Next season, Marcus Rashford is set to receive his biggest opportunity to date: becoming Manchester United’s go-to scorer. It’s not a role he’s played throughout his time in the senior squad — he’s mostly functioned as a winger — but it was always clear that this was where his development was headed.
In order to be successful in the Premier League, strikers need to be able to score consistently, with at least 20 goals as a benchmark for success. Last season, Rashford — who played 10 games on the wing and 22 as a striker according to Transfermarkt — only managed to notch 13 goals in all competitions.
Ultimately, a successful season for Rashford will hinge on his ability to get the ball in the goal (surprising, right?). Reaching that 20 goal mark will be difficult, especially considering that he hasn’t reached that milestone quite yet in his career. Nevertheless, he has managed to score in double digits in three of his four seasons with the senior squad (11,13, and 13 respectively), which is a good indicator that a 20-goal season isn’t out of the question.
While last season’s mark is far below what should be expected from Manchester United’s starting striker, it isn’t an indictment on Rashford’s ability to play as a number 9. At only 21 years of age, Rashford already has the required skill set to succeed playing at center forward.
His movement off the ball is going to be one of his biggest assets as he transitions into his new role. Rashford is adept at making runs behind defenders, which opens up passing lanes and creates scoring opportunities for him and his teammates.
What Rashford lacks in size and strength, he makes up for in smarts. Making intelligent runs into space should be Rashford’s bread and butter, and can be one of the catalysts for his success going forward.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has also indicated that there may be a re-emphasis on playing with the field spread from wing to wing with the signing of a player like Daniel James, which could benefit Rashford. Theoretically, Rashford should have more space to function in the middle of the field, where his penchant for making intelligent runs would be highlighted.
Additionally, Rashford will immensely benefit from his technical tools, as not many strikers have the dribbling ability, along with speed, to beat defenders. He is not afraid to dribble into the box and put pressure on defenses, so his directness will also be something he can rely on throughout his spell up front.
Rashford’s success will also be highly dependent on the service he’ll be receiving from the midfield. Ander Herrera already left the club, and if Pogba ends up leaving too, Rashford could face some major issues with the creation of goal-scoring opportunities from the midfield. Finding solid replacements in the midfield should be a priority, as it can make or break Rashford’s season.
In addition, Rashford will still have a lot to work on throughout the season to improve his game, namely, his finishing ability. Last season, Rashford missed a plethora of easy opportunities in front of goal, which can’t be the case if United is aiming to win championships. Rashford is currently far from a clinical finisher, but he’s shown enough flashes to suggest that he can get there at some point.
Rashford’s inexperience as a striker may also be a cause for concern, as United will need him to be productive from the jump. He’ll surely need some time to adjust to his new role, but with United having championship aspirations, that could become an issue at the start of the season. That’s not to say he isn’t ready for the challenge — he has shown up for big moments in the past — but this will be his first season with sky-high expectations, and it’ll be interesting to see how Solskjaer handles Rashford early on.
It’s not easy being the main man at any club, and those issues are only heightened when you’re playing at Manchester United. This season will be Rashford’s most challenging by far, and while there may be some bumps along the way, Rashford could be set for a spectacular season, where he finally reaches the potential he’s been flashing.