Waiting in the wings – analysing Rashford’s new role under Mourinho

With Lukaku securing his place as Mourinho’s man upfront, Marcus Rashford could see himself emerging as an inside forward. Will he fight for a place upfront, or will he settle for playing on the left-hand side? Maybe both at the same time.

When Rashford burst onto the scene, all be it due to Louis van Gaal having no other choice, he was deployed as a ‘number nine’ and after his debut hat-trick in the Europa league and a Premier League debut double against Arsenal, it was only logical for fans and pundits alike to see Rashford as not only one of the brightest English talents around, but a potential first choice striker for Manchester United and England.

He went on to make 18 appearances in the final 19 games of the 2015/16 campaign for his boyhood club.

Come the start of the 2016/17 season and Mourinho has arrived, as well as Zlatan Ibrahimovic. There was no question who would be featuring upfront now.

Despite the Swede being first pick, Rashford still featured in 32 premier league games and 11 Europa League matches, including starting as the forward in the final, though Zlatan was injured at this point.

Now the 2017/18 Premier League season is three games old and with Mourinho is naturally building his attack around his brand new £75 million striker, Romelu Lukaku.

Couple this with the potential re-signing of the recovering Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and it appears the ‘number nine’ position and Marcus Rashford won’t be seeing each other for a while.

Despite Rashford proving that he can still be a nuisance to opposition defenders when placed on the left or right wing, it is almost an unanimously accepted hypothesis that when playing as a striker, Rashford performs at his best.

Being on the shoulder of centre backs with his pace it forces opponents to think twice about playing a high line.

Despite Rashford’s temporary divorce with his preferred position, it doesn’t mean he is confined to the wings.

In the first three Premier League fixtures against West Ham, Swansea and Leicester his average position was near the centre of the field.

This was due to the width being provided by the fullbacks, as Manchester United overloaded central areas, meaning Rashford was playing near the box  – his favourite position, remember – when United were in possession.

In the Leicester City fixture, Rashford scored from inside the penalty area; it was certainly a striker’s finish.

So, in three consecutive games, Rashford has played as a left winger/midfielder, but his role when his team has the ball is to occupy the left half-space and the centre.

This allows him to combine with the likes of Lukaku and Mkhitaryan. Mourinho would have intended this to happen, which could mean that if Lukaku is in the team week in week out, Rashford could see a mixture of his two roles morph into one.

If this is the case, the next question is: Can he keep it up?

Well, in short, yes. But if his ultimate aspiration is to lead the line for the club that he’s been at since the age of seven, then his finishing must improve.

In 32 Premier League games, Rashford scored just five times, compared to Wayne Rooney who managed the same goal tally but in seven fewer appearances.

Although it is harsh to compare him to the club’s greatest goal scorer, Rashford had more opportunities than Rooney, but couldn’t surpass the former captain’s goal scoring rate.

This is quite an important issue to address for a striker and this is one of the grey areas of his game that could use the help of someone like Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

If Zlatan were to stay another season, then the boy from Wythenshawe will have to sacrifice his beloved position upfront for some words of advice.

With mentoring from one of Europe’s greatest strikers, when Rashford’s time comes, it will have been worth the wait.

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