Top of the bill Rashford badly needs a support act
Manchester United are asking young striker to do too much on his own, writes James Ducker
It is when you look at the forward lines at the big clubs across Europe that it becomes harder to rationalise what Manchester United are doing to – and expecting of – Marcus Rashford this season. Carrying the burden of spearheading the attack in a team without either the right support up front or creativity from midfield and the flanks would test even the capabilities of the Continent’s most experienced centre-forwards.
Asking a player who is younger than Tammy Abraham, who has not played a full season as a central striker and who looks most at home cutting in from the left – as he does well for England – to take almost sole responsibility for leading the line seems as naive as it does negligent.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is reluctant to accept United erred by not bringing in quality replacements for Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez in the summer but it is a decision that is already backfiring and one of the main players to suffer has been Rashford. He is being asked to do too much, too soon, too often in a team bereft of confidence and chronically short of senior leaders and, for all his talents, for all his work ethic, there is a limit to what he can be expected to achieve with what he has around him.
Not only did United’s transfer decisions give them no wriggle room where injuries were concerned, as reflected most obviously by the loss of Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba, it failed to account for the sharp fluctuations in form young players inevitably go through. Having broken through at a young age and with 178 senior appearances to his name, there is a danger people look at Rashford now and think he is much older than he is, not a player still 12 days shy of his 22nd birthday. Look across Europe and no other big club are expecting of a young striker what United are expecting of Rashford. Even the supremely gifted Kylian Mbappe, not 21 until December, has Edinson Cavani and Neymar to lean upon at Paris St-germain, as well as a talented midfield providing the bullets.
Are Vinicius and Luka Jovic, 19 and 21 respectively, being left to figure it out for themselves at Real Madrid? No, they have Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Eden Hazard to help them along their way. At Old Trafford tomorrow, Liverpool will field a front three compromising two 27-year-olds in Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, and Roberto Firmino, who is one year older.
Solskjaer’s reasons for letting Lukaku and Sanchez go were understandable but he has sold Rashford short by not bringing in quality and experience in attack. In Martial’s absence, United’s front line consists of an inexperienced 18-year-old, Mason Greenwood, and 21-year-old Daniel James, a talented but raw summer signing who only made his senior debut 20 months ago. No one should be surprised United have scored just seven goals in their past 10 games.
Solskjaer talked yesterday of wanting his players to take more risks, to be more adventurous on the ball and to “make more runs in behind”. But without Pogba available to provide the sort of balls from which Rashford raced in behind to punish Chelsea on the opening day of the season, who is going to feed the England striker? But for the industry and endeavour of Scott Mctominay, United’s midfield is a vacuum. Plenty of Rashford’s runs have gone wasted or unnoticed and, for all the criticism he has received for not getting into the six-yard box enough, his particular skill set has never appeared to be that of a natural penalty-box poacher. He deserves better than the hand he has been dealt.