It’s a matter of when, not if, Marcus Rashford scores when provided with a scoring chance.
The attacker is having his most productive season to date, with 24 goals already, and it’s only February. It will take some work to break Denis Law’s single-season record of 46 goals set in 1963/64, but Rashford is on track for at least 30.
The last time a Manchester United player did that was Robin van Persie in the 2012/13 seasons, a decade ago. With his personal 24-goal haul last season, Rashford has debunked the misconception that United would struggle without Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal-scoring skills.
United will likely require a big center-forward in the summer if they are to be among the title contenders next season, but for the time being, Erik ten Hag’s system is working.
Many have suggested that with Ronaldo gone, Rashford appears to be playing with more freedom, and statistics show that his goal rate has increased. Since the World Cup break following Ronaldo’s withdrawal, he has scored 16 goals, including 10 in as many league appearances.
Bruno Fernandes is another player whose performance appears to have increased following the departure of the big man. He has always maintained his connection with Ronaldo, and some on social media exaggerated his ‘frosty’ welcome with him on the eve of the World Cup.
Despite the legitimate assertions that Fernandes was hampered by Ronaldo’s presence at United, the playmaker performed admirably for Portugal in Qatar, finishing with two goals and three assists.
Nonetheless, his form at the club level has clearly improved. Fernandes had three goals and three assists in 20 appearances across all competitions prior to the mid-season break.
During the break, he has four goals and seven assists in 16 appearances. He reached double figures in assists when he sent up Jadon Sancho for United’s final goal in a 3-0 win over Leicester on Sunday.
But, his assist for Rashford’s opener was perhaps more visually appealing. He curled the ball with the outside of his boot to put Rashford one-on-one with Danny Ward, whom Rashford has beaten four times this season after scoring twice for England against Wales at the World Cup.
Importantly, six of Fernandes’ assists this season have come from Rashford goals, illustrating the formation of a new combination under Ten Hag. What makes this even more astounding is the variety of responsibilities each has played while developing their on-field friendship.
While not playing on the left flank, Rashford has played as a central striker and even as a right winger. Meanwhile, Fernandes has been moved to the right flank on a few occasions, away from his normal No.10 position.
Despite this, they have managed to establish a connection wherever they are on the field. Of course, Rashford must score in order for Fernandes to record his assists, and his current goal-scoring streak makes that easier.
Nevertheless, without Fernandes’ vision, timing, and pass weight, Rashford might not be scoring as many goals. The United No.8 displayed all three of the aforementioned characteristics in his assist for Rashford on Sunday, the most recent in a long series of combinations between the two United stars.
Behind every successful striker comes a capable assist provider. Rashford and Fernandes are excellent in their respective roles.