Manchester United fans feel lucky to have two of the Premier League’s brightest young attacking talents in their squad, with Marcus Rashford, 19, and Anthony Martial, 21, making positive starts to the season.
Both players would prefer a central role but, for the time being, Jose Mourinho is making them bide their time out wide. The arrival of Zlatan Ibrahimovic has meant any opportunities to lead the line will be further limited, with him falling behind Romelu Lukaku in the pecking order and thus moving the two youngsters even further away from their ideal position. But Mourinho simply can’t resist a bit of Ibra-kadabra.
Rashford has been the preferred option, starting both games and playing a total of 155 minutes, but has been replaced by Martial on both occasions, who has just 25 minutes of football under his belt.
The key difference, however, is that the closest Rashford has come to scoring so far is seeing one of his attempts come back off the woodwork against West Ham, before fluffing an easy opportunity to score again Swansea. On that occasion, he well and truly Welbecked it: you know, trying to chip the goalkeeper when you could easily slot it past him, much to the frustration of supporters.
At least Rashford’s error came in a 4-0 win over Swansea and not a Champions League quarter-final against Bayern Munich, but it still didn’t do much to inspire confidence in his composure.
In contrast, Martial has two goals and one assist. He has heeded the advice Mourinho gave him at the end of last season. The manager claimed that Rashford was a player that he trusted, supported and would “always” play.
Why? Because he knows what Mourinho likes and does what he is told.
“Do I think Anthony is a player with great potential? Yes I think,” Mourinho said. “Do I think he can play successfully for me? Yes I think. But he needs to give me things I like very much.”
It’s pretty safe to say that Mourinho likes seeing one his players score or assist a goal every eight minutes he’s on the field! Martial has been on fire and plenty of fans have been calling for him to replace Rashford in the starting line-up.
However, Mourinho raised an interesting point about Rashford following the victory over Swansea.
“Honestly, I think if he was on the bench and if he comes [on] for the last 15 or 20 minutes when the space is there, I think he would do the same as the other guys did,” he said.
Is Martial reaping the benefits of being fresh and coming on to face a tiring defence? Would Rashford, with his pace on the attack and incredibly skilful feet, have goals to his name if he only played for the last quarter of an hour instead?
You know when someone can’t unscrew a lid on a jar, then passes it to someone else for help, only for them to open it first time?
The first person will argue in vain that they loosened it. Well, is that what Rashford is doing? He runs the defence ragged and then Martial comes on and takes advantage of their tired legs.
As a local lad and lifelong United fan, Rashford arguably has greater support from the fanbase. Lots want to see Martial start but not at the expense of the Wythenshawe-born teen. Gary Neville is an example of this type of fan, arguing that it would be unfair to bench Rashford.
Yet Martial is a player that United may end up spending £50 million on, if he fulfils the potential the club deemed him to have when they signed him two years ago. After a disappointing first campaign under Mourinho, Martial now looks like the player he was in his debut season, playing with confidence, and is arguably the coolest finisher that United have in the squad, Lukaku included.
Having had his no.9 shirt taken off him when Ibrahimovic signed, then seeing it passed along to Lukaku, Martial may feel a little aggrieved though. He is also likely well aware that there are other top clubs that he could start for every week. He’s listened to Mourinho’s instructions, followed them, yet his only reward is cameo appearances.
While Neville argues it wouldn’t be fair to drop Rashford, it’s also unfair that Martial isn’t given the playing time he has worked hard to be deserving of.
United have done so well against West Ham and Swansea, two sides they drew with last year, but could they have done even better with Martial’s deadly finishing on offer? Is the Frenchman the better bet?
Essentially, we won’t know until Mourinho tries it. Rashford is teacher’s pet but some will feel there’s only so long he can persist while Martial is playing so well and outperforming him in front of goal. Other’s will argue that if it isn’t broken, then don’t fix it. United have won both of their games 4-0, with Martial starring from the bench, so there’s little need to mess with a winning formula.
United fans should trust the manager to make the right decision but it surely is only a matter of time before Mourinho gives Martial the start he’s shown he’s worthy of.
But maybe it is Juan Mata, for all his clever passes, link up play and set pieces, who should be fearing his place in the starting line-up.
There won’t be too many managers who would like to see the experiment of a forward line consisting of Rashford, Lukaku and Martial put in place against their team. There will be even fewer defenders keen to face them.
“Attack! Attack! Attack, Attack, Attack!” is the call from the Stretford End. United’s football has been great so far but imagine the skill and speed those three players could offer going forward. Go on, Jose, give it a go.