Battle Of The Youth At Manchester United – Marcus Rashford vs Anthony Martial

Manchester United have always had a tradition of bringing through young, talented players. The club currently have two of Europe’s finest youngsters in their ranks; Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial.

Both have been earmarked as potential centre forwards but with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and now Romelu Lukaku taking up the main forward spot, both have had to settle for a place out wide. At the moment it seems like it’s either one or the other in terms of a starting place. The pair only started five league games together in the 2016/17 season. The debate rumbles on about who is the better of the two and who is the more effective player.

Battle Of The Youth At Manchester United

Goals and Assists

Both players have shown an eye for goal during their young careers.

Martial has 27 goals in 93 appearances for United in all competitions. He was the clubs’s top scorer with 17 in his first season. The Frenchman has shown composure in front of goal far beyond his years on numerous occasions. Vital goals such as the the winner in the FA Cup semi-final against Everton in 2016 shows how lethal he can be with his finishing. The 21 year-old has shown himself as a classy operator in front of goal. Many of his 27 strikes have been finesse or curled efforts or a direct result of his powerful running and trickery.

Rashford in comparison has 19 goals in 74 games for the club. However, he has shown himself to be more of a poacher when it comes to his finishing. Many of his goals are from point-blank range. For example, his first two Premier League goals against Arsenal. While this is a good quality to have, he’s shown to be not as convincing on opportunities that are considered harder to take. This is an area the young man will have to work on in order to fulfil the vast potential he’s already shown.

In terms of assists Martial comes out on top again. 17 assists so far in his United career compared to just seven from Rashford. With both players having to settle for roles out wide, a lot of improvement is needed from both in this area. The burden will fall on Henrikh Mkhitaryan to be the main creative spark. If the Armenian were to lose form or become injured, Martial and Rashford have both yet to show they can fill his boots and be the man to open up the opposition defence.

Tactical Awareness

There is far more to wing play than how many men you can beat with a dribble.

Anthony Martial has outstanding close control. The ball sticks to his feet and once he gets going he’s very hard to stop. However, manager Jose Mourinho is a far more pragmatic coach. Flashy dribbles and tricks aren’t always the way to impress him.

Rashford on the other hand has a far better understanding of the wide position. He uses this knowledge to open up space for his teammates and make others shine.

A good example of this was from the opening day win against West Ham.

One moment of note came during the first half – Rashford started on the left hand side, Romelu Lukaku laid off the ball to Paul Pogba and immediately Rashford was on the move. He makes a darting run inside Pablo Zabaleta. This allowed Mkhitaryan to move into the space Rashford had vacated. Rashford’s run left Zabaleta in no mans land as he had no idea whether to follow Rashford’s run or track Mkhitaryan on the outside. Zabaleta was then forced to drop back two yards behind the rest of his defence. By doing this he’s playing the whole United front line onside in order to cover himself. Pogba then releases the ball to Rashford but the pass is too heavy and the move breaks down.

The simple movement of making the run from outside to in opened up the West Ham defence. It’s a prime example of Rashford’s intelligence and quick thinking when he’s not in possession of the ball.

Martial on the other hand is more prone to receiving the ball to feet and wanting to dribble. He is exceptionally good at this but it shows a lack of depth to his game that needs to be worked on. If he wants to become a more rounded player, he’ll need to start understanding that there is more to the game than what you do with the ball at your feet.

Pace and Trickery

Both players are extremely quick. It can be very difficult to tell the difference between them when both are at full speed.

However both men have very different ways of utilising their speed.

Rashford is a very powerful, direct runner. His straight line speed is phenomenal. This is evident with his continued use of the stop and start technique when taking on defenders. He is aware that very few players can keep up with him when he’s running at full speed. He only needs that split second to stop, catch the full back off guard and go again, using his blistering pace to skip away.

This is also more proof of his intelligence as he understands his strengths and looks to use this whenever he can.

Martial has a very different approach. He’s far more instinctive in his play and isn’t afraid to take on two or three defenders at at time. Multiple defenders are usually needed as his close control is exceptional and it often takes more than one player to dispossess him.

His running style with the ball is more intricate and based on subtle movements coupled with his close control. On many occasions we’ve seen him size up his opponent, shift his body weight then take the ball the complete opposite direction. This constantly confuses the opposition.

Both styles have their merits and both can be equally as effective on any given day.

Defensive Responsibility

The chore of being a modern winger is tracking back. Doing this role effectively though is key in order for the team to be successful.

Full backs have developed into hybrid wingers when going forward. If a winger isn’t willing to work back and help out, big problems will emerge.

Neither Martial or Rashford are great at this but it’s the Englishman who definitely has the edge in this department.

Rashford is a willing worker and never complains when asked to do a more defensive job away from home. Martial has been left out of these games quite frequently under Jose Mourinho. His lack of defensive nous is likely the reason why.

Defensive work isn’t just about running back to make up the numbers. Being aware of runners off the ball, who is marking who and being disciplined enough to hold the team shape are key aspects of this.

Mourinho is a coach who likes his players to be aware enough in all aspects of the role and this is something both Martial and Rashford still need improving on. Neither are good enough to be given a luxury role as a free player in the side, which would limit their defensive duties.

Rashford takes direction in this area a lot better than Martial currently does.


Overall both of them are two outstanding young talents who have the potential to dominate the Premier League for years to come.

Debates and comparisons will always rumble on with players as good as these but maybe fans should learn to enjoy the pair of them and appreciate they both offer something great to the club.

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