There were rumours that Marcus Rashford was set to leave Manchester United in the last 12 months. He struggled after missing a penalty in the Euro 2020 final and lost his place for his club side. Ralf Rangnick rarely used him, as there was a preference for Anthony Elanga. However, the England international is now back in the team and looks to be enjoying a positive working relationship with Erik ten Hag.
Since breaking into the first team, there have been a lot of discussions about Rashford’s best position. The forward had a preference for playing as a centre forward, but for one reason or another, he has never had a sustained run of form there. Instead, he has needed to play on either flank as a wide forward. Rashford is better when playing off the left, as he can cut in onto his stronger right foot.
This season, he has been used predominantly as the centre forward, with Anthony Martial and Cristiano Ronaldo both missing for different reasons. Rashford has taken his opportunity with both hands and he now looks to be one of the first names on the team sheet for ten Hag. Although he has been playing as a striker, his role is more fluid, as the forward players are regularly interchanging. Rashford has the intelligence and reading of the game to regularly cause problems for opposition defenders.
After six matches, Rashford has contributed three goals and two assists. This underlines the dual threat that he carries and why he is a valuable asset for Manchester United. Last season, he managed just four goals and two assists. He is almost matching that in a third of the minutes.
It is clear that injuries hampered Rashford, but the lack of game time was also a problem. Throughout his career, he has always been a confident player, capable of going on long runs of good form. As he started just 13 times in the Premier League, it is less surprising that his influence wasn’t at the level that it was in previous campaigns. Ten Hag has placed his faith in Rashford, despite a couple of poor performances to start the season. He has now found confidence and fluency. United are benefitting from that on the pitch.
The underlying numbers back up the goal and assist returns. Rashford is averaging 0.36 expected goals (xG) and 0.2 expected assists (xA) per ninety minutes, with an 0.56 expected goal involvements per ninety minutes. Only Anthony Martial (0.88 expected goal involvements per ninety minutes) has a higher rate than Rashford. The Frenchman has played just 45 minutes in the Premier League, so his sample size is too small to provide a reliable comparison.
From the regular starters, Rashford has been the biggest attacking threat for ten Hag. This is backed up by his 15 shots across the six matches. No United player has had more attempts on goal.
Rashford is now finding his best form again at Old Trafford, with the managerial change breathing life into his career. At the age of 24, he still has his best years ahead of him and he will be hoping to finally nail down his place as a regular starter in attack. The centre forward role suits him, as he can score, create and take up central positions.
With just months to the World Cup, it would be expected that Rashford returns for England. He will want to forget his penalty miss in the last tournament, but there will be hunger to put that right in Qatar. If he can avoid injury and maintain his current form, he will be on the plane to the Middle East.