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Martial and Rashford present Mourinho with yet another selection dilemma

ANALYST
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1.25K   //    22 Sep 2017, 18:31 IST

Martial and Rashford
Martial and Rashford

With the Manchester rivals setting the standards in the Premier League so far this season, United fans are understandably delighted with their side's performances while going forward.

Mourinho has mainly stuck with a front four consisting of Lukaku, Mata, Mkhitaryan and Rashford, and neither of them has given him any reason to doubt their presence in the starting lineup. Martial started ahead of Rashford once, only because the Frenchman had been devastatingly efficient coming off the bench.

On three separate occasions so far, Martial has come off the bench to replace Rashford and scored. Twice, Rashford did the same when Martial started a match.

Typically, the one who starts tends to terrorise and tire the fullbacks and midfielders with their relentless charging down the left flank. Both of them possess pace to burn and a direct approach that makes them so dangerous cutting in on their right.

And when Jose chooses to bring on one for the other, the fresh injection of pace and energy proves to be too much for the already exhausted defenders. Both Rashford and Martial have shown absolutely no mercy in the closing moments of the game when presented with a chance.

But thanks to the excellent form of Mata and Mkhitaryan, Mourinho hasn't yet had a chance to experiment starting with both Rashford and Martial. And against Burton Albion in the Carabao Cup, he had the perfect opportunity to give the two of them a chance to play with each other.

With Lukaku rested, Rashford started as the striker with Martial on the left. And even though they were facing a weak Championship opponent, the Old Trafford faithful were treated to yet another attacking spectacle from their two exciting young forwards.

Rashford was much better when relieved of his defensive constraints as a left winger, and posed a constant threat as the centre-forward. Within the opening 17 minutes, he already had 2 goals, his second one being an absolute screamer from 25 yards. Down the middle, his directness and movement caused several problems for Burton's back four.


Rashford scored a screamer against Burton a few days ago
Rashford scored a screamer against Burton a few days ago

Martial played at a high intensity and maintained it throughout, tormenting the right-back with his tricks and flicks. He assisted Lingard's goal and grabbed a well-deserved one for himself in the second half. He was rightfully named the man of the match for his exploits.

But perhaps the biggest positive for Mourinho to take away from the match was how the two youngsters combined for Martial's goal. With his back to the goal, Martial played a first-time pass to Rashford and continued his run into the box, while Rashford wriggled away from his marker to place the ball perfectly into the French forward's path for him to sweep home United's fourth goal of the night.

It was a particularly pleasing sight for the fans, especially since the two of them had barely played with each other this season. The goal might have been against a Championship side, but it still served as a reminder of how good the two of them could potentially be if they played together.

Unfortunately, there isn't much scope for that. Big money signing Romelu Lukaku is the uncontested first choice striker after his blistering start to life at Old Trafford, which means that Rashford will have to play as a winger.

Mata and Mkhitaryan are both attacking midfielders who operate best as a number 10 playing behind the striker, but when Mata plays as a right winger, he combines well with Mkhitaryan when he cuts inside onto his left foot. They take turns in dictating the pace of the play, and often exchange positions as well, leading to confusion and panic amongst defenders.

Their lack of a traditional winger down the right is made up for to a certain extent with Valencia's pace and excellent crossing, and as his goal against Everton showed, he's not such a bad shooter of the ball either.

This has worked very well for the Red Devils so far. Mkhitaryan has five assists in the league. Mata might not have been directly involved in any goals, but has been instrumental in almost every attacking move by United.

While the major debate raging on amongst the Old Trafford faithful has been whether Martial or Rashford should start on the left, the match against Burton has raised a very pertinent question: should both of them be starting?


Creativity in abundance
Creativity in abundance

If the two of them start together, that means either one of Mata or Mkhitaryan won't have any place in the starting XI, and given the form that they have been in, it would be cruel to drop anyone, but it most certainly presents a pleasant dilemma for Mourinho to have.

Having both Rashford and Martial would mean that United would lack the advantages of having two midfield playmakers providing Lukaku. No doubt, United have been very impressive going forward, but all the teams they have faced so far had porous defences. Their narrow approach has been very effective against such teams, pegging them back, and forcing them into mistakes.

But against mid-table teams that try and put men behind the ball and hold a deep defensive line, teams like West Brom and Huddersfield, it might be a bit more difficult to break them down through the middle. In such a case, the only option would be to circumvent the defence by playing the ball out wide and then bringing it into the box.

Against such teams, Rashford and Martial could prove to be invaluable. The pace and width they offer are often unsettling for fullbacks, who can only do so much when faced with wave after wave of attacks. Martial primarily plays down the left, but Rashford has played on the right before, giving Mourinho two viable options in the 19-year-old and Jesse Lingard.

In any case, some of the greatest United teams under Sir Alex Ferguson relied heavily on the width offered by agile wingers. Some of the best players under him were wide midfielders like Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani.

This isn't to suggest that Mourinho's methodologies are wrong. But when Jose comes across a team whose park-the-bus tactics prove to be effective against his attackers, he can always rely upon Rashford and Martial to provide him with an extra dimension going forward.

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