If Manchester United have to do without Marcus Rashford against AC Milan on Thursday night then it will be an unfamiliar feeling for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his teammates.
Rashford requires a scan on an ankle injury that forced him off late on in United’s 2-0 success at the Etihad on Sunday and given the intense schedule still facing Solskjaer’s side this season he has to be a doubt for the Europa League last-16 first leg.
United’s medical department will have been tracking Rashford’s fitness and physical output closely, but to the naked eye, it is no surprise he has picked up an injury, alongside the shoulder problem he’s been managing since November.
If anything the surprise is Rashford hasn’t broken down sooner given his workload this season and last. The 23-year-old is the only United player to feature in all 43 games the club have played this season, starting 35 of them. Of the eight he has come off the bench in, United have won seven and drawn one, which suggests his presence hasn’t always been required.
His 45-minute run-out in the second leg against Real Sociedad was unnecessary, while he came on against Watford in the FA Cup third round with United in a winning position, just as they were when he came on at Luton and Brighton in the Carabao Cup back in September.
The demands on Rashford actually date back further than just this season. Since last season resumed in mid-June he has played in 56 of the 57 matches United have played and was an unused substitute in the other, the entirely irrelevant second leg against LASK Linz.
That means Rashford has been named in every matchday squad for nine months. That’s travelling to every game, warming up for every game, playing in almost all of them, staying in hotels. It’s an incredible workload.
United would obviously rather have Rashford available but right now a rest might just be the best thing for him and if it’s forced through injury then it was going to happen sooner or later.
With Edinson Cavani also absent against City it might leave United a little short in attack at the moment, but if they can navigate ties against AC Milan in the Europa League and Leicester City in the FA Cup without Rashford, then welcome him back fit and fresh(er) in a couple of weeks, that will be an ideal scenario.
Rashford was possibly United’s most ineffectual forward against City and his form has been below-par for a little while. Tiredness is undoubtedly a contributing factor to that. Given United have played twice a week since mid-September, Rashford has followed the same schedule. It’s exhausting.
Since making his debut just over five years ago Rashford has now played 257 times for United for a total of 17,094 minutes. That’s working out at roughly an average of 51 club games a season, before you factor in international commitments. It’s been a hell of a workload for a footballer who is still only 23. By comparison Daniel James s 10 days younger than Rashford and as a much later bloomer he’s played 102 club games for a total of 6,822 minutes.
When Rashford picked up a back injury midway through last season it was the first time he’d had any kind of significant injury that was going to rule him out for more than a few weeks. In the end the suspension of the season during lockdown meant he was fit to return against Tottenham on June 19 and, as we know, he hasn’t had a game off since then.
This isn’t how United would have wanted it to happen, but they always knew this season would be a demanding one. They have played 43 games so far and are guaranteed at least another 13. They could end up playing 63 in total if they reach the FA Cup final and Europa League final and all in a shorter time frame than ever before.
United needed to find time to rest Rashford at some point earlier in the season, but Solskjaer’s reliance on him, with Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood struggling, made a case for that difficult. Now they might find the decision has been made for them.