Manchester United have packed a lot into the first two months of their season. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side started their Premier League campaign with a 5-1 demolition of Leeds United, signed Cristiano Ronaldo, then lost to Young Boys, West Ham and Aston Villa while scoring late winners against Wolves, West Ham and Villarreal. And Marcus Rashford has watched it all from the sidelines.
Shoulder surgery after Euro 2020 turned the 23-year-old into something of a forgotten figure at Old Trafford, certainly after the summer signing of Ronaldo and Jadon Sancho. Even with Rashford unavailable, United should have had the attacking quality to put teams to the sword more often than they have so far this season.
Now back in training, Rashford is reportedly available for Manchester United’s trip to Leicester City this weekend with the wide forward back in full-contract training. With Harry Maguire injured and Raphael Varane also a doubt, Solskjaer’s focus might be on other areas of his team, but Rashford’s return will provide a boost.
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United have missed Rashford more than they realise. On the face of things, Solskjaer is spoiled for choice on the left wing. It is, on paper, where Manchester United’s squad is deepest, yet Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial and Sancho have all struggled to make the position their own this season.
Rashford’s partnership with Luke Shaw is the strongest of any of United’s left wing options. While the former likes to cut inside to get a shot away or link up with a teammate, the latter is quick to overlap and offer width. The pair give their team balance, something Solskjaer’s side have lacked in recent weeks.
Sancho might not relish more competition for his place, but the return of Rashford could see the £73m winger shifted over to the right wing, the position he was signed to fill in the first place. United have a tendency to be overly reliant on their left side and in a strange way the knock-on effect of Rashford’s availability could help address this.
“My recovery is - I wouldn't say coming to an end because obviously I have to keep looking after it - but I'm in a much better place physically and mentally,” Rashford explained in a recent interview. “Last year was a very long season for me, I got this injury at the end of September and gradually it got that little bit worse, but now I'm fully free of that, I feel much better physically and mentally.”
Criticism of Rashford often focuses on his perceived lack of productivity in the final third. However, the 23-year-old notched 11 goals and nine assists in 37 Premier League appearances and a very impressive six goals in six Champions League games last season. For a wide forward in his mould, these are respectable numbers.
Marcus Rashford for Manchester United against Leeds United in the Premier League.
Image credit: Getty Images
For all their apparent attacking potency, Manchester United have very quickly become dependent on the goals of Ronaldo with only Bruno Fernandes and Mason Greenwood shouldering their share of the goalscoring burden. Solskjaer needs more goalscorers and Rashford can be counted on to hit double figures for the season.
Some players grow in stature in their absence. Virgil van Dijk, for instance, gained an aura as Liverpool collapsed with the Dutch defender on the sidelines last season. Clamour around Jack Grealish, to give another example, grew with every match he spent on the bench for England at Euro 2020.
This hasn’t been the case for Rashford this season, with so much of the discussion at Old Trafford dominated by Ronaldo and Sancho and Pogba and Varane among others, but his return could remind many of his importance to Manchester United. They have missed the 23-year-old more than they realise.
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