How to get the best out of Marcus Rashford

by | Feb 16, 2024

In this article, I’ll cover Rashford’s:
— Strengths, weaknesses & traits
— Suitable in-possession patterns
— Complimentary profiles to support

Before we dive into usage, let’s jot down what we know of his profile.

– Movement in-behind
– Ball-striking & execution of shots/crosses
– Dribbling when 1v1 especially in wide areas
– Finishing variety & consistency
– Athleticism & agility

– Ball control in tight spaces
– Back-to-goal play
– Vision when facing settled blocks
– Pressing & defensive engagement

Combined, this means that you’d rather have Rashford recieving in wide areas away from a block when his body is open & can trap & drive OR recieving when running in-behind in central areas. Recieving in central areas when back-to-goal is worst. Let’s go through the patterns now.

1A) Off-ball: Far side

When possession is on the far side, he should be narrow hanging on the opponent FB. This makes him a good target for crosses behind the defence line from the right half-space, either from RW or RB or RCM. He can run either side of FB depending on space.

Especially since adding an element of aerial threat to his game, crosses to the far post where he can beat his (usually short) FB marker in the air is one very easy avenue of goal-scoring we haven’t utilized often. A potent way to break organized low blocks as well.

The example above was on the outside of the FB which leads to direct shot/header or recieving & taking on. In cases where the space between opponent FB & CB is large (usually in transition vs unsettled blocks) Rashford drifting into this space & scoring is his bread-and-butter.

1B) Off-ball: Central

When the ball is in central areas during possession in latter phases, Rashford being even more narrow gets the best out of his run-behind strengths. This is the main attraction for managers to play him at CF or allowing him to stay high & central from LW.

When it comes to angled runs in the gap between RB & RCB to get through on goal, there’s no one better than Rashford in the PL. Coupled with Bruno’s ability to play those balls, it’s no surpise that most of our managers have relied on this pattern for goals, like ETH last year.

Even when pass is played in earlier phases of possession, it can be deadly. Here the ball is played from our half & Rashford recieves in the RB-RCB space, but is wide. He has still it in his locker to cut in & score. Doesn’t always have to be clean through. High guarantee move.

2A) On-ball: Overlap

Next, we go to on-ball situations. As discussed, it’s best for Marcus to position wide on the touchline to recieve, when possession is on his side of the pitch. After recieving cleanly & facing goal, the overlap is one form of support that can be given.

I’m sure the first person that comes to your mind when I say ‘overlap for Rashford’ is Shaw. We have seen this equation many times. Rashford has the ball control & passing tech to find overlapping runners consistently with good through-balls, slide-rule passes or even backheels.

Shaw being positioned high & wide from the start isn’t a good use of him. He doesn’t have the 1v1 ability or trickery to beat a man in high LW-esque positions. But when marauding from deeper, his running power, carrying & crossing vision are great tools to use on the overlap.

2B) On-ball: Underlap

Logical alternative to overlap. Rashford has a good slide pass into the left half-space channel that any runner can latch onto. This can be the CF, LCM or even LB again. From there, high-value chance (we’ve lacked recently) can be created from a cutback.

Rashford positioning himself wide & having great 1v1 ability often results in him dragging 2 opponents towards him. This creates a space for the underlap to work. We’ve had very few LHS underlappers for Rashford over the years. Here’s one example with Matic (of all people).

England friendlies in Oct 2023 highlighted this aspect of Rashford via 1 of the best channel runners today, Jude Bellingham, who’s been in top shadow striker form this year & was often found by a touchline Rashford in left half-space. In our squad Mason Mount is capable of this.

2C) On-ball: Angled cross

Another simple yet potent trait. While Rashford may not be very visionary like an Ozil or David Silva from the wings, he has good crossing execution especially when it’s a clear target. His angled cross to a box runner is a good avenue of goals.

We had seen a lot of this in the 20/21 season under Ole when Rashford was in a traditional LW role (like this year) & Cavani started many games. Cavani was excellent at making those runs & had aerial presence. Rashford had 13 assists that year – his career-highest in a season.

Sadly, I had to search a lot for non-Cavani examples. Had to go back to 2017 when Rashford had a few such assists to Fellaini. With Martial not being a target man or good runner, Rashford often being the outlet himself & our 23/24 tactics being poor, we haven’t seen this enough.

2D) On-ball: Carry to byline

The 1v1 dribbling ability comes into play here. After recieving wide on the touchline, he has the skills to beat his man on the outside, reach the byline & cutback. For 23/24 season, his 12 shot-creating actions from take-ons is the highest in EPL.

We saw this in full flow earlier in this season. He had 2 SCA from take ons each vs Forest, Arsenal & Brighton. After beating his man he’s able to reach byline & pass to a CF (often Hojlund this year). Looks bad when he’s not 1v1 & has to try this coz there’s no other support.

Our tactics this year have aimed at going direct to or switching to winger from deep without progressing patiently. This puts him in situations where he has no option but to try the take-on even when against multiple defenders or settled blocks. 2A, 2B, 2C support isn’t offered.

2E) Carry to center

Another pattern that makes good use of his dribbling & long shooting ability is lettim him cut inside instead of byline. This area can be opened with a simple decoy run that pulls away the CB. When 1v1, with space in center, Rashford can cut in & shoot.

Once again, a recent example was during the friendly vs Italy when Bellingham took away a CB with a nice diagonal run. Rashford delays his carry until the gap is created & then cuts inside to shoot. Again, post-Cavani very few CFs have done this consistently.

Best part: Our squad already has all support elements.

— RCM who can cross from RHS or thread from centre
— LB who can overlap
— LCM who can underlap
— CF who can make channel/box runs

A patient tactic focused on utilising above attacking patterns will unlock Rashford & others.

I wanted to keep this article as a general blueprint regardless of manager & tactics but I think it’s visible that the years in which Rashford had the right dynamics, he thrived (like Ole 2 years & 22/23 ETH) & the years he didnt, he struggled (Like RR era & 23/24 ETH).

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