Advertisement

Marcus Rashford starts to struggle but Man United ace can thrive up top

Marcus Rashford starts to struggle but Man United ace can thrive up top
From ESPN - January 9, 2018

It sounds like a minor complaint for a footballer to be a victim of his own ability, but that is what seems to be happening to Marcus Rashford. There is little cause for alarm at present, since the Manchester United starlet is still only 20. Yet there are small signs for concern.

It is often said that Jose Mourinho trusts Rashford, and that was seen no more clearly than in the FA Cup tie against Derby County -- where, even though Henrikh Mkhitaryan was having a markedly better game than Rashford, it was the Armenian who made way at half time. By the break, Rashford had missed at least two excellent chances, and would continue to struggle for precision in the second half, with some of his decision-making strikingly below-par.

No-one disputes Rashford's application or talent. At present, though, they can be excused for asking if he is being deployed to best effect. It is to his credit that he has developed his game to the point where he is given responsibility for corners and free kicks. Yet the sharpness with which he first came to global attention has temporarily faded from his play. This is a forward who emerged as a finisher of rare decisiveness, scoring on every debut (Premier League, Champions League, Europa League, FA Cup, Manchester derby ...) that was handed to him. He is now being used as a winger, a role which he performs with typical diligence but in which he rarely excels. Meanwhile, his instincts in the penalty area have understandably become a little dimmed.

Rashford has appeared in 33 games this year, with a return of only nine goals. This partly reflects the lack of full appearances that he has made, but also his hesitancy in front of goal. He may also be a little tired. That might seem a ridiculous notion to many a critic of his, but playing as a winger in Mourinho's teams requires a great deal of defensive intensity and work without the ball. That work is often thankless, if not dispiriting, particularly when goal-scoring chances are not always easy to come by.

Rashford is the closest thing that English football has to Bayern Munich's Thomas Muller. At his best, he has the same appreciation for space and the same eye for a pass. Excitingly, too, he boasts remarkable skill and acceleration. When Louis van Gaal promoted him to the first team, he was rightly intrigued by the rare blend of these qualities. And these qualities, it must be noted, saw Rashford upstage even the brilliant Anthony Martial in 2015-16.

For now, though, those qualities are a touch less evident. Rashford's issues with his form, in a sense, mirror those at Manchester United -- they are nowhere near a crisis, but they do need further examination. Just as United can point to their very respectable position of second place in the Premier League, Rashford can rightly ask how many 20-year-olds are called upon so regularly by one of the world's elite clubs. Yet, in both cases, they should be expected to be playing with more success and more freedom than they are at present.

Advertisement

Continue reading at ESPN »