Manchester United’s season has been topsy-turvy for the most part but one of the biggest success stories at Old Trafford has been the sheer devastation and evolution of Marcus Rashford.
The 22-year-old has been a consistent fixture in the Red Devils starting XI since the start of the 2016/17 campaign but only now is his absolute potential beginning to shine through, with his opener against Colchester United this evening bringing up goal number 14 for the term.
Rashford’s quality has always been manifest, of that there can be no denying, but he has now surpassed his total outlay for the previous four seasons and we haven’t even passed the halfway stage yet. He is becoming a more reliable threat in the final third, following in the illustrious footsteps of great Man Utd strikers of old, but with just one exception.
The academy graduate is the trusty source of goals for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side but he is not a striker in the traditional sense, or any sense for that matter, as he is flourishing as an inside forward on the left – a role in which a certain Jose Mourinho earmarked as his optimal position.
Speaking back in September as a popular pundit for Sky Sports the now-Tottenham Hotspur boss claimed his former student is not suited to a central role in the forward line, suggesting he wouldn’t be able to conjure up more than 12 goals a season up-top.
He said: “I am not going to say he cannot ever be a number nine, he can be a dangerous number nine especially if the opposition is not pragmatic, is not close and is giving spaces to attack. He can be dangerous in transitions.
“But when Man Utd is a team that normally plays against teams who go to Old Trafford, close the door, bring the bus, bring the double bus, he is not a striker to play with his back to the goal.
“He is not the target man, he doesn’t score as many goals as a striker should do. So I think from the side you will get him to numbers of 10-12 goals per season.
“He is very professional, he works for the team, he understands what you tell him to do from the defensive point of view.
“Playing from the sides he can be a very good player, probably better than at nine. But he feels he is a number nine and I think the club and the manager feel he is.”
The Portuguese tactician was proved right after Rashford put his Spurs side to the sword from the flank with an emphatic brace earlier this month, and he was quick to highlight his early-season observation in the aftermath.
When asked whether he had ever seen Rashford play with such verve during his tenure at Old Trafford, Mourinho replied: “Yes, I did. As I always told, from the left and not as a nine, from the left.”
Tonight once again drew attention to the detailed analysis of Mourinho, with Rashford proving the linchpin of this side from the left; Colchester right-back Ryan Jackson had a difficult evening in trying to contain the forward, who was able to consistently shift inwards and get a shot off on goal.
Marcus Rashford just keeps getting better. 📈 pic.twitter.com/ILZFEH7dqa
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 18, 2019
He was only on the pitch for an hour but he took on more shots than any player on the pitch (7) by a considerable margin as well, registered an assist and got on the scoresheet with a breathtaking finish.
But, it wasn’t just Rashford’s clinical nature that caught the eye. As John McGreal’s men parked the bus and invited pressure there was only one man who looked capable of breaching Dean Gerken’s net and that was Rashford.
He was the goalgetter, but also the creative fulcrum and release valve, completing more take-ons than any player (3), registering the best passing accuracy of any attacking player to start the match (89%) and creating the second-most chances (3).
It was a complete performance for a player who has now netted 14 goals in his last 16 games for club and country; Gareth Southgate will be licking his lips at Rashford’s recent purple patch with Euro 2020 just around the corner.
But even more importantly for Man Utd, they finally have a player capable of scoring 20 goals a season; a fabled milestone cherished by the greatest of all strikers.
The Old Trafford annals detail a glittering alumni of iconic strikers. From Eric Cantona to Wayne Rooney; Ruud van Nistelrooy to Andy Cole; Teddy Sheringham to Robin van Persie; Dwight Yorke to Carlos Tevez; Dimitar Berbatov to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Can Rashford now follow in the footsteps of his legendary predecessors?
From a goalscoring perspective, certainly, but for Rashford’s case, he is rewriting the narrative; he can go down in Old Trafford folklore as a great goalscorer rather than just a great scorer of goals, but he is not following the conventional route to do so.
Instead he is taking a more modern, inventive approach. For Man Utd’s sake it has worked a treat as they are now into the Carabao Cup semi-final, and one can only wonder what Rashford’s tally will look like come the end of the season.