Wed. Aug 5th, 2020

Man Utd

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Man United are laying the foundations for their next great partnership

4 min read

When Manchester United sold Romelu Lukaku without signing a replacement last summer there wasn’t exactly an outpouring of faith in his two replacements in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s squad.

With Lukaku moving to Inter Milan for £75million and United failing to land a new centre forward before the deadline, it was down to Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial to share the burden that the departure of the Belgian would create.

Lukaku wasn’t a convincing United No. 9 but he did look to be the most natural and regular goalscorer in the squad and his record at Inter Milan this season stands that up.

Rashford and Martial were attackers of promise but neither looked at home leading the line and their goalscoring records left plenty to be desired. Between them they’d scored 93 goals in 344 appearances for the club before the start of this season, a pretty paltry rate of a goal every 3.7 games.

That was nowhere near good enough to be United’s main men, but Solskjaer had faith he was building a system that would suit both and they also had improvement to come, although even he probably didn’t expect that improvement to be so rapid.

Now Rashford, 22, and Martial, 24, have the potential to become one of United’s best strike partnerships of the Premier League era. Certainly one of the most telepathic. When Rashford’s first-time pass set Martial up for the second goal at Crystal Palace on Thursday night it was the seventh time they’d combined for a Premier League goal this season, a record for United in the Premier League.

That goal also meant Martial kept pace with Rashford at the top of the scoring charts for the club, with both scoring 22 times this season. That they find themselves neck and neck for goals is no surprise is when you consider their remarkable record when starting games together.

Injuries have forced both to go it alone at times this season and when they’ve done that they’ve taken on the pressure diligently, but it’s when they play together that you really see the best of them.

The game at Selhurst Park was the 24th time this season they’ve started together. In 11 of those games they’ve both found the back of the net, a remarkable record, and in total those games have seen them score 31 of their 44 goals.

United are winning 58% of games the deadly duo start together, and only 48% of games when they don’t. It’s clear to see that they look a much more vibrant side when that partnership is in tandem.

That they have developed such an understanding is something of a surprise, given they are quite similar players. Both had looked happier coming off the left before this season, yet both probably fancied themselves as a centre forward as well. Last season it was Rashford who often played through the middle, with Martial out wide, but that changed this season. Solskjaer handed the vacant No. 9 shirt to Martial and the Frenchman has shouldered the responsibility expertly, growing in confidence as the season has progressed.

Rashford’s station on the left and their general work as part of a front three, with Mason Greenwood coming of age on the right, means they aren’t a natural strike partnership like Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole or Wayne Rooney and Ruud van Nistelrooy, perhaps they’re more Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo, a more modern duo who work all over the pitch rather than in the confines of the penalty box.

But on the evidence of their shared breakthrough seasons they have the potential to be remembered amongst the best. This season they’ve scored 44 goals in 81 games, a rate of a goal every 1.8 games. It’s a huge improvement on their efforts until the start of 2019/20. When they start together it’s a goal every 1.5 games. The evidence suggests they are better together.

Bruno Fernandes is rightly lauded as the catalyst to United’s attacking improvement in 2020, but the Portuguese playmaker needs forwards making the right runs and finishing the chances he creates. The development of Rashford, Martial and Greenwood shouldn’t be overlooked here.

With goals has come confidence. Martial’s stunning individual strike against Southampton and Rashford’s cooly taken goal at Palace over the last week are examples of how they both feel at their top of the game right now.

The challenge at United is to maintain that over a number of seasons, but with age on their side the first glimpse of a Rashford/Martial partnership this season has been hugely encouraging.

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