IAN LADYMAN: Man United could have star No9 under their noses in Marcus Rashford
Marcus Rashford’s transformation from lost soul to leader of Manchester United’s resurgence was another significant step against Leeds, but Erik ten Hag required some tactical adjustments to make it happen.
Rashford’s goal at Old Trafford was his 12th since the World Cup ended in late December. Interestingly, this now means he has scored as many Premier League goals as Eric Cantona – 70.
Rashford can never claim to have Cantona’s natural genius, but he is proving as important to Ten Hag as he tries to put United back at the top of the English game as the Frenchman was to Sir Alex Ferguson when he did made two decades ago.
On Wednesday night, Rashford’s superb header – which passed Leeds defender Robert Koch – turned up the atmosphere at Old Trafford as United chased away a 2-0 deficit. Eight minutes later, with the Old Place rocking, Jadon Sancho was driving in second place.
But would any of this have happened if Ten Hag hadn’t swallowed some pride and reversed his original decision to start with Rashford on the right flank?
Marcus Rashford scored his 70th Premier League goal with a header against Leeds on Wednesday
Erik ten Hag swallowed his pride to tweak tactics and move Rashford from the right
Much of Rashford’s success this season has come from the other flank, but with youngster Alejandro Garnacho starting there on Wednesday, Rashford looked quite frustrated and, it has to be said, irritated down the left flank in the first half.
As the game progressed, that all changed. Rashford was lightning fast off the field at half-time. He either needed the loo or wanted to talk to his manager. Anyway, United’s brilliant comeback came as the England player initially returned to his favorite position and later played as a centre-forward.
The last switch raises another interesting question. Rashford was hailed as No.9 when he first broke under Louis van Gaal in 2015, but questions soon surfaced about his ability as a natural finisher.
However, now Rashford scores goals as easily as anyone in the Premier League. Harry Kane would have been proud of his header against Leeds. As United scout Europe for a centre-forward this summer, do they actually have one right under their noses?
Sometime this week, Leeds United were hoping to have a new manager in the stands at Old Trafford, but the Yorkshire giants are finding it difficult to replace Jesse Marsch, who was sacked on Monday following the Nottingham Forest defeat.
With Carlos Corberan signing a new contract to remain at West Brom – Leeds claim he was never offered the job – and Rayo Vallecano boss Andoni Iraola opting to remain in Spain, the search continues .
Leeds have privately hinted they will consider a provisional appointment if necessary with the club’s owners and sporting director Victor Orta, who prefer to wait until the summer for the right man rather than rush to appoint now.
Of course, what Leeds have to do is stay up late. Wednesday night’s performance suggested they will, but as they prepare to face Manchester United again on Sunday at Elland Road, their run of games without a league win now stretches to eight and – because of the World Cup – back to the end by early November. That continues to worry.
Patrick Bamford (centre) is a necessity for Leeds if they are to avoid relegation this season
Leeds were hoping to have a new manager in time for Wednesday but had interims instead
One man who could be critical to their chances of survival is Patrick Bamford. Leeds are not lacking in attacking talent and players like Wilfried Gnonto and Jack Harrison can be great when signing men up front.
This season, however, Leeds have lacked a focus too often. They’re capable of scoring goals from different areas, but that’s not the point. Bamford – playing as number 9 – brings Leeds a natural focus to their attacking game.
He can hold the ball up, put Leeds’ wide players into play and is also brave enough to take on the physical challenges of the role. Now he has to stay fit. Bamford have started just six Premier League games this season and scored once and that’s not enough.
One player who looked happy to still be wearing a Leeds shirt at Old Trafford was Harrison.
The 26-year-old was actually at Leicester awaiting medical treatment ahead of a deadline-day transfer, only for Leeds to decide they didn’t need the proceeds of the deal to fund their own commitments. Harrison was recalled to Yorkshire and was back in the starting line-up on Wednesday night after falling out of favor at Marsch and played a crucial role in Leeds’ second goal.
Jadon Sancho’s story is nice, but now the real work begins.
Back in the Manchester United squad after taking some time off to deal with some of the physical issues and mental strains that often come with life as a top athlete, the 22-year-old played his first few minutes in the Premier League since October and scored the equalizer at the Stretford finish. It was an unforgettable moment for the former Manchester City youth product.
Where he goes from here will be up to him though and United manager Ten Hag has basically said that full-time.
“He’s a brilliant footballer and when he’s invested and at the right level he can excel,” said the Dutchman.
‘I think it’s in his own hands. So if he wants, he can do it.’
Jadon Sancho saved a point for Man United which was heartwarming given their tough season
Ten Hag and United have treated Sancho well this season. By making no secret of his problems, they effectively gave him the time and space to recover from the harsh lights and scrutiny.
But one question remains. Does Sancho have what it takes to succeed at United?
The competition for spots in United’s forward line is strong and will only get stronger.
Rashford is once again establishing himself as one of the game’s top talents. United bought Brazilian Antony at Ten Hag’s urging last summer and were considering a move to Memphis Depay in January. They still have Anthony Martial while young Garnacho has come through the ranks after starting his career at Atletico Madrid.
When you also consider that United are looking to start spending money on attacking players again this summer, the scale of the challenge for Sancho becomes clear.
He was bought by Borussia Dortmund for over £70m 18 months ago but has failed to deliver consistently and has only scored six league goals so far.
Sancho in particular struggled to beat players. That could be a confidence issue, while some in the game feel promotion to the Premier League – where games are tougher week in and week out – has proved to be too much for him.
Anyway, it’s great to see him again. But Wednesday night was a small step. Larger ones have yet to be taken.
Sancho should have no illusions that his success at Old Trafford now depends on hard work
https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-11731039/IAN-LADYMAN-Man-United-star-No-9-nose-Marcus-Rashford.html?ns_mchannel=rss&ns_campaign=1490&ito=1490 IAN LADYMAN: Man United could have star No9 under their noses in Marcus Rashford