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Saturday, January 28, 2023

Marcus Rashford is helping Man United to rediscover their best attack

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Lockdown football didn’t have a lot going for it but those summer months of June 2020 were at least bright for Manchester United, who shone behind closed doors and found a potent attacking combination. It was arguably the highlight of the Ole Gunnar Solskjaer era, although as was so often the case under the Norwegian, it couldn’t be repeated when the pressure was on and defeats to Chelsea in an FA Cup semi-final and Sevilla in a Europa League semi-final were costly. When that 2019/20 season restarted, however, United were easy on the eye and had an attack that looked like it could carry them forward. Nineteen goals were scored in the first seven Premier League games after Project Restart. Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial registered 14 of those goals and formed a potent attacking quartet with the now-unavailable Mason Greenwood. READ MORE: Rashford’s two improvements can benefit United But in the two years since those heady days United were supposed to have moved on. Rashford’s form had been poor and Jadon Sancho was signed for £73million, the new attacking darling of English football. Martial fared even worse, spending the second half of last season on loan at Sevilla., where he scored just once in 12 games. Martial had lost his place to Edinson Cavani and then Cristiano Ronaldo, but he’s outlasted them both. Cavani left on a free transfer in June having become a peripheral figure himself and Ronaldo’s contract was ripped up after his incendiary TV interview. When this season resumes after the World Cup, United will find themselves in a position where three of their best front four are once again Fernandes, Rashford and Martial. Sancho has regressed since his move from Borussia Dortmund, Donny van de Beek has failed to put any pressure on Fernandes for his place, but really this is as much about those players returning to top form as it is about the failure of those brought in to raise the standard. Fernandes might have briefly lost his stardust from that first season at the club, but he never lost his place. He has had to ride out a loss of form but has arguably been the outstanding player in the World Cup and has been rediscovering his form at Old Trafford as well. But Rashford and Martial both suffered drastically from a loss of form and focus at United. There is no doubt at least some of that is down to the failure of coaching in recent years, under Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick, and the return to form this season comes as no coincidence under the more detailed Erik ten Hag. Rashford is a case in point. He has three goals for England in Qatar and is in contention to win the Golden Boot, adding to the eight he has in 19 appearances for United this season. It has been obvious during the World Cup that this is a player who has got the confidence back in his game. His two goals against Wales summed that up perfectly. The 25-year-old has been making an impact on the right at the World Cup, but his best performances for his club have come off the left this season. Having toyed with the idea of leaving Old Trafford not so long ago, a new contract now looks a certainty for a player who is one of the first names on the teamsheet for Ten Hag. Martial’s form has been excellent in patches as well this season, although only in patches because it’s come between injury problems. He has looked like the best No. 9 in Ten Hag’s system and a return of four goals and two assists in just 300 minutes of competitive action is impressive. He didn’t do enough to make the France squad for this World Cup, but this might benefit United. Instead, it’s allowed Martial to work on his fitness and if he can come through next week’s training camp in Spain then he might be ready to really make an impact when the season resumes. With Ronaldo now out of the door, there’s no question Martial is United’s starting centre-forward at the moment. With Rashford and Fernandes, he really is getting the old band back together, with £85.5million summer signing Antony the new face in that front four. Just over two years ago, three-quarters of that attack looked like the long-term answer at United. Maybe it was all along. READ NEXT: Vote for United’s player of the year United’s forgotten man might have a route back into the squad United staff optimistic Amad can succeed at club United have made a transfer change that is already working All the United news and views Story SavedYou can find this story in  My Bookmarks.Or by navigating to the user icon in the top right.

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