In scoring three times in just six appearances for Manchester United this season, Marcus Rashford is just one goal away from matching his tally for the whole of last season. This in itself says a lot about how the 24-year-old has rediscovered his groove after a difficult 12 months which had many questioning his future at Old Trafford.
Indeed, Rashford looks more like his old self. The two goals he scored in the Premier League win over Arsenal in particular showed how he is once again using his technical and physical attributes to trouble opposition defences. Erik ten Hag has seemingly settled on Rashford as his first-choice centre forward, at least until Anthony Martial is fit again.
Despite this improvement in Rashford’s form, though, it’s unlikely he will be the number nine Manchester United need in the long-term. There is only so much ten Hag’s approach and system can achieve when Rashford is United’s attacking apex. The Dutch coach needs a more rounded centre forward.
The reason ten Hag gravitated towards using Martial as his number nine in pre-season was the Frenchman’s ability in possession. He gives Manchester United an option to build from the front with Martial willing to drop into the midfield and drift wide to create passing triangles and attacking sequences.
Rashford doesn’t offer this. His first instinct is to look for a pass to be played in behind to get through on goal. This is useful when playing against a team employing a high line, but it offers little against opponents set up in a low defensive block. Manchester United face plenty of these teams over the course of the season.
Ten Hag’s approach is all about quick movement and interplay in the final third. The likes of Antony and Jadon Sancho have already shown their suitability for this style of play with Bruno Fernandes adapting his game accordingly. It’s still to be seen if Rashford can make the same adaptations to his game.
Of course, Rashford can still be an effective and useful option for United. There will be times when they look to play on the counter, when there is space to be exploited behind the opposition backline. Rashford is among the very best at using this space – see his recent goals against Arsenal and Liverpool.
But if ten Hag wants to impose his favoured style on Manchester United, he will need to find a different number nine to lead the line. Martial could prove to be a useful figure, but the Frenchman’s injury record suggests he can’t be counted on while Cristiano Ronaldo remains a misfit – Ronaldo’s contract only runs until the end of the season anyway.
The summer transfer window has only just closed, but United might already be plotting a move for a new number one – Victor Osimhen, for instance, has been linked. For now, the number nine position looks to be Rashford’s and he must prove it can be his for more than just one season. He must show that he can be more than the player he is today