Manchester United have come in for criticism after a disappointing start to the new season, and every area on the pitch has come under scrutiny, from new signing Andre Onana in goal to last campaign’s top scorer Marcus Rashford. The 25-year-old, previously described as “outstanding,” will need to improve his output if the side are to make a move up the Premier League table. Last Word on Football looks at how Erik ten Hag can get the best out of his star man.
Tactical Issues Affecting Star Player Marcus Rashford
Marcus Rashford: Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year
Man Utd had a difficult 2021/22 season after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s departure and the subsequent appointment of Ralf Rangnick, and Rashford himself endured one of the most challenging periods of his career, beginning the new campaign with a shoulder injury which derailed his chances of hitting the ground running.
It has become widely known that the England International’s greatest attributes are on display as a left-winger, although he can be more than competent as the main striker when the team aim to play on the counter. However, he was shuffled between the right wing, centre forward and the left, and he struggled to make an impact as the side could only manage a 6th placed league finish.
The appointment of Ten Hag revitalised Rashford’s career, and the 2022/23 league tally of 17 goals and 30 in all competitions showed his capabilities in front of goal. A run of 10 Premier League strikes in as many games helped him to be recognised as the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year for the first time. After securing Champions League football and silverware with the Carabao Cup, Rashford and United were primed to move to the next level.
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Squad and Tactical Issues
Despite signing Rasmus Hojlund for big money in the summer, the Red Devils started Monday Night Football against Wolves with no fit and available focal point, with Anthony Martial not deemed fit enough to start. This had a knock-on effect on their number ten, who lined up as the striker here and for the subsequent defeat to Tottenham. A move out to the left wing against Nottingham Forest and Arsenal provided his first goal involvement with an assist and a goal.
The ongoing issues around senior options out wide on the right reared its head in the game against Burnley, with both Antony and Jadon Sancho unavailable, leading to Rashford being ineffective, starting with Hojlund in a front two with a diamond shape in midfield. These two have struggled to link up in their outings thus far, and it will take time for them to become accustomed to each other.
The left-back in this side is a vital position for United’s star man as it can be his primary source of link-up play. Due to injury and availability, three players have taken up this role already in the early weeks. Luke Shaw, Diogo Dalot and Sergio Reguilon have appeared in this role – leaving a lack of understanding and effective link-up down the left channel.
Pundit Comments Unfounded
Former England and Manchester City star Stuart Pearce was on talk sport after the 4-3 defeat to Bayern Munich, and he strongly condemned Rashford. Despite comparing him to Arsenal legend Thierry Henry, he also went on to say:
“This is where I sort of have a little bit of frustration with Rashford.
“I think he can grab hold of the game for 90 minutes and run past people and be like a Henry. You remember Henry in the Premier League, it was like a man against kids on occasion.
“I just think he fades out the game too regularly and this second half is a point in case for me.”
Manchester United may be struggling, but it has not been from a lack of effort from Rashford. It has been difficult to impact games with an ever-changing line-up and formation. The numbers speak for themselves, 4.3 shots, 1.3 key passes, and 2.7 dribbles per league game and three key passes alone in the Bayern Munich game per whoscored – show that the quality and effort is still there.
Ten Hag Must Adapt This United Side to Help Marcus Rashford Shine
The manager has had a difficult start with much of this owing to a lengthy injury list. Ten Hag has set up wrong tactically on occasions, thus hampering his key player. There is an argument that the very best players in the world should be able to adapt to the team’s needs, but it is not often the likes of Mohammed Salah, Kevin De Bruyne, or Bukayo Saka play out of position.
The team needs to be built around its best player, and in this United side, that player is Rashford. If Ten Hag is to silence the critics and lead United to a successful season, he must realise this and set up to allow his best asset to flourish.