Well, that’s certainly a headline isn’t it?
Now that I have your attention, let’s state the obvious. Marcus Rashford is a phenomenal player. When given a chance at 18 years old, Rashford forced his way not only into the United team, but onto England’s Euro 2016 roster as well. He’s been an ever-present for both ever since.
At 22 years old, he already has 54 goals and 29 assists for Manchester United, plus another 8 goals and 4 assists for England. That doesn’t happen by accident. 12 of those 54 (22%) goals have come against the Premier League’s “Top Six” cementing his place as a big game player. He also has three goals against Leicester City to boot.
We all know what a remarkable player he is. When we see him do defenders dirty like Brighton’s Davy Propper, we hardly even shrug. We’ve seen him do it before.
Martin Demichelis certainly remembers.
With 9 goals and 3 assists already, Rashford is having the breakout season that many expected this season. His sensational performance against Chelsea in the League Cup provided a beacon of hope that he’s finally becoming the player we all thought he would be.
If Marcus Rashford played 50 games this season and performed at his current standard – “horrible”, “poor”, “hot and cold”, “average”, “rubbish” – he would finish with:— UtdArena. (@utdarena) November 11, 2019
50 – appearances
26/27 – goals
9 – assists
It's almost as if he's better than people think he is. https://t.co/wSDgT1ohnQ
Except there’s one problem. Marcus Rashford has been absolutely atrocious in one area this season and there’s little argument that it’s killing United.
Rashford may have done Davy Propper dirty on Sunday but unfortunately it’s not the Rashford image United fans will remember most from the Brighton match. That would be this one.
Marcus Rashford can’t finish. For as good as Rashford’s been, this season seems to just be a never-ending loop of chances gone to waste.
These are simple finishes that any striker, or attacking player, should finish. They’re a bit more than a simple tap-in, but not much more. Even if he has to take a touch and settle the ball down, he’s still got enough time that he should score there.
In Rashford’s defense, they haven’t all been this easy. And while he’s still only 22, someone with this much first team experience should be doing a bit better.
Bring the ball down! No need for the spectacular.
This is great goalkeeping more than bad finishing, but it’s hard not to say others may have tried getting around the ‘keeper.
This ball has to find the far post, or be chipped over the keeper. Partizan do well to recover here, but strikers that play for Champions League teams would put this away way more often than not.
The Partizan misses ultimately didn’t hurt United, and it’s one thing to be wasteful against Norwich or Brighton when you’re in control of the match. The problem is, it’s not just in those matches.
This season Rashford has taken 33 non-penalty shots and scored four times. That’s just a 12.12% conversion rate. His record in all competitions isn’t much better, just six goals on 46 shots (13.04%), aided greatly by his free kick against Chelsea.
One of the reasons United needed Mason Greenwood to rescue them late against Astana? Rashford not scoring on any of his five chances.
Call it wastefulness, inefficiency, bad luck, or whatever you want. It’s downright awful (and we’re not even talking about his two for four penalty record).
A 12.12% conversion rate doesn’t mean much without context, so let’s look at the other elite strikers and give it some.
Tammy Abraham is at 26.32%, which is off the charts high and likely to come down — but not as high as Jamie Vardy’s 40%. Those two are at the extreme end of the table and are unlikely to be able to maintain that throughout the season, so let’s look at everyone else.
This season Sergio Aguero has scored on 17.50% of his shots in the Premier League, slightly up from his 16.67% last season. Harry Kane is at 16.67%. Last season, Mohamed Salah converted 15% of his shots; two years ago when he scored 31 times it was 21.53%. Over in Italy, Romelu Lukaku has a 16.22% conversion rate.
Players like Aguero and Salah can afford to be a little more wasteful. They’re going to get a ton of shots and still score goals. While United struggle to create shots, it’s not like Rashford is getting fewer opportunities than the top guys. He’s actually very much in the middle.
Rashford is very much in the middle when it comes to the amount of shots he’s taking, but when it comes to finishing he’s significantly lagging behind.
Notice where Anthony Martial is in there — the highest among the non-Abraham/Vardy outliers. Martial is converting 18.75% of his chances this year. You can say it’s a smaller sample size since he missed five games, but it’s actually right in line with the rest of his career.
The Frenchman converted 25% of his chances last season, 18.37% in 2017/18, and 19.30% in his first year under Louis van Gaal — the last time he played centre forward for a full season. That’s why it was a no brainer last summer to move Martial back to the middle this year. Aside from all the other things he does, he’s one of the most efficient strikers in the league! One of United’s biggest problems this year is Rashford getting too many of the shots and Martial not getting enough of them.
Rashford’s lack of finishing is nothing new. The knock on him has always been that he can’t finish and it shouldn’t have been a surprise a few months ago when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said the best finisher at the club was Mason Greenwood.
Earlier this year Solskjaer said he wanted Rashford and Martial to work on scoring the grittier, scrappier goals; the ones elite strikers bang in. It’s clear why he said that. Over his career, Rashford’s conversion rate in the Premier League is just 12.97%. This is basically who he is.
Rashford is still young and can get better in this area, but at 22 years old the clock is ticking. Both he and Solskjaer made comments after the Partizan match regarding the goal scored with his left foot, as he’s been working on that in training. We could also see from the Chelsea match that he’s spending time working on his free kicks.
It’s good to see results, but we need to see more of them, and quick.
It’s understandable that he doesn’t finish plays like this. He’s not a classic number 9, but it still needs to improve.
This one is also a bit of a difficult finish (with his left foot), but it’s the kind of play that top strikers bury.
There are many reasons United have had the up and down season they’ve had, but the primary one is not being clinical in front of the net. The biggest offender here is Rashford.
I gave a short glimpse earlier on the research I did on other strikers over the past few years. To summarize it, generally the top players each season have a conversion rate of around 16-19%. The elite players, and we’re talking one or two players a year, are somewhere between 21-25%.
It’d be unfair to say that if Rashford was converting at 17-18% United would be sitting in the top four right now, but it also wouldn’t be unfair to say they wouldn’t be in a much different spot. An 18% conversion rate, and he’d have six non-penalty goals this year.
Look at his shot chart against Southampton.
Those are good chances! His xG that game was 0.98. Finish one of those six opportunities (16.67%) and United come away with all three points. Finish one of the three chances against Arsenal — like the one inside the box — and where are we?
Look at the Crystal Palace match. If Rashford finishes just one of his four shots, and hits the penalty (and be three of four for the season, which is bang on average for penalties) and United wouldn’t be chasing a late winner when Paul Pogba gave the ball away to gift the points to Palace.
I get that It’s very easy to sit here and say “if if if.” Anyone can say that. But 12.12%! That’s horrible. Especially from a player that we know is so much more talented than that.
Right now that’s the one thing holding Rashford back. His game has just about everything else. He just needs the finishing. If he wants to take the next step, he just needs to get to around 16-18% — not the best, but just among the best.
And if he does that, you’ll see just how much United take off.