The Hard Tackle analyses a few ways to bring out the best from Manchester United and its teen sensation Marcus Rashford.
Marcus Rashford is the future of Manchester United. There are no two ways about it. If people thought his debut season in the senior squad of the club was a one-off, the 18-year-old has shown an incredible account of his maturity, skill, talent and calmness while also earning a senior international call-up and a goal on his England debut.
Jose Mourinho still chose not to start the striker in the first four United games, but the player proved his quality and impact to the Portuguese with a magnificent cameo against Hull, where he capped it off by scoring the winner in additional time. The United academy product also produced a more than decent display coming on after half-time in the Manchester derby.
Rashford, in everyone’s eyes, had earned a start and was rightly given so against Feyenoord but the player failed to make much impact, although, as did the whole team as United fell to a 1-0 defeat to Feyenoord. Watford’s game was billed as the match that would end their miserable run, but the Red Devils saw themselves get beaten 3-1 at Vicarage Road.
A performance where all of their stars under-performed majorly with question marks put on Rooney and Pogba’s contribution in the game. But the fixture against Watford also made one thing clear that Marcus Rashford is the player Mourinho should look to build his attack around.
Majority of the current attacking options – Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata – lack pace, something which we have seen to be abundantly available in Rashford. The Hard Tackle enlists a few formations and tactics which would help Mourinho fit Rashford into the squad and get the best out of the teenager along with the other stars.
1. Two up-front with Rashford partnering Zlatan or Rooney
Manchester United have failed to score more than 1 goal in their last three fixtures and while majority of it may be down to the lack of chemistry with the new players still settling in, a case could be made for the lack of attacking impetus the lone-man provides.
With just one to lead the front-line, it is easy for the opposition defenders to mark. At times, the team is left with almost no players in the final third as the lone striker comes deep to be a part of the link-up play, something which we have seen Zlatan doing in the games played for United.
Watford’s defeat could also serve to remind United and Mourinho of the power of having two attackers up-front, as Watford did. The two men deployed meant the United defenders had their work cut out and often sought the help of Fellaini, who had to drop deep to help Smalling and Bailly.
Both of the goals that Watford scored in regulation time resulted from space on the edge of the box, which was a result of Fellaini going deep into the box to defend and the two goals were testament to the efficiency that an attacking partnership provides.
Mourinho may look to deploy two attackers up-front in the near future and if that indeed becomes the case, Rashford could start for the Red Devils partnered with either of Zlatan or Rooney.
Zlatan or Rooney could provide United with the perfect SECOND STRIKER to aid Rashford’s development and United’s attack. The veteran, whoever starts, can drop deep and dictate play while also attempting to provide options to the midfield. Rashford, on the other hand, could play on the shoulders of the defenders, who are likely to have their work cut out defending against the directness of the teenager’s moves.
One may make a case that Rooney is to be deployed as a number 10 or midfielder and that the United captain does not have much impact as a striker. But we are of the view that Rooney’s best position is still as a forward and he could still come in handy as an impact player at the very least, if not a regular starter in that position.
Also, with Rooney partnering Rashford, the United captain does not need the pace to run and go past defenders as in the 18-year-old, he already has a partner capable of doing that. Rooney could then be the perfect link from midfield to attack while also finding himself in space at times whenever he chooses to drop deep to aid the buildup.
2. 4-3-3 with Rashford and Ibrahimovic two of the three forwards
This is the most likely solution of all problems associated with United’s current playing style and form. The three in midfield will hand Pogba a similar weaponry to what he was equipped with at Juventus, wherein he grew to become one of the hottest properties in the footballing world.
Mourinho could choose to deploy Rooney as the third forward but one of the main things that has grown of concern to United fans and experts is the lack of pace in the squad which hinders the probability of catching the opposition on a counter.
This is why The Hard Tackle feels the third forward could either be Martial or Memphis depending upon who Mourinho wants to deploy there. While Memphis hasn’t received much game time under Mourinho, Martial has failed to have much impact and replicate even a fraction of his form from last season despite receiving the backing of the Portuguese.
However, it is Mkhitaryan who looks to be the perfect fit to be a part of the attacking three up-front. The player has done so at Borussia Dortmund and was highly successful, racking up numbers almost unheard of from an attacking midfielder.
Both of them have the burst of pace and skill to go past players and could be the ultimate focal point of counter attacks. Also, a 4-3-3 with Ibrahimovic as the central striker makes sense because the Swede thrived in France with Paris Saint-Germain in a similar formation wherein he had players with pace on either side of him at most times.
Team – Based Conclusion :
In both the formations, Zlatan and Rooney can swap places depending on Mourinho’s ideas about squad rotation and in the absence of Rashford, Martial can be played up-front. Anthony Martial is more natural going forward through the centre and seems to be struggling while playing on the wings under Mourinho.
It is believed by many that Martial is unable to do the dirty work, which is an essential part of being a player under the Portuguese manager, a weakness which was highlighted in Watford’s first goal of the match against United. Even though one could make a case for the Frenchman being fouled in the process, it is his inability to defend that is likely to be avoided if he is to play as a forward.
Martial would provide, in a sense, a similar attacking impetus and set of skills almost akin to Rashford, and Mourinho could well have the quadruplet of Zlatan, Rooney, Martial and Rashford with the ability to play them in combinations that provide the team with the perfect mix of pace and experience up-front.