Manchester United may be the underdogs in tonight’s match against Barcelona, but they still have one of the most in-form players in the world.
It will require a huge team effort to secure a positive outcome, but star player Marcus Rashford must rise to the occasion and inspire his team to victory.
With 13 goals in 14 games, the 25-year-old is playing as well as any other forward right now, an achievement made even more impressive by the fact that only one of those was a start as a striker.
Rashford now has 21 goals for the season and only needs one more to match his career high, which is likely given how much time remains.
Rashford’s dilemma is that his adaptability is both a benefit and a hindrance to his game, considering that he can play in any of the attacking roles depending on what the team requires.
This is especially important as United prepares for the first leg against Barcelona, as Rashford’s offensive output might be crucial.
United should approach the game with the same counter-attacking strategy that helped them beat Liverpool, Arsenal, and Manchester City this season.
Rashford scored in all three of those victories, the first two while playing in his preferred role from the left and the third when he shifted into the middle late in the game.
Throughout his career, he has performed best when played out wide since it plays to his abilities as a dribbler, but this season he has demonstrated that he still has a lot to offer as a classic forward through the middle.
Rashford has worked closely with Benni McCarthy to gain invaluable experience as a center-forward, improving his movement and reading of the game in the final third as the season has progressed.
After arriving at the club, the South African coach laid out his plans for teaching the club’s attackers, and Rashford has proven to be a particularly attentive student.
“Movement coordination and finishing, “McCarthy explained. “Making sure the boys are sharp and ready, that the scoring continues, and that they have the proper goal-scoring boots.”
This advice has been accepted by the England international, who has praised McCarthy for providing him with so much direction in the role.
“He’s definitely helped me a lot,” Rashford stated early in November. “Having attack-minded coaches is beneficial to the group; he’s always there talking to us about these things.”
What is certain is that Rashford will be at the heart of United’s strategy tonight, albeit the role he will play in the forward line remains unknown.
He’ll almost certainly play at least two roles throughout the game, but the one he’s expected to play from the start will likely indicate where Ten Hag believes he’s at his best.
The time has come to strike while the iron is hot.