Why Manchester United could have a striking problem on their hands
After a positive opening three games of the Premier League season where Manchester United secured three wins on the trot, they have gone on a run where they have managed a paltry two wins over nine matches.
Jose Mourinho’s men looked as if they would be aiming for a Premier League title when the season got under way, but now appear as if they will face a struggle to get back into the top four, which they are already six points adrift of.
The main problem for United is up front, they are just not creating anything. Their defensive record is not amazing, 14 goals against is the same total as Liverpool, but just 17 for is what is really costing them, with all of the current top four all having hit 25 already. Spurs have hit just 18, but have only conceded eight in the same period.
United’s attack, then, is not very good. Their first choice striker is Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who they missed in their draw with Arsenal, but at 35, is hardly in his prime.
Zlatan has produced some excellent performances where he has replicated the best of his days as a flat track bully in Serie A and Ligue 1, but his propensity to drop deep and link the play, as well as his lack of pace to get in behind, sometimes limit the amount that United can achieve when he is on the pitch.
If Ibrahimovic’s performances are slightly dropping off with age, then Wayne Rooney’s have fallen off a cliff. Without the pace or the energy of his younger days, nobody seems to know whether Rooney can even still play up front anymore. If he can, he has barely shown it in the last couple of years.
So the experienced guards are still good but don’t give United enough energy or pace in attack, and the younger lads are probably still a bit too inexperienced to really change the team dynamic.
Marcus Rashford, the prodigious 19-year-old, lined up as the central striker against Arsenal, but he is still learning the game and he failed to have very much impact on the game. He is an instinctive goalscorer, but there are several areas of his game he needs to work on, most notably strength on the ball. He has also looked slightly fatigued recently, and defenders appear to be working his game out. Playing on the wing has hardly helped.
That leaves Anthony Martial. It has been so long since he last played through the middle for the Red Devils most have forgotten that he arrived at the club hailed as their next great number nine. The Frenchman is now deployed almost exclusively on the wing, which is costing United.
He is not perfect yet, and suffered a pretty disastrous drop in form over the summer months, but Martial is quick, which Ibrahimovic is not, strong, which Rashford is not, and is a fine finisher.
If United are to get out of their current malaise and start scoring goals again, they need to try something different. Ibrahimovic is far from done, has plenty still to offer, but it doesn’t appear to work against better opposition. Martial may prove to be a risk, but it is time for them to take a risk. He can be a great striker, it is time for him to be given the chance to show it.
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