Man United FC

Man Utd must solve Five Marcus Rashford problem to save their season

Rashford has been almost entirely responsible for Erik Ten Hag's revolution, and his injury means Manchester United must now find a replacement.


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The warning proved to be more urgent than Erik ten Hag had hoped. Three days prior, he had mentioned the need for someone to relieve Marcus Rashford of the pressure. It appeared to be a summer transfer objective until it got much more pressing. Ten Hag’s “unstoppable” man was brought down by an injury that has Manchester United fearing the worst. Even a two-week absence might harm United in three tournaments, including an FA Cup semi-final against Sevilla after a Europa League double-header. Four days later, there will be a top-four shootout against Tottenham. The immediate concern is that Rashford will miss it as well.

Meanwhile, United appear to be heading into their 50th game of the season with no available player who has more than 10 goals in all competitions, and he, Bruno Fernandes, played as a holding midfielder on Saturday. United has one of the top 34 scorers in the Premier League, with only one player scoring more than five goals. It highlights the magnitude of their Rashford reliance; he has 28 goals in all competitions, 13 of which have been winners, and 20 of United’s 55 since the World Cup. Take away his Premier League goals, and United is down 14 points. If those are removed, they are tenth, just below Brentford. If it isn’t as simple as that, the Ten Hag rebirth has been mostly driven by one player. The Dutchman is well aware of this.

“What you want as a team is two players who can score more than 12 or 15 goals per season,” Ten Hag remarked last week. He was seeking for a second scorer at the time; now he needs a first, with development on three fronts jeopardized by a single injury. It’s a pressing matter that reflects a summer priority: sign a striker. If either Harry Kane or Victor Osimhen is signed, Rashford may revert to being the second-leading scorer. It allows for two players to score 30 goals in a single campaign. “There is no doubt that Manchester United requires outstanding players,” Ten Hag stated last week.

This season, they may have only had one standout attacker. Rashford’s impact can be seen in the fact that they are fourth, and even though he is primarily a winger now, their first league goal from an out-and-out center forward in 2023 came at Easter. Rashford still supplied the open goal for Anthony Martial. It was simply a flash of Ten Hag’s vision; Rashford was only allowed on the field, resulting in his injury, because the manager wanted to give the pair some time together.

It propelled Martial ahead of Rashford in one way: he has a goal every 135 minutes in the league this season, compared to the Englishman’s one every 159; the problem is that there have only been 540 minutes out of a possible 2610. It will be three months since his last start on Friday. Given his frailty and Ten Hag’s reluctance to start him, the Frenchman cannot be counted on to be the key man.

Martial exemplifies why Rashford has been overworked, making 47 appearances out of a possible 49, and why no one else has been remotely productive. Only Fernandes, another of the possible scorers, has had a full season. Martial and Jadon Sancho have been away for extended periods of time; Cristiano Ronaldo and Wout Weghorst have both had half-seasons at Old Trafford, yet they have only five goals between them and only one in the league.

If many conversations at United inevitably return to Weghorst, the non-scoring striker with no goals and three shots on target in the Premier League, his drought was less significant when Rashford was fit; it could be accommodated more easily in winter than in spring when games have a greater magnitude. Antony, on the other hand, scored in his first three league games but hasn’t scored since. He has scored fantastic goals, but not nearly enough.

It has left United appearing underpowered; Ralf Rangnick seemed to have a similar problem at this time last year, despite the fact that they had started the season stocked with potential strikers and yet scored too few goals. Ronaldo, Rashford, Fernandes, Martial, Sancho, Mason Greenwood, and Edinson Cavani were all on the team. They finished ninth in the Premier League, with their third-lowest total since 1990. Fernandes’ score of 10 was the second highest in all competitions; Ronaldo’s 24 was either a wonderful individual success or, as Ten Hag may have inferred, evidence that he was limiting others’ possibilities and making them less formidable.

But perhaps Ten Hag’s ideal is the type of goal distribution United had prior to Ronaldo’s comeback. Call it the Solskjaer model, because Ole Gunnar Solskjaer led his team to at least 110 goals in two seasons, with multiple regular contributors. Fernandes topped the way with 28 points in 2020-21, followed by Rashford with 21 and Cavani with 17. In 2019-20, Martial and Rashford both had 20 points, Greenwood had 17, and Fernandes completed the quartet. Which, despite the Portuguese’s productive first 18 months at Old Trafford, made them less reliant on any one player. Because, while Rashford’s one-man efforts have been impressive, United must now find a means to win without him.

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