It has been a funny old season for football in Manchester. Two mega coaches touched down in the summer and United and City were supposed to battle for the title. The recent Manchester derby saw the two clubs fighting for an advantage over each other in securing a top four finish. The arrival of Zlatan Ibrahimovic was met with great excitement from the red side of Manchester and their new superstar coach Jose Mourihno. The Swede’s record is superb. If his style of play helps or hinders the team is debatable but the volume of goals he has scored suggests that bringing him to the club has been a success. When his season ended in the Europa League quarter-final with Anderlecht attention shifted to Marcus Rashford.
Rashford had shown signs of improving his form leading up to his latest run in the side. He had scored coming off the bench in the away game at Sunderland. He looked quick and sharp after Jose introduced him after the hour mark. Then Rashford was preferred to Zlatan as the number nine against Chelsea at Old Trafford. Possibly United’s best result of the season and a much needed one for their new coach against his former club. Rashford scored in the seventh minute, running in behind Chelsea’s back line and keeping his composure to slip the ball beyond Asmir Begovic. He then went on to score the winner in extra time against Anderlecht, the game in which Zlatan was injured.
The ninteen year old’s season up until this point had been slow. After his heroics against Hull, scoring in the final moments of the game at the end of August he had been unable to claim a regular starting place in the team.
Being rested in the majority of United’s remaining Premier League games shows the importance of the youngster in Zlatan’s absence. Jose has focused on the Euoropa League to gain qualification to the Champions League next season. Rashford delivered a moment of brilliance in the away leg of the semi-final in Vigo, a goal which turned out to be extremely important in the context of this two legged tie. His free-kick handed United a 1-0 win and a vital away goal. His movement and coolness under pressure exceed his age. His potential is immeasurable. Should he lead the line for Manchester United next season?
This was the debate Rio Ferdinand, Owen Hargreaves and Michael Owen had after the Celta Vigo game at Old Trafford were United held on (only just) to reach the final of the Europa League. Owen questioned whether Rashford was the type of player to score 30 goals a season playing as the centre forward for Manchester United. Who knows how Rashford’s game will develop? He has all the qualities to score that amount of goals and if he is given the chance for a full season he may well do it. But his tally of five league goals in the Premier League this year, even with his inconsistent selection, shows he still has a lot of work to do to achieve this.
However, can United afford to take that risk given how competitive the domestic league has been this year? Hargreaves cast his doubts over Rashford becoming United’s leading man next term. He went on to ask how many of the top teams in Europe start a 19 year old striker week in week out? Well if you look around the Premier League and the top teams here not many. The recently crowned English champions have Diego Costa at 28 and Michy Batshuayi aged 23 as back up. Tottenham have Hary Kane at 23 and Vincent Janssen 22. United’s rivals, Man City have Sergio Aguero aged 28 leading the line. The trend doe not stop here. The elite teams in Europe have big names in their prime as their leading forwards. As well as Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid have Karim Benzema and Alvaro Morata. Barcelona posses great attacking skills with Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar. Juventus have Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala and German giants Bayern Munich have Robert Lewandowski. Hargreaves made a very good point here and United relying so heavily on a young star with huge potential could have damaging effects on the longevity of his career.
United will be linked with every striker under the sun over the next few weeks. Whether it be Antoine Griezmann, Romelu Lukaku or Kylian Mbappe it is fair to say that the red devils need a new striker. It is just what type of striker they think is best to balance the squad. To challenge for numerous trophies at the top level United need various players who can score goals. They need players to step in when others are injured or out of form. This is not an attempt to say Rashford is not the future, he almost certainly is. He just is not the right player for a club like Manchester United to be soley depending on to fire thenm back to their former glory. No single player can achieve that.