Marcus Rashford should be given a run as centre-forward for Manchester United. That’s the view of former United and Scotland striker Brian McClair, the first player to score 20 league goals in a season for United in 20 years in 1987/88.
McClair later headed up the youth academy at Old Trafford from 2006-2015 and watched Rashford’s rise.
“I agree with an unlikely source of Alan Shearer in that Rashford should be given his chance up front,” McClair said. “Romelu Lukaku is trying his best, but he’s not scored and he’s not getting many touches on the ball. So let’s have a proper look at Rashford. Play him for a run of games and don’t take him off unless he’s injured or played really poorly.”
Before starting as a centre-forward in the 2-1 win against Everton on Sunday, Rashford, who turned 21 on Wednesday, had only previously had one outing in the Premier League game in that position. He didn’t score in that 2-1 win against Leicester City in which he was also brought off for Lukaku. Rashford has scored only one goal in 620 minutes of football for United so far, but for England, where he plays every minute of every game, has scored three in the last five international. He also provided an assist for Raheem Sterling’s opener during England's victory over Spain in Seville in their most recent Nations League match.
Rashford has started the last three United league games in which the team have won two and drawn – away at Chelsea where he set up Anthony Martial for his side’s second.
“Rashford is very young and he needs to play,” McClair said. “Martial has been allowed a couple of games in the team and he’s producing something. Let them play.
“Marcus has got the ability to play all over the place. He can play on the right, on the left and as a centre-forward. He’s quick, he’s brave, he’s intelligent enough to work things out as the central striker. He understands how football should be played, where he should be running, where he should be going.” But McClair doesn't think that is his best position.
“That should be just behind the striker. He could create, he’s quick, he’s got movement. But that would mean changing the system all together. It would mean a 4-4-1-1. That would give him more freedom in the centre areas of the pitch, but he could still create in the wide areas.”
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Rashford has had opportunities in the team this season but has hardly been prolific in return, a point made by his manager Jose Mourinho when he pointed out that Lukaku and Rashford had scored only one goal between them in the last nine games. Lukaku is a recognised centre-forward, but is Rashford?
“Rashford could learn to play as a true centre-forward,” McClair said. “It’s not fair when he’s getting an hour because you’re under pressure right away thinking ‘how long have I got?'
Rashford had been given run outs of 63 and 67 minutes respectively in the games he started as the central striker. Rashford made more sprints than any player on the pitch against Everton, but touched the ball fewer times than any other.
“If you don't put the ball in the areas that a striker can exploit then that will be a problem - one which Romelu has,” McClair said. “But that’s a whole other issue. Rashford did OK [against Everton] before being replaced by Romelu and you have to have competition. There hadn’t been any evidence of competition for Romelu’s position until recently.”
As Mourinho prepares his team to face in-form Bournemouth away on Saturday, he has to decide which of Rashford and Lukaku to start with. He played Rashford as a central striker at Bournemouth last season. He didn’t score but, as he did against Everton at the weekend, he didn't play badly, and his team scored twice to win.