Marcus Rashford’s star is on the rise. 16 goals and 5 assists in 27 games this season is a phenomenal return for a 22 year old, and this despite a barren run in August and September during which he scored just three goals and provided two assists. The knives were out back then with some suggesting that he wasn’t fulfilling his early promise, like the Januzajs and Machedas of seasons past. What the naysayers didn’t know, or care, about back then was the fact that Rashford played through injury because United were so light up front. Was that selfish, risking further injury whilst knowing that he wasn’t capable of giving 100% ? Yes, of course it was, but what else would you want from your star striker?
So, apart from recovering from injury, what exactly is behind this sudden improvement in Rashford’s form? To answer this question it is worth looking back at his United career on a season by season basis.
In his debut season Rashford scored 8 and assisted 2 in 18 games, which is a decent return for an 18 year old. In those 18 games he played as a centre-forward 17 times and as a right-winger on one occasion, during which he was booked and subbed off after 46 minutes without scoring or assisting.
In Jose Mourinho’s first season United signed Zlatan Ibrahimovic which meant that Rashford was utilised more from the bench, and when he did start he wasn’t given a fixed position. Despite the chopping and changing, he still managed a relatively healthy 11 goals and 6 assists from 53 games.
Romelu Lukaku was the latest big-name striker to join United and once again Rashford was the one to lose out, playing in a variety of positions including one game as an attacking midfielder. He suffered a dip in form half way through the season which culminated in him being dropped from the squad for a league game against Newcastle in February, although 2 goals against bitter rivals Liverpool in March reminded us that the potential was still there. 13 goals and 9 assists from 52 games showed a slight improvement on the previous season.
During another season of turmoil at Old Trafford Rashford was used as a centre-forward on a more regular basis. He hit a purple patch shortly after Solskjær took over, scoring 6 goals and providing 2 assists in 8 league games and he also scored one and assisted another during that epic Champions League victory away to PSG. His form dipped dramatically towards the end of the season, although he wasn’t alone there, yet despite this he managed 13 goals and 9 assists from 47 games, which was again a slight improvement on the season before.
It’s fair to say that for Manchester United on the whole this season so far has been marred by inconsistency, however, apart from the aforementioned period in which a half-fit Rashford covered the centre forward role in Martial’s absence, it has been his most consistent season. In 27 games so far this season Rashford has scored 16 and supplied 5 assists, mostly when he has played on the left side of a front three. The counter-attacking approach adopted by Solskjær, particularly against the better teams that play a high defensive line, has certainly benefited Rashford.
Some of Rashford’s season on season improvement is undoubtedly down to his maturity, as he has always shown that he had the ability yet sometimes lacked the capacity to make the correct decisions. Another factor is the style of play favoured by the manager, which gives Rashford more opportunities to use his pace and attack the space between the right-back and centre-back. Having said that, the main difference between this and previous seasons is the simple fact that Rashford is playing regularly in one position. The stats show that he can comfortably score goals and provide assists from either the centre-forward position or playing on the left of a front three, however, the ratio improves when he plays in one position on a consistent basis.
It’s not rocket science; in any work environment, if you know your role and what the expectations are you will achieve a much higher level of success than the guy who gets sent from pillar to post without any advance warning. If only United could apply this approach in every position, we’d stand a much better chance of finishing in the top four.