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

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Sport Premier League -

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.

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