Marcus Rashford is fit, shooting and having fun. Yet his impressive recent form also shows why he is not the answer to Manchester United’s need for a new striker, according to two former England forwards.
Rashford led United to a dominating 3-0 win over Nottingham Forest on Tuesday but Alan Shearer and Michael Owen say they need to buy a ‘number nine’ to complement the 25-year-old’s quality.
Against Forest, Rashford scored United’s first goal after sweeping away a well-worked corner routine initiated by Christian Eriksen and then pushed Anthony Martial into a second shot midway through the first half.
With Martial as the main striker, the England international played a bit lower on the left which allowed him to cause problems for the Forest defense with his movement.
“I think Marcus appreciates him more, he certainly looks better, in the position we saw tonight,” Shearer said on Amazon Prime.
“He’s been given a bit of freedom – if he wants to go in the middle sometimes, he can.
“But when he has all that space to run from distance, he’s a better player to do that and he’s very, very good at it.
“When it comes to his role as a centre-forward, he lacks that killer instinct, that natural ability to think ‘yeah, I’m going to get in there, I’m going to get the two or three yards’.
“But there’s no doubt about his abilities, he’s a fantastic player.”
Owen, also working at Old Trafford as a TV pundit, agreed with his former strike partner in England.
“I think Rashford is better on the left, he will contribute a decent number of goals every year,” said the former Liverpool and Real Madrid striker.
“But he won’t be the Ruud van Nistelrooy, the Robin van Persie, the Wayne Rooney who scores over 30 goals a season.
“Obviously he’s a huge asset to this football club, he gives them something different, gives them pace, gives them candor.”
United’s need for a new ‘out and out’ striker has long been evident and the search has been accelerated by Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure by mutual consent ahead of the World Cup.
Frenchman Martial, 27, claimed manager Erik ten Hag’s regular striker job with a decent performance against Forest, but there remains a feeling he’s had enough chances to prove his worth at United for eight seasons without ever being fully convincing.
PSV Eindhoven’s Cody Gakpo was a long-time attacking target – although the Dutchman, like Rashford, is seen as more productive behind a leader – but United appear to have been beaten on his signature by Liverpool.
After beating Forest, Ten Hag admitted it would be “good” to have another striker, but only if United’s “sporting and financial criteria” were met.
“I would definitely look to go into the market to see if they can find a centre-forward,” Shearer added.
“But that’s easier said than done because a lot of clubs are looking for that guy who can come out and score you 25 goals a season.”
Owen, who also had a spell at Old Trafford, added: “Rashford should get 20 a season if you include all the cups. In terms of the Championship, if he gets 15 that would be a very good return.
“But I think Manchester United need that number nine, whether it’s Martial or another player.”
Rashford suffered a dip in form under United caretaker boss Ralf Rangnick last season, scoring just twice in 23 appearances and rarely playing a full 90 minutes.
This season, looking reinvigorated under Ten Hag and playing with a smile again, he has scored 10 times in 21 games for his club.
“I don’t know if it’s as good as I’ve ever played, but I’m really enjoying it,” Rashford told Amazon Prime.
“We are winning a lot more football games and our level has been much higher. I am happy with how we have developed and hopefully we can keep moving forward.
“It’s a completely different mindset to last season, a different team playing different football.
“For me when you’re not in the team and you arrive there’s a different mindset and you have to think about making an impact and you don’t know when you’ll have another chance or another goal.
“But I’m enjoying what I’m doing right now.”