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Marcus Rashford’s return: How will he fit into the Manchester United starting XI?

In a season widely expected to win silverware, Manchester United have started their 2020/21 campaign in stuttering fashion. Without key man Marcus Rashford for the previous ten fixtures, the 23-year old’s imminent return after three months out has been a highly anticipated one among the United support.

A tough 2020/21 campaign for Marcus Rashford had seen him struggle for full fitness with an ongoing shoulder injury and ankle injury. Usage of painkillers through to the end of the campaign saw the Englishman forced to act in the summer of 2021 with surgery. Rashford has recently explained he’d played through the injury for the last 11 months but insists now he’s in a better place, physically and mentally.

“Last year was a very long season for me, I got this injury at the end of September and gradually it got that little bit worse, but now I’m fully free of that, I feel much better physically and mentally,” Rashford stated to BBC Sport.

“My recovery is – I wouldn’t say coming to an end because I have to keep looking after it – but I’m in a much better place physically and mentally,” he added.

United’s fixtures at Leicester City and AC Milan last season were two predominant games last season in which the Red Devils faithful saw the full extent of Rashford’s prolonged injury issues. The scene of the England international holding his shoulder in pain at Leicester and hobbling off inside 30 minutes at the San Siro was enough to suggest he wasn’t at full fitness.

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But back and fully recovered now after three months out, he edges ever closer to a return into the United starting fold very soon. But the question on all United fan lips will be where does he fit in the current United starting eleven?

Having already featured in last week behind closed doors game against Blackburn Rovers – scoring twice. Rashford will have to be slowly embedded into a side that has been largely different from the last time he featured for the club. The arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo and Jadon Sancho to the club has added to the plethora of attacking talent Solskjaer now has at its disposal.

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World-renowned as a right-winger, the talented Sancho tends to play his best football off the left. Not in the greatest of form right now, The number 25 is starting to settling into the club after a tough start and the return of Rashford could slightly diminish the creative struggles he’s undergone since joining.

The curious case of Ronaldo shows that although he was signed by the club to play as the focal striker, the Portuguese still has continuous tendencies to drift onto the left-hand side to impact play. Ultimately, this means Solskjaer now has three heavily featuring players who prefer the left-hand side more than other positions on the pitch.

Fortunately for Solskjaer, Rashford has played across the front three in his time at the club and has thrived in all three positions at certain points in his career. Having tried the RW and ST role for some parts of last season, he seems now to have called the left side positions his own – due to his threat coming side on his right foot. Rashford return to the side shouldn’t have much of an effect on Sancho however, as he has been seen to perform on the right-hand side prior to arriving in England and his time at Dortmund.

With Solskjaer system more or so a 4-2-3-1, it could see Rashford featuring on the left with Sancho on the right and Ronaldo down the middle. The introduction of Rashford on the left could allow a positional interchange between Ronaldo and Rashford in-game. Ronaldo would be able to drift at times onto the left-hand side with Rashford playing a “part-time” central role to trouble the opposition centre back pairings with runs in behind and high press tendencies.

Even with United’s attacking threats, Solskjaer severely lacks a type of forward who can continuously attack fullbacks – utilise pace and acceleration to stretch defences in behind. Neither Mason Greenwood, Sancho, Ronaldo, Edinson Cavani or Anthony Martial can test defences in behind at the high frequency that Rashford does.

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It showed in games against both Southampton in the league and West Ham in the EFL Cup, having dominated possession for large parts, United struggled to break down either side – dropping points and getting knocked out of the Carabao cup respectively. Rashford was most certainly missed in those two games, his directness and explosiveness would have caused issues to both defences and ultimately could have been a difference-maker in either of the two games.

This weekend’s game at Leicester City is expected to see Rashford play a part in the side, whether he starts or features off the bench is yet to say. But among all the praise of his return, the United faithful should understand his return will be far from saviour and fairy-tale one they imagine.

Rashford will most certainly have to adjusting to do in getting back into his full stride and best form, that could possibly take a few weeks or months. But one thing is for sure is the return of the 23-year old has provided a huge boost to Solskjaer’s side in a very important period of the season.

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