Marcus Rashford is enjoying the best goalscoring season of his career to date, grabbing his 22nd in all competitions recently as Manchester United overcame Crystal Palace 2-0.
United came into the contest knowing that a win was required at all costs as they look to secure a place in the top four. But while they looked tired and laboured at points during the clash, it was the attacking quality that proved to be the difference between the two sides.
Rashford’s beautifully taken goal against Palace was the latest reminder of just how much he has improved in front of goal. The England international last season may have looked to blast his effort at goal with his left foot as soon as he entered the area, but instead, he showed the awareness to perform a lovely turn to create the space for himself before firing into the far corner.
In a game in which United were struggling to break down their opponents, Rashford showed the necessary quality to break the deadlock.
But while it was an impressively taken goal, it was his involvement in the second goal which highlights his new role within this Red Devils team. Drifting in-field, he received a pass from Bruno Fernandes and having already assessed his options, the 22-year-old played a perfectly weighted pass first time into the path of Anthony Martial. This pass allowed the Frenchman to simply latch onto the ball before curling home.
It may have seemed like a simple pass, but the positioning, awareness and weight of it were all of the highest quality.
Of course, Rashford made his comeback from injury when play got back underway again in June and his goal contribution figures since the restart – three goals and four assists in seven games – have been very impressive indeed.
But they do not tell the complete story.
Since the restart, Rashford has visibly not made as many sprints as we have become accustomed to, nor is he looking to commit his man as much. Instead, he is now constantly playing with his head up, looking for the overlapping runs and penetrating passes.
Initially, there was some concern among fans as to whether his injury has had a detrimental impact on him physically, but the forward has shown in moments during recent games that he still possesses the same ability to sprint away from an opponent after performing an outrageous piece of skill. Instead, his game has evolved to the point where he is now a real creator as well as possessing the same one-on-one abilities.
It has been a subtle change to his game, but it has been crucial to Man Utd’s attacking success recently.
United’s number ten has formed an excellent partnership with Luke Shaw down the left, with the left-back constantly looking to get forward and support attacks. Knowing when to come in-field, Rashford has opened up the space time and time again for Shaw and his teammate has produced dangerous crosses from inside the box which the likes of Martial, Bruno and Greenwood have all been able to attack.
Rashford’s more creative role can be seen by the number of completed passes he has made into the box in 2019/20 – but especially since the restart. FBREF.com show that in total this season in the Premier League, Rashford has completed 62 passes (not including set-pieces) into an opponent’s penalty area, with 27 of these coming since the resumption of play.
To put that into context, the forward made 24 the season prior.
Additionally, he has played 132 progressive passes so far in 2019/20 (a pass that travels a minimum of ten yards towards the opposition goal and excludes passes from the defending 40% of the pitch). In comparison, he played just 75 of such passes the season prior.
Despite being just 22, Rashford plays with real maturity and professionalism, while his work off the field in recent times also highlights his remarkable attitude. But these figures show that Rashford’s game is evolving and he is playing a vital role now in linking attacks as well as finishing them.
Perhaps the most exciting thing for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is that he has been able to become a much greater creative threat for his team, while also posing more of a threat in front of goal himself.
This ability to play piercing passes into the opposition’s box not only creates goalscoring opportunities for the likes of Martial, Bruno and Greenwood, it also gives himself a greater chance of finding the net. Rashford and Martial have an excellent understanding and their link up play has been exquisite.
It is scary to think just how much Rashford’s game has improved in such a short space of time, and the fact that he still has more room for improvement and developing should be very concerning for opposition defences.
Rashford is one of the trickiest customers to deal with in the Premier League, with his pace and skill making him a nightmare to play against. This remains true, but he has now added an extra element to his game, which has not only made him a more difficult opponent, but it has also made Man Utd a much harder team to stop in attack.
For more from Adam Aladay, follow him on Twitter!