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Rashford’s Return: Another Attacking Dimension?

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Marcus Rashford looks set to return for Manchester United, after facing a lengthy spell out on the side lines following a shoulder operation in August. Rashford, who featured for England in the summer at the Euros, had claimed that he had been plagued by shoulder pain for most of last season. The England international will hope the shoulder operation and subsequent recovery period will have alleviated the issues from last season, meaning the quick footed forward will have more mobility and not have to play through the pain anymore. 

With Rashford’s impending return scheduled for some time after the international break, the 23 year old will hope he can break back into United’s starting line-up, although competition for places is currently very high. Since Rashford last featured for United, the club has secured the signings of forwards Jadon Sancho and Cristiano Ronaldo, meaning breaking back into the starting eleven may not be as easy as it once was.

Before Rashford’s shoulder surgery, the young forward was an integral player for United last season, racking up 21 goals and 15 assists, this was over 57 matches across all competitions throughout the 20/21 season. These kinds of numbers are expected for a Manchester United forward but are still impressive given Rashford’s age, even more so considering the amount of pain he was purportedly enduring. 

The talented youngster had a near spotless injury record up until the 19/20 season, where he suffered from hip and later back injuries. It’s interesting to note that Rashford has been suffering with shoulder pain from around the same time as those injuries, meaning the 20/21 campaign was particularly gruelling. 

Despite this, Rashford was available for every game but one last season, and whether that’s a testament to sheer will power or a mark of youthful naivety is up for debate, but it’s clear there was no questioning the forwards commitment. However, playing through pain is not good in the long term, particularly for a young blossoming talent with most of his career ahead of him, therefore it seems the correct decision was made to have the shoulder surgery this summer.

It was Rashford in tandem with Bruno Fernandes who were in blistering hot form early last season, Rashford rather impressively scoring six goals in the Champions League group stages. However, his form did drop off, a likely consequence of the enduring shoulder pain he faced. When Rashford was at his best last year, he was able to offer United unrelenting pace and fairly consistent finishing. 

Paul Pogba was able to pick out several clever runs made by Rashford last season to create countless opportunities and goals, and it seemed when Rashford was at his best the whole team was too. Unfortunately for United (and Rashford) there was to be no recapturing of the early season form in the Europa League Final, as United struggled to make an impact on the game. After the disappointing defeat, Rashford came out and a gave a very raw and emotional interview, vowing United and himself would return stronger next season

This was a young player wounded by defeat and frustrated by his injury issues, but the eloquence and authenticity in which he spoke so shortly after the loss was another glowing reflection of the youngster’s character and integrity both off and on the pitch. Shortly after this, Rashford linked up with the England squad for the Euros, although game time was limited to a couple of substitute appearances and that fateful penalty miss.

Heading into the new season Rashford will hope to put the difficulties of last season behind him, re-joining the squad with a renewed sense of enthusiasm and assurance regarding his shoulder. Everything is not the same as it once was though, Cristiano Ronaldo now commands at least one of the front three starting spots and Mason Greenwood has been in inspired form

Additionally, what was once Rashford’s nailed on left-wing position has been taken up by Paul Pogba frequently in his absence, a position Pogba has generally done well in and one in which the Frenchman likes. These factors coupled with the arrival of another talented young English winger, Jadon Sancho, indicates returning as a starter is going to be very difficult. If Rashford is to regain his place, he will need to impress in training and look to recapture the excellent form of early last season. 

Realistically, the only position potentially open for him to occupy is his favoured left-wing, however Sancho will also be determined to start either on the left or right- although it looks very difficult to displace Greenwood from the right-wing at the time of writing. Assuming Rashford does beat Sancho to that left-wing spot, it will mean Pogba will move back into midfield once more. 

This shift could allow United to have a different attacking dimension to the one’s seen so far this season, Rashford adds significantly higher amounts of pressing and running than Sancho or Pogba would in the same position. The Pogba –Rashford combination has proven fruitful in the past and it seems United are in need of a bit more threat going forward over the last few weeks, United have lost three games before even the start of October

Rashford may also be able to stretch defences more with his running, freeing up space for Ronaldo to roam in which could be very beneficial for United’s attacking impotence. Alternatively, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could look to implement a new system that uses two strikers, one in which Rashford could play alongside Ronaldo with, Rashford’s pace complimentary to Ronaldo’s deadly finishing instincts. Once again though, this hasn’t even taken into consideration the presence of Edinson Cavani, who United retained for another year at the end of last season.

While the official return date is still unknown, Rashford is very likely to be involved in the squad for the away match against Leicester City on the 16 October. Long term, it’s hard to predict what the season will hold in store for the 23-year-old, but there are no doubts about the fact that Solskjaer is regaining a potentially lethal weapon for the rest of the season, whether that’s as a starter or a sub.

Written by Sam Wilson

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