Shortly after the European Championships, it was announced by Manchester United that forward Marcus Rashford would undergo surgery on a shoulder injury that had been plaguing him for the majority of last season. Currently the England international is recovering and is expected to be back in the next couple of months, but there is no doubt he is and has been a huge player for United – while injured he will be missed massively and his presence on the pitch may even have been one of the things lacking against Southampton on the weekend.
Rashford, although ending last season somewhat disappointingly due to the difficulties of playing through his injury (As well as a painful foot-related issue), finished last season with a highly respectable 21 goals and 15 assists across all competitions. This isn’t something that a team replaces with ease, in fact, last season the only other United forward who reached ten goals or more in the league was Edinson Cavani – who, at 34, can’t be relied upon in every game and won’t be match sharp for at least another few weeks.
In previous seasons, even when the team and Rashford himself weren’t playing well, he would often pop up with a goal or an assist to get United the win. The Wolves game at Old Trafford last season was the perfect example; the teams were level heading into the final minutes of the game and although The Red Devils may not have entirely deserved it, Rashford was the one to step in up and bring home the three points.
Something really underrated about his game is exactly that – how he always turns up in the big moments. While his decision-making may sometimes be an issue; or perhaps his ball retention; he has produced numbers on an incredibly consistent basis, despite playing through the pain barrier for almost all of last year. This is what I felt we missed against Southampton – a player who can keep going and going until the end – and while it may not always work out, we’re a better team with him on the pitch.
It’s not just even his goals or assists that will be missed, tactically his work off the ball is vital to the team. Last season he didn’t press or track back as much as usual because of the injury (He even mentioned in his statement regarding it that physically his 100% was “Impossible” for him to give) but usually he helps us a lot defensively with his high work rate, and even last season he was never someone who strolled along the pitch leaving other players to do all the running.
Offensively his runs are a blessing. When defenders see one of the fastest and most prolific forwards in the league making a run they will stick as close to him as they possibly can and this can create goals without him even touching the ball. Not to mention that with Pogba, Greenwood, and Martial the skill of off-the-ball movement isn’t really their specialty – and while Martial and Greenwood are fast, neither can leave defenders completely for dead as Rashford can.
Having someone with pace who makes those runs in behind consistently, while not necessarily needed in every game, is so important to have in the squad – Man City have had Sterling; Liverpool has had both Salah and Mane; Chelsea has had Werner, now Lukaku; Leicester has had Vardy – but without Rashford we don’t really have that player.
While there is the depth within the squad to cope without Rashford, there are circumstances that mean right now it is more difficult. Sancho is a good replacement for him in that he will consistently get goals and assists from the wide positions, but he is more of a player who likes the ball to feet and certainly shouldn’t be expected to produce week in week out in his first season at the club – it’s highly likely it will take time before he can produce numbers like Rashford has.
It is a similar story with Greenwood – at some point, he will reach high numbers of goals every season but at this current time he’s only 19 and that can’t be expected of him, though he has started very well this season. Pogba has and can play on the left-wing and while effective, won’t provide the same goal threat that Rashford can.
Even after that draw on Sunday, personally, I’m keen to reinforce that it’s still very early on in the season – we need to remember that match sharpness is lacking we will be able to cope better as the likes of Sancho, Cavani, and Varane get into things. Also to be clear the Southampton performance wasn’t just down to not having Rashford, far from it.
But it’s safe to say without our star winger, Manchester United aren’t quite the same.