rashford has played as the No 9 in both games and the only reason why United were able to conjure attacks in either game was due to the opposition’s errors.
Rashford has previously publicly said that he doesn’t like playing as a striker, and these two games have done nothing to prove otherwise.
Not only does it rob him of his best traits as a forward, but it also makes the team worse as a whole. Here’s why Marcus Rashford as a striker experiment needs to end because it hurts United in more ways than one –
Effect on Marcus Rashford
At his best, Marcus Rashford is an explosive forward who can get his shot away with venom in the slightest space available. He runs past defenders when given pace and is impossible to catch once he’s off.
He even has the odd bit of trickery in his arsenal which makes him borderline impossible to defend if he’s feeling it.
At centre-forward, he’s robbed of all this. Instead, he’s left jostling with defenders much stronger than him as they kick and push his back when he tries to control the ball.
Rashford has bulked up a lot since his debut and is not a weak player physically by any means. However, holdup play is not just a game of strength. It comes after years of practising as a natural striker. Somebody like Gabriel Batistuta mastered it despite being slighter than Rashford physically.
The end result is that of a frustrated player who can’t get on the ball for longer than five seconds. Rashford likes to take the ball out wide, run at his fullback, and get shots away from the inside left channel. His is a game of space and in the clogged middle, all his worst parts of the game come to the fore.
Playing Rashford as a striker who needs to hold the ball up is akin to having Lionel Messi up top and playing a game of aerial bombardment through floated crosses. He might look good once or twice but ultimately, you’re not even scratching the surface of what he’s capable of when played in his favoured role and position.
Effect on wingers
There’s a reason why United looked good with Wout Weghorst in the XI last year despite his own game being subpar. Every United winger, barring Pellistri, is the kind who likes to receive the ball out wide before cutting in and linking up play to break through opposition lines.
With Rashford up top, the linkup play is non-existent. Worse still, his own tendency to move wide in search of touches of the ball leads to multiple players occupying the same space on the pitch, with nobody left to make life uncomfortable for opposition centre-backs.
Antony’s quality is coming under the microscope but Rashford’s role is also a big reason why he looks much worse. There are numerous instances where Antony takes the ball and predictably comes inside on his left foot. From there, it can be seen that there’s nobody to do a “pass and run” with. Ultimately, the ball is passed backwards and United remain stuck in a loop.
The same is the case with Garnacho on the left. Cut inside, then pass backwards.
It is startling to see how often the opposition CBs are free in the box and Bruno Fernandes is the furthest man up front because Rashford has gone searching for the ball.
The whole attack is off-tune with Rashford as the striker. It doesn’t just hinder his game, it is causing the confidence of his teammates to crash as well.