Ten Hag has worked wonders in his first season at Man United and solid partnerships are beginning to appear all over the pitch
It’s a matter of when, not if, Marcus Rashford scores when presented with a scoring chance.
The attacker is having his most productive season to date, with 24 goals already, and it’s only February. It will take some effort to break Denis Law’s single-season record of 46 goals set in 1963/64, but Rashford is on track for at least 30.
The last time a Manchester United player did that was Robin van Persie in the 2012/13 seasons, a decade ago. After his own 24-goal haul last season, Rashford has dispelled the myth that United would struggle without Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal-scoring ability.
United undoubtedly still need a marquee center-forward in the summer if they want to be among next season’s title favorites but, for now, Erik ten Hag’s set-up is working.
Many have mooted that Rashford looks to be playing with more freedom with Ronaldo gone and the stats show his rate of goals has increased. He has netted 16 goals – including 10 in as many league matches – since the World Cup break following Ronaldo’s exit.
Bruno Fernandes is another player whose output appears to have increased since the departure of the big man. He has always defended his relationship with Ronaldo, and some on social media exaggerated his ‘frosty’ reception with him on the eve of the World Cup.
Despite the legitimate claims that Fernandes was hampered by Ronaldo’s presence at United, the playmaker performed admirably for Portugal in Qatar, finishing with two goals and three assists.
But his form at the club level has undoubtedly become more productive. Pre-mid-season break, Fernandes tallied three goals and three assists in 20 outings across all competitions.
Since the break, he has netted four times and recorded seven assists in 16 outings. He brought up double figures for assists when he teed up Jadon Sancho for United’s final goal in Sunday’s 3-0 win over Leicester.
But his assist for Rashford’s opener was arguably more pleasing to the eye. He curled the ball with the outside of his boot to send the striker one-on-one with Danny Ward, whom Rashford has ended up beating four times this season after his double for England against Wales at the World Cup.
Notably, six of Fernandes’ assists this season have come from Rashford goals, highlighting the formation of a new partnership under Ten Hag. What makes this even more impressive is the variety of roles each has played while developing their on-field relationship.
When not playing on the left flank, Rashford has played as a central striker and even as a right winger. Meanwhile, Fernandes has been moved to the right flank on several occasions, away from his usual No.10 position.
Despite this, they have managed to establish a connection wherever they are on the field. Of course, Rashford must score in order for Fernandes to record his assists, and his current goal-scoring streak makes that easier.
But then, without Fernandes’ vision, timing, and weight of pass, Rashford may not be chalked up as many goals. The United No.8 showed all three aforementioned traits in his assist for Rashford on Sunday in the latest of a lengthy line of combinations between the two United stars.
Behind every good striker, there is a strong assist provider. Rashford and Fernandes play their respective roles seamlessly.