There are 13 days until Manchester United’s next game against Brighton at Old Trafford.
13 days to make the necessary adjustments to remedy a poor start. 13 days to implement tactical changes which will improve the team’s performance. 13 days to regain and rally the spirit which was carefully cultivated last season.
13 days to fix United’s season essentially.
Over the next 13 days, The Peoples Person will be looking at 13 areas United can look to improve upon before their next Premier League fixture. An article a day until Erik ten Hag’s issues have drifted away.
The Uncomfortable Centre Forward
Rashford began the season as Manchester United’s centre forward.
This was mainly down to injuries to Anthony Martial and Rasmus Højlund but it’s a position Ten Hag has reportedly envisioned Rashford playing this season, even when the other two strikers in the squad are fit.
It’s a role he has played many times previously for United, sometimes to great effect. His pace and power make him a nightmare for centre-backs when he makes a darting run across them.
It’s undeniable, however, that the English forward is far more comfortable operating on the left-wing.
It’s a position which offers him the potential for the same incisive run in behind, while also keeping him more involved in general play. Being constantly involved is key.
Rashford does not appear to have the requisite patience to be a successful striker. Too often he gets frustrated when his runs aren’t found, throwing his arms in the air in a public display of negative gesticulation. Soon after, his head drops, and his performance level goes with it. It was painfully apparent in the Wolves and Tottenham games.
Rashford also lacks the hold-up play required to be a striker. He doesn’t show for the ball to act as a conduit to enable United to progress up the pitch. He simply hangs on the shoulder of the last man; an effective tactic when it works but an easy one to plan for when there’s no variety to worry about.
Rashford was wholly ineffective in the opening two games of United’s season as a result of these flaws.
It was the complete opposite in the other two games however.
The Lethal Left-Winger
Rashford was reinstated to his favoured left-wing against Nottingham Forest. The results were instantaneous.
The forward produced two assists, as well as the key pass to make a third goal possible, as United came from two goals down to win 3-2. It was a clincally effective performance. reminiscent of the decisive form Rashford produced last season.
The positional change was made possible by Martial starting up front, having recovered from injury.
It was the same story against Arsenal. Martial played as the centre forward with Rashford producing an electric performance from the left.
United’s number ten scored a brilliant goal on the counter-attack to put United ahead and was a general menace to Ben White all afternoon. Rashford has undoubtedly featured in the Arsenal defender’s nightmares at various points over the past few seasons given the frequency with which he’s left White on toast.
United ultimately lost the game 3-1 but it was, in part, Rashford’s performance which kept his side in the game.
The Immovable Object
Ten Hag must, therefore, continue to deploy his star forward in his favoured position moving forward.
It is essential for Rashford to match his efforts last year for United to be successul this season. His attitude, general play and productivity go up several levels on the left-wing, compared to through the middle, and the attacking unit improves in accordance.
Martial and Højlund are both fit now, with the young Dane making an exciting impression in his cameo at the Emirates in the second half. For now, Rashford’s spot on the left appears assured.
Should this change, however, and Martial and Højlund are ruled out for whatever reason, Ten Hag has to resist the urge to shift Rashford from his optimal position. To such an extent the Dutch manager should play anyone else up front in order to keep him there.
Jadon Sancho. Facundo Pellistri. Mason Mount. Even Harry Maguire. Anyone but Rashford. United’s number ten is too effective a player on the left to make any other decision.
Marcus Rashford is a left-wing champion off the pitch and a left-wing dynamo on it. This has to be set in stone for the remander of the season.