Marcus Rashford’s match-winning performance last night has once again raised the increasingly popular debate as to whether Manchester United really need Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Though that’s a narrative that’ll only be added to and discussed with more passion every time the England international plays well, it might not be one that’s strictly true. Is Rashford an exciting talent? Yes. Is he United’s long-term option up front? Yes. Could he carry the side as the superstar Swede has done for swathes of the campaign thus far? Probably not.
That’s not to say Rashford won’t get to those levels, though the caution adopted by manager Jose Mourinho over the 19-year-old should be taken contextually. No, it’s not another case of stunting a young player’s progress, more so a calculated way of harnessing the excitement always likely to surround a young Englishman.
Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney are previous examples of what can happen when exciting young strikers are expected to play week in, week out for institutes of English football. So, it’s clear caution is needed.
Invaribaly, following Rashford’s performance against Anderlecht in the Europa League, many will call for Mourinho to hand the attacking reins over to him, with Ibrahimovic injured. Still, the Portuguese is never one to indulge in such hyperbolic feelings, which could open the door for another man capable of occupying a central striking position for United.
Enter, Anthony Martial.
The Frenchman looks a completely different figure to the one who proved so exciting upon his initial arrival on these shores. Shunted out to the left to accommodate first Rashford, then Ibrahimovic and the likes of Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud at international level, the centre-forward who excited even in Louis van Gaal’s rather boring side is nowhere to be seen.
Criticised by Mourinho of late, surely the Burnley game represents a wonderful opportunity to try and bring some form out of the former Monaco man. United have some big games coming up over the next few weeks, including a Manchester derby and games against both Arsenal and Tottenham, as well as Europa League commitments.
”Is Anthony a player with great potential? Yes, I think. Can he play successfully for me? Yes, I think. But he needs to give me things that I like very much.”
Mourinho has been using Rashford well since taking over back in May. Feeding him into the first-team, while learning from Ibrahimovic, will hopefully improve the England international in the long-run, as well quelling the pressures of expectation and any potential burnout. Though the Swede’s injury has muddied those waters somewhat, the former Chelsea and Real Madrid coach is unlikely to completely sway from that calculated process in a wholly reactive manner.
This is a golden chance for Martial. Perhaps he’ll struggle to battle with Rashford for the central striking berth over the next few years, though a good performance back in the role he was originally bought for would offer Mourinho an interesting alternative.
It’s far from now or never for Martial, though this is the best chance he’s had all year to prove he has far more to offer United than yet another wide forward. Mourinho has previously talked about the depth he has in those berths, though the 21-year-old can offer a wonderfully incisive outlet if he is deployed in that position, as well as support the centre-forwards across the course of a campaign.
Martial needs a big performance and, with huge games coming up over the next few weeks, unleashing him against Burnley could be the wisest move Mourinho has made in a while.