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Brian Hradek writes an in depth Scout Report about the most coveted youngster at Manchester United right now, Marcus Rashford.
Lately it seems as if Manchester United are missing that one key component from their squads that made them so great in the Ferguson Era, consistent new homegrown talent. The likes of Januzaj, Blackett, McNair, etc. all seem to be failures at the moment, a reason why many feared United’s 78 year streak with a youth player in the squad would come to an end under Van Gaal. That was until Marcus Rashford blasted onto the scene last February against FC Midtjylland. In that moment, Manchester United fans around the world realized they could be witnessing the breakout of their new homegrown star.
Born and raised in Wythenshawe – a district just south of Manchester – Rashford lived just a 10-minute drive from the stadium he would eventually star in 18 years later. He quickly was put on the right path, joining Fletcher Moss Rangers at the age of 5, the same system that has produced Wes Brown, Danny Welbeck, Jesse Lingard, and more. By the age of 7 he was in the United academy, impressing in every sense.
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His first big match was in an FA Youth Cup match in 2014 against Leicester City. He was used as the lone striker, an unfamiliar position for him at the time. He was more comfortable as a number 10, using his speed and cleverness to play off of a bigger forward. After a few more injuries to teammates and continued solid play, he was able to maintain his position for the rest of the season as the out and out striker, helping the U18’s retain the Milk Cup in 2014.
Rashford picked up right where he left off in 2014/15 season for the U18’s, leading the team with 13 goals and consistently showing improvements in his new striking role. His steady performances lead to his call up to the U21’s squad by Warren Joyce, who saw something special in him. Rashford scored 1 goal in nine games for the U21’s, though was impressive enough to be named captain by Nicky Butt.
Van Gaal faced plenty of injury issues during the 2015/16 campaign, the reason he was forced to give quite a few youth players unexpected opportunities for the senior team. Rashford’s opportunity came in February after Martial got injured during the warm ups of a Europa League match versus FC Midtjylland. Not only did he score two goals, he took control of the match, running by defenders and setting up teammates with clever passes. He followed up that debut performance with one that he could have only dreamt of, scoring twice and setting up the other goal in a 3-2 win over Arsenal that weekend. He continued that hot start, scoring 8 goals in 18 appearances including the lone goal in the Manchester Derby in March.
Maybe the biggest surprise to his incredible year was the call up to the England national team for the Euro’s. This was possibly due to his performance in a friendly against Australia in May where he became the youngest Englishman to score on his international debut. Nonetheless, he only made two appearances for England in the Euros, one of which was against Iceland. This appearance drew some headlines after he dribbled by three opponents in just four minutes of action, more than any of his other teammates accomplished in the 90 minutes played.
Rashford’s style of play largely revolves around one of his key strengths, versatility in the attacking third. It’s quite clear his early role as a number 10 in the youth academy is still in his game. He often finds himself wandering off away from his central role into either wing position, either to create space for others or to receive the ball in more space. Van Gaal had to repeatedly tell him during his first couple matches with the senior team to stay more central, notably at halftime during the FC Midtjylland match. The result included scoring 2 goals in the second half.
When he gets out into space, he likes to use his incredible pace and quickness to change the dynamic of the game. He’s always a threat to run by defenders and has the balance to be able to stay on his feet at top speed with heavy challenges coming in. He’s certainly not the strongest lad, but he more than makes up for that with his quick first step and incredible agility to get out of tight confinements.
He averaged 0.95 successful take-ons last year per 90 minutes according to Opta, a very respectable number in Van Gaal’s system. He’s a lethal forward who can change games with his athleticism, but that doesn’t define him as a player. His style is most likely in-between a creator and finisher, the reason he is able to fit into so many positions.
While Rashford’s aforementioned athleticism is a strength for him, he doesn’t rely it like some youngsters; his intelligence and football IQ are also a class ahead. He is a very good passer for a young striker, not only that, his vision and creativity are surprisingly strong as well. He completed 77% of his passes last year, something BPL top strikers Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy, and Olivier Giroud couldn’t achieve. When he is in the flow within the game, you’ll often see him pull out a fancy flick or two as well. As he continues to develop, his passing trait could help him become one of the best out and out strikers in the world.
Although Rashford becoming a true number 9 might still be a work in process, he certainly has the shooting accuracy and finishing ability of a world-class striker. His goal against West Ham last year proves it. His 89% shooting accuracy last year in the BPL was an absolutely staggering number. Unfortunately he was caught in Van Gaal’s system, one that only allowed him 1.68 shots per 90 minutes. Whether he makes appearances at striker or on the wing this season under Mourinho, he’ll certainly be given more freedom and also better service from the new signings brought in around him.
While all those positives are fantastic, he still has plenty to work on in his game. There are plenty of times where he goes absent for a significant period of time during a game. Like many young players, he fades in and out of games depending on how many touches he’s getting. Rashford is also very poor in the air and isn’t nearly strong enough yet to win aerial duels in the BPL, a league that is very physical. He only won an embarrassing 14.29% of his aerial duels last year, according to Opta. Fortunately enough he doesn’t need to be a target man esque striker due to his other skill sets, but he’ll certainly need to improve to be considered one of the top strikers in the world. Even strikers like Lacazette and Griezmann who aren’t imposing figures were still 32-35% in aerial duels won last year. If Rashford can get around that range, it’ll take his game to a new level.
Rashford has run into a roadblock of sorts with Ibrahimovic coming in over the summer. He most likely won’t get much first team action in the BPL this year at striker, but his versatility could allow him to make appearances at either wing position or even just in behind Zlatan. United will feature in plenty of matches this year throughout four competitions so Rashford shouldn’t have a problem getting in the lineup a decent amount. Not to mention Ibrahimovic is 34 years old and certainly won’t be able to play in all 38 BPL games. Zlatan’s contract ends in two years, at which point Rashford should take over as the main point of United’s attack with Anthony Martial. The sky is the limit for Rashford with both United and England, both fanbases should be extremely excited for what the future holds.
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