Man United FC

Erik Ten Hag believes £100m PSG target can help Manchester United win premier league after transfer U-turn

January 2022. Significant for being the month that saw Marcus Rashford score his last Premier League goal of the 2021-22 campaign, although he did appear in 12 games thereafter.

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Rashford scored just one more league goal (four) than the number of people who managed him last season (three). 

These statistics lay bare the turbulence that plagued Manchester United last season, with Rashford himself being one of those most affected by what many consider the club’s worst campaign in the modern era.

However, the 24-year-old has turned things around and has been amply rewarded. On Sunday, Sportsmail reported that Rashford and teammate Jadon Sancho are expected to be recalled to the England squad in time, and the in-form stars will get one last chance to prove their worth before this winter’s World Cup in Qatar.

Last season’s turbulence, compiled by Rashford’s post-Euro shoulder operation, in the anguish of missing a penalty and the racist insults that followed, and the subsequent drop in form, had contributed to the Englishman’s worst campaign since he burst into the first team in February 2016.

Rumours of a departure, possibly to PSG, circulated as winter turned to spring, then spring to summer, with a nagging sense that the great hope of the post-Ferguson-United era needed a change of scenery to revitalise his fading career.

In fact, all he seemed to need was an arm around his shoulder and runners willing to surround him to revive his performances at United, and with that a chance of getting into Gareth Southgate’s World Cup squad in Qatar.

Ten Hag’s arrival at the club in June brought a positive change in mood for the United striker, and the Dutchman admitted he was willing to work with what he had to improve the club’s fortunes.

His insistence on pressing players at all times, whether in a low block or trying to play expansively, has meant a move away from Cristiano Ronaldo at the top of the team, giving Rashford a chance in the middle.

The only thing I know is that I have my ideas, how to structure a team and I do it in all areas of football. For me, pressing is an important factor. If you want to have initiative in a game, I think it is necessary,” said Ten Hag.  

If you do it in a high block or in a low block, it’s a tactic that can go either way. I prefer to do it in high, high pressure, but it won’t always be like that. There are also situations, games where you are lower. But what I require from my team is to press.

Rashford’s ability – and willingness – to press forward has seen him become one of the new manager’s first trusted lieutenants.

He has played at least 80 minutes in every game so far this season. As far as outfield players are concerned, only Bruno Fernandes, Diogo Dalot and Christian Eriksen have played more minutes than Rashford’s 520 so far. Last season he only played more than 80 minutes on five occasions.

That remains to be seen over a longer period of time, but it also seems that the striker has managed to put behind him the injury problems that blighted his season last year.

A year on from the shoulder operation that ended his campaign before it even began, Rashford looks stronger and fitter. That benefits a United team that is also revitalised.

Ten Hag’s confidence in his striker is crystal clear. After United lost their first two games against Brighton and Brentford, the club’s supporters called for the Dutchman to part ways with Rashford.

His missed chance in the season opener (2-1) angered many, while the team’s overall performance in Brentford was nowhere near the level expected of the players.

Ten Hag was anything but. He strayed from his original plan to play midfielder Christian Eriksen as a false nine against Brighton, a disastrous experiment. Meanwhile, against Brentford, rising star Cristiano Ronaldo was recalled.

However, knowing that speed on the counter-attack against Liverpool’s high line was paramount, Ten Hag reverted to playing a more conventional forward line, with Rashford in the middle.

This decision paid immediate dividends, as the striker’s tireless runs caused Liverpool problems on a night when Virgil van Dijk and the rest of the Reds’ back line were not in the game. Chances came and went in the first half, most notably for Anthony Elanga, who hit the post when he should have scored, with only Alisson to beat.

Indeed, Rashford would have done well to look at what Ten Hag has done to the careers of Dusan Tadic and Sebastian Haller, two former Premier League players whose careers have been revived at Ajax.

Although he was said to prefer playing on the flanks, Rashford’s move to the front has improved his performance and that of those around him. His involvement in the game is a stark contrast to last season, when he struggled in almost every game he played.

Indeed, Opta’s data reveals just how much Rashford’s performance has improved in the six competitive games he has played so far for Ten Hag.

Last season, Rashford took 22 shots in his 25 league games. This season, he has already taken 15 from six. Furthermore, in six games this season, he has already managed to hit a quarter of last season’s total shots on target (12).

In terms of his overall play and assists for his teammates, his two assists so far this season already equal last season’s total. He has already created seven chances, compared to nine last season.

The most important measure of all is equally telling. If Rashford scored only four goals last season, he has now scored three under Dix Hag.

His expected goals (xG) are also almost on par with last season’s total. He has lost the speed and instinctive movement that defined Rashford early in his career, and perhaps Ronaldo’s impact on the team’s overall performance. He only got three goals last season. He already has a 2.02.

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