Fri. Jan 15th, 2021

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Man United might be about to replicate what Sir Alex Ferguson did in 2003

4 min read

Sometimes the most obvious answer is staring you in the face.

It could be that simple assumption that brought Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to the decision to play Marcus Rashford on the Manchester United right wing against Istanbul Basaksehir.

It could also have been his own experience playing as an auxiliary right-sided midfielder towards the autumn of his playing career.

Solskjaer, the traditional super-sub striker, made his name poaching goals in the six-yard box under Sir Alex Ferguson. But for much of the 2003/04 campaign, after David Beckham’s transfer to Real Madrid, the Norwegian surprisingly became United’s first-choice right winger. Had injuries not taken their toll on Solskjaer over the next couple of years, he might be more keenly remembered for his performances on the right. His final campaign as a professional, in 2006/07 saw Solskjaer free himself of a long-standing knee injury and reprise that role again. Ferguson always loved his attitude and his selflessness was always evident, as Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and others began to take centre stage .

Rashford’s situation is different, of course, though it is fair to describe the 23-year-old as an incredibly selfless person. Sometimes you actually want Rashford to become more self-centred on the pitch, hence he is not always suited to the role as a No.9.

But as part of a fluid front four against Basaksehir alongside Anthony Martial, Bruno Fernandes and Edinson Cavani, Rashford had the ideal circumstances in which to shine. The quartet, with direct running, one-touch football and interchanging of positions, won the game within its opening half hour. Solskjaer took the handbrake off and it worked.

In the league this season, the Norwegian has taken a different approach, usually opting for Juan Mata on the right flank amid Mason Greenwood’s illness and dip in form. Solskjaer has sometimes foregone a right-wing altogether, playing a diamond in midfield or a three-man central defence in absence of a senior man on the right. All those games have been far more cautious.

It all stems from the failure to land Jadon Sancho in the summer of course. United were not willing to match Borussia Dortmund’s asking price for the England winger and on deadline day they did not get a replacement for the first team either, having a bid rejected for Watford’s Ismaila Sarr and attempting a loan for Ousmane Dembele.

Like in 2003 when Ferguson did not recruit a senior player to replace Beckham, United went for youngsters and signed Facundo Pelistri and Amad Diallo.

Both may develop into stars like Ronaldo did after United bought him from Sporting Lisbon 17 years ago.



Jadon Sancho, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Marcus Rashford

But Solskjaer does not have the time to simply wait on those two. Like when Ferguson called upon him to fill the void in 2003, perhaps Rashford is the medium-term answer in 2020 and 2021. The United boss certainly gave a glowing endorsement of what Rashford offered in a position he’s unaccustomed to .

“He played really well and he gives us the penetration and gives us another type of forward on the right side,” Solskjaer said. “When Mason comes on, he’s a different type with the left foot coming inside. Marcus can drive more on the outside and put some crosses in.

“And I thought the balance with Anthony on the left and Marcus on the right worked in this game because we were all disciplined and played in our positions. I was really happy with how we approached the game.

“Defensively, the pressure was good and we made it hard for them to play.”

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Manchester United returned to winning ways in the Champions League with a 4-1 victory over Istanbul Basaksehir at Old Trafford.

Bruno Fernandes’ brace set Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side on course for a third successive win, with Marcus Rashford and Daniel James also on the scoresheet.

MEN Sport will bring you all the reaction and analysis from United’s win and the build up to the Southampton game this weekend. You can have it all delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our daily newsletter. Just put your email address in the sign-up box at the top of this article, or simply follow this link. It’s free and only takes a few seconds.

Only time will tell whether Solskjaer feels Rashford can play on the right flank regularly. Basaksehir were accommodating guests at Old Trafford and it’s unlikely many Premier League teams will offer such space to United’s forward line.

And it would be foolish to suggest Rashford can ‘solve’ the right-wing issue alone. Solskjaer will surely look to Greenwood to string performances together in that position, as he did post-lockdown last season. And there could be another approach for Sancho on the horizon.

But between Rashford and Greenwood, Solskjaer could ensure the Sancho question is parked throughout January, even though the window reopens.

It could be 2003 all over again.

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