Manchester United started their Premier League season with a bang, four goals scored, zero goals conceded. Even if the scoreline didn’t tell the full story. Chelsea had their chances also but failed to convert whilst some lacklustre defending at the back allowed United to steal the win. Had Chelsea scored when presented with their opportunities it could have been a completely different story.
Whilst Harry Maguire stole most of the headlines for his close to flawless debut at the heart of a United defence, which had been a bit of an Achilles heel in previous seasons, Marcus Rashford spearheaded the Red Devils’ attack marvellously. Although interchanging with Anthony Martial at times, in and between central and wide positions, Rashford tends to look most comfortable and confident through the middle.
He finished the match against Chelsea with two goals. One being a penalty he won for himself whilst he also played a crucial role in the blistering counter-attack that led to Martial’s first goal of the season, despite Graeme Souness claiming in his regular Times column earlier that day that ‘Rashford’s not ready to be the main man at United’.
Souness argued that Rashford lacked the experience required to be United’s starting striker and that his 10 Premier League goals per season wouldn’t be enough for a club of United’s stature. Rashford has now been a Premier League regular for three seasons making 112 appearances. Not only that but he has also made 32 European appearances, 14 in the Europa and 18 in the Champions League scoring goals each season, including the decisive penalty against PSG in the last 16 of last year’s Champions League.
Considering this United team has been seen as somewhat of a failure in recent seasons this only makes Rashford’s achievements that little bit more impressive. Whilst it is true that Rashford has only amassed 10 goals at most in a Premier League season he has never really been given the platform to fully display his goal scoring abilities. With Romelu Lukaku and goal machine (emphasis on the ‘machine’) Zlatan Ibrahimović ahead of him in the central striker pecking order it is understandable why his goal numbers haven’t reached the lofty heights of other Premier League strikers yet.
This year, with Martial also fighting for the central position and Alexis Sanchez not really looking likely to play at all, Rashford still faces competition. Souness is right in saying that United’s failure to buy another striker puts a lot of pressure on the shoulders of such a young man at such a big club, but, if a certain last minute penalty in the Parc des Princes is anything to go by, I don’t really think pressure fazes him at all.
On top of this, up and coming starlet Mason Greenwood found himself amongst the goals during United’s pre-season tour and made a brief cameo off the bench against Chelsea. Rated extremely highly by the United coaching staff, Greenwood looks as if he’s ready to take up the ‘Rashford role’. Coming off the bench to inject a youthful spark whenever a game is in need of a change of pace. It is not as if Rashford will have to play every minute of every game.
Furthermore, given he is the type of player that is a throwback to the Sir Alex Ferguson days of the club – tons of pace, direct and fearless – and a local lad on top of this it is unlikely the fans will get on his back as much as they did that of Lukaku during his brief stint at the Manchester club. Of course there will be ups and downs, even Ibrahimović went 11 games with only one goal at United, but Rashford seems to have that United mentality of never say die.
In terms of accolades, Rashford has already won an FA cup, an English League cup, UEFA Europa League and reached the semi-finals of a World Cup. He will have picked up on Ibra’s “killer instinct” as United couldn’t have asked for a better role model with Rashford himself saying; “You can’t put a price on the stuff I learnt during the time we played together.”
With all the tutorship Rashford has already received from top level professionals and all the experience he has gained from playing in various top level competitions, both at international level and domestically, it is a little naive to assume that Rashford isn’t ready to lead the line for Manchester United. Another quote from Rashford himself is; “on the pitch is where you get the best lessons.” And he’s far from wrong. How is he supposed to gain the ‘experience’ required to lead the line for United if he’s never given the opportunity? Souness seems to think Rashford can’t handle the pressure of being Manchester United’s number nine, but everyone knows, albeit extremely cliché, that pressure makes diamonds.