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Does Alexis Sanchez’s Manchester United arrival threaten Marcus Rashford’s World Cup hopes?

The phenomenal January arrival of Alexis Sanchez at Old Trafford could have damaging consequences for attacking teammate Marcus Rashford, writes Rob Meech.

Rob Meech

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Marcus Rashford
Photo: Reuters

The capture of Alexis Sanchez was hailed as a major coup for Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho.

The Chilean forward, who had spent four years at Arsenal, swapped the Emirates for Old Trafford in the January transfer window, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan travelling in the opposite direction.

Sanchez had long been linked with a move to Manchester City, having worked with Pep Guardiola at Barcelona, but the Cityzens bowed out of the race to sign him.

Such is Sanchez’s pedigree that, unsurprisingly, he has slotted straight into the starting XI.

The 29-year-old made his debut in the FA Cup victory over Yeovil Town and netted his first United goal in the 2-0 victory over Huddersfield Town, slotting home a rebound after his penalty had been saved.

Sanchez has all the qualities to become a cult hero at Old Trafford and is capable of elevating United to the next level.

While Sanchez’s arrival in the North West has strengthened Mourinho’s attacking resources, it could have serious repercussions for one of the club’s rising stars.

Marcus Rashford was an unknown quantity when he burst on to the scene two years ago, as a precocious teenager.

Due to an injury crisis, then-manager Louis van Gaal promoted the academy graduate to the first team and what an impact he had.

Scoring twice on both his Europa League and Premier League debut, against FC Midtjylland and Arsenal respectively, the birth of a new English superstar was hailed.

Rashford soon broke into the England set-up and was picked in the squad for the 2016 European Championship by Roy Hodgson.

His brilliant cameo against Wales, which transformed the game for the Three Lions, was one of the very few highlights in an otherwise wretched campaign.

Under current manager Gareth Southgate, Rashford scored a spectacular first competitive goal for the national team against Slovakia last September.

With the World Cup now only four months away, Rashford should be continuing his development and playing regularly for United to guarantee his seat on the plane to Russia.

However, of late this plan has been derailed.

After a fast start to the campaign, in which he contributed seven goals and five assists in the first 16 fixtures, Rashford’s form has tailed off. He has not scored or assisted in the top-flight since October.

Sanchez’s signing is another obstacle in the road for the Manchester-born 20-year-old.

Since the Chilean joined United, Rashford has started only one game – and that was in the FA Cup where he bagged the first goal in a 4-0 triumph over Yeovil.

In the two succeeding Premier League fixtures, he has been restricted to a place on the bench.

He was an unused substitute in the defeat to Tottenham Hotspur and played only 20 minutes against Huddersfield Town.

On several occasions, Southgate has publicly stated he would only select players getting regular game-time for their clubs.

He cited Jack Wilshere’s lack of Premier League minutes for the Arsenal midfielder’s controversial omission during the last international break.

Southgate has demonstrated the courage of his convictions by dropping players that have fallen out of favour at club level, including Daniel Sturridge and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

At first glance, Rashford’s appearance record this campaign looks healthy. He is only seven short of the 32 games he featured in last term.

However, he is increasingly being used as a substitute by Mourinho, who is favouring Sanchez, Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard ahead of him.

If Southgate sticks to his policy, could Rashford miss out on a place at the World Cup? Such a scenario would have seemed unthinkable only a few months ago.

The United starlet’s versatility – he can either spearhead an attack or operate as an inside forward – plus his early impressions in an England shirt, will probably count in his favour when Southgate selects his 23-man party.

At this crucial stage of the season, with United about to resume their Champions League quest, Southgate will be hoping Rashford can force his way back into the starting XI.

If he does not, Southgate may have a decision to make.

Rob is a freelance writer, specialising in football, who previously worked as a sports journalist at the Dorset Echo. A long-standing AFC Bournemouth supporter, Rob can often be found on the terraces at the Vitality Stadium. Follow him on Twitter - @RobMeech

Manchester United

Tottenham’s decision to rush back Harry Kane cost them in the FA Cup

The England international has only recently come back from injury.

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Harry Kane
Photo: Getty Images

Harry Kane was a shadow of his former self against Manchester United in the FA Cup semi-final Saturday afternoon, contributing little as Tottenham Hotspur fell to a 2-1 defeat.

The English international struggled to influence the match and was clearly off the pace. It is glaringly clear that Mauricio Pochettino rushed Kane back from his ankle injury far too soon; a decision that may well have cost Spurs their best recent chance at silverware.

Back in March, the striker crumpled under an awkward challenge from Bournemouth‘s Asmir Begovic and left the match on crutches. Spurs fans held their breath in fear and were crushed when it was later revealed Kane had suffered ligament damage.

It was a blow that was widely expected to keep Kane on the sidelines for the next couple months, but remarkably the striker returned just three weeks later in a 3-1 away win against Chelsea.

However, in the following run of matches leading up to the season-defining encounter against Manchester United, Kane had largely looked unfit and missing his classic verve and intensity that has come to define his game.

(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

This lethargy was notably on show in the midweek fixture against Brighton. Although the 24-year-old scored a goal, he appeared tired and unwilling to make his characteristic attacking runs behind the defence.

On the biggest stage of them all, Tottenham’s star striker was well off his prolific best. It was a shame that Kane could not rise to the Wembley occasion and send Spurs to the FA Cup final.

However, it is through no fault of the Englishman, as the blame must be placed on the over-eager Tottenham backroom staff. There was no need to rush Kane back for the league matches before the massive semifinal, and the striker should have been saved for the United match.

As a result of Pochettino’s poor decision, Spurs are trophy-less and Kane is damaged – a tragic turn of events for the north London club.

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Manchester United

Has Romelu Lukaku enjoyed a successful debut season at Manchester United?

The Belgian international has 27 goals in all competitions this season.

Martyn Cooke

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Romelu Lukaku
Photo: Getty Images

Expectations at Old Trafford have always been high.

Over the previous three decades, Manchester United have become one of the most successful club teams in Europe with Sir Alex Ferguson creating an era of dominance that brought success and trophies on a previously unprecedented scale.

His successors may not have been able to directly replicate his achievements, both David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal won just won FA Cup between them, but the raised bar that he set remains in place.

Expectations of individual players are also high, especially if you happen to be a striker.

Wayne Rooney, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Robin Van Persie, Eric Cantona, Andy Cole and Teddy Sheringham are just a small selection of prestigious names that have shouldered the goal scoring responsibility at Old Trafford.

So, it would be fair to say that Romelu Lukaku has some rather large historical boots to fill.

The Belgian striker arrived at Old Trafford in the summer for an initial fee of £75 million after prolific spells with Everton and West Bromwich Albion.

He was brought in by Jose Mourinho to be the focal point of the Manchester United attack and to placate some of the goal scoring issues that the Portuguese coach had experience in his debut season with the club.

(Photo credit should read PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images)

A big-name striker, following in the footsteps of club legends, at a club that demands success – expectations were certainly high.

So, how do we rate Lukaku’s first season with Manchester United?

On Wednesday evening the Belgian climbed off the bench at the Vitality Stadium to score the goal that secured three points against Bournemouth. It was the 24-year-old’s 16th Premier League strike of the season and the 27th goal that he has netted in all competitions so far this campaign.

In basic terms, this season has been the most successful and prolific in front of goal in Lukaku’s career.

Mourinho has been using the Belgian as a lone striker and the focal point of Manchester United’s attack in a campaign in which the club has struggled to maintain pace with their cross-city rivals.

Lukaku has demonstrated that he possesses the pace, power and strength to become one of the leading strikers in world football and when he is fit, confident and on form the 24-year-old is as good as anyone else in the business.

However, despite his considerable goal return Lukaku has not been without his critics in his debut season at Old Trafford.

It has been suggested that the Belgian is a fast-track bully, a big-name that only scores against the so-called ‘smaller’ clubs and fails to produce when it really matters.

Critics point to the limited impact that he has had in matches against Manchester United’s direct rivals – he has scored only once against a top six-team this season.

Some supporters have also become increasingly frustrated that Mourinho’s reliance on Lukaku has seen game time restricted for players such as Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial.

(Photo credit should read BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images)

The duo started the game against Bournemouth in mid-week and flourished in the Belgian’s absence, offering a more mobile, pacey form of attack that has often been missing this season.

Finally, it is noticeable that Lukaku has been lagging behind somewhat in the Premier League goal scoring charts this campaign. He is currently the sixth leading scorer in the league and has found the back of the net 14 times fewer than Mohamed Salah and 10 times less than Harry Kane.

However, when analysing the 24-year-old’s performances this season it is also worth remembering the pragmatic style of play that Mourinho has utilised.

The Portuguese coach is renowned for his defensive approach against other top-six teams whilst even against so-called ‘lesser’ clubs Manchester United have struggled to produce an aesthetically pleasing style of play.

The fact that Lukaku is on track to score 30 goals this season given the general approach of his manager should be applauded, not derided.

The Belgian has undoubtedly been a success in his debut season at Old Trafford but there is certainly room for improvement next year. However, Lukaku is still only 24 and he still has an abundance of time to grow, improve and develop his game whilst the peak years of his career are still ahead of him.

Manchester United supporters will be hoping that his significant goal return this season is just the start and that Lukaku will be able to build on the relative success of his debut campaign and push his game onto the next level next year.

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FA Cup

Three musts for Tottenham to achieve victory in their FA Cup semi-final

FA Cup success will be key to Tottenham’s season.

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Photo: Getty Images

Tottenham Hotspur face off against Manchester United in a high-profile FA Cup semifinal on Saturday, undoubtedly marking their biggest match of the season.

Here are three things Spurs must do to secure their place in the May 19 final.

Get Eriksen involved

Christian Eriksen has perhaps been Spurs’ standout player this season, delivering consistently superb performances and chipping in with crucial goals.

In order for Spurs to gain the upper hand against the Red Devils, the Danish midfielder must control the game and be at the heart of every Spurs attack.

If Eriksen is at his unplayable best, he can combine effortlessly with the likes of Harry Kane and Dele Alli, and break down the United backline with ease.

Keep Lukaku quiet

Romelu Lukaku presents United’s most potent goalscoring threat, and with 27 goals to his name this season, is enjoying a career-best year.

Lukaku came off the bench against Bournemouth on Wednesday and slotted home an assured finish, marking his eighth goal in his last ten appearances for club and country.

The Belgian’s red-hot form will give Tottenham’s centre-backs cause for concern, but his Belgian international teammates will have to be more than up to the fight to nullify Lukaku.

Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld will know Lukaku’s strengths all too well and must be strong and resolute to deny the striker any whiff of goal.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Stop the feared United comeback

If Spurs end up taking the lead at Wembley, they must be vigilant of letting Manchester United back into the match.

The Red Devils have shown an incredible knack for getting back into matches; their 3-2 come-from-behind win at the Etihad is a prime example of that. United have also recently beat Crystal Palace after trailing 2-0, and clearly never consider themselves out of a match.

Tottenham must be mindful to not let their concentration slip when ahead, as Manchester United will surely make them pay.

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