Marcus Rashford.

How would you describe Rashford's position?

Tuesday 26 January 2021 16:15

Is Marcus Rashford a raider? That is the term Manchester United Academy coach Colin Little feels could best describe the position where the homegrown talent often plays.

We often have a debate around the likes of Marcus and Mason Greenwood, plus Anthony Martial when he starts out wide, and how to define these modern forwards.

Personally, I feel the aforementioned trios are all attackers, even strikers, yet there is a valid argument that Daniel James and Juan Mata, for instance, can operate in very similar roles and yet I view them as midfielders.

The lines have been blurred a little by the popular Fantasy Premier League game as Martial was a midfielder last season but is now a striker, a reflection of his switch to centre-forward, while Rashford and Greenwood swapped the other way.

The fantasy game has often ranked similar players this way - for instance, Mohamed Salah and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang are also defined as midfielders when, for me at least, they are definitely attackers, as their long-term goal record would suggest.

I discussed this new position with Little, who assists with the Under-18s and knows a thing or two about forward play having enjoyed a successful career with the likes of Crewe Alexandra and coached Marcus, Mason and a string of others on the art of putting the ball into the back of the net and wondered whether the old-fashioned inside-forward could be revisited.

"That's right but the only thing is I used to play inside-forward for the school and I didn't have to run back," he explained. "You can't say that to people now! If you're one of the three up front, you have to run back - especially in the wide areas.

“Even the one down the middle will drop in and make a block to play through. In football, the main things are the same but it has changed a lot and the roles have changed a lot. It just moves on a little bit until someone will be able to stop you, and you find another way of doing it again.

“Most people are playing 4-3-3 with a front three and you can almost call them 'raiders'. Gareth Southgate used that word. Maybe he got it off Steve Holland [a former Crewe team-mate of Little's, who coaches with England] because that is what he used to call them. Raiders, all three on every side of the pitch and they defend from where they end up in."

Watch Marcus's ice-cool finish past Alisson on Sunday at Old Trafford.

A lot of work on the training ground went into developing Rashford into somebody who is now level with Eric Cantona in terms of goals scored for the Reds when, initially, he played deeper at youth level. 

"At the time, we needed a centre-forward in the youth team and we also tried to push the better players towards goal as, ultimately, that makes the difference," Little recalled. "I still talk to Marcus about all those details and those things now. He'll regularly contact me after a game, send me a text saying: 'What do you think about that or this body shape as I struck the ball? Should I have used my left foot there?' 

“They are the fine details we are going into and the kind of things we go through. He's played as a no.9 but modern-day forwards end up in wide areas and beat people. They're not always as comfortable with their back to goal as they were playing in a 4-4-2 in my day. Then they could lay things off and spin in behind. Ultimately, they have to score some goals because you're not really classed as a forward if you don't score."

Rashford hits a post at West Ham but Colin Little feels there was nothing wrong with the shot.

Rashford took his tally to the season for 15 with his strike against Liverpool. It was another example of his coolness when bearing down on goal, as he calmly opened his body up and slipped the finish wide of Alisson.

Little referred to the game at West Ham United, our next opponents in the Emirates FA Cup, when forwarding good examples of how the 23-year-old is learning the striker's art as he not only produced a similarly nerveless finish but also hit a post when played in by a beautiful Bruno Fernandes pass.

"Well, the main thing is you have to be a goal threat," he added. "Marcus is a goal threat. Whether he's on the left or the right, you have to chip in with the right amount of goals. Look at the two chances he had against West Ham. He hit the post with the first one and did a lovely dink for the second one.

See how Marcus finished with a dink over West Ham's Lukasz Fabianski.

"Gary Neville said in the Sky commentary that he didn't catch it cleanly [when he hit the woodwork] but I'm actually teaching the forwards that, sometimes, you don't have to hit it clean. Sometimes it's best to hit it unclean! Frank Lampard might have entered the box and kicked it into the ground but he's still going to score as the keeper cannot read it.

“There are different ways of finding a way to score a goal. He didn't quite catch it cleanly and it hit the post. He was not too far away. The way he finished the second one, I texted him afterwards to say he slowed his back leg down and dinked the goalkeeper. The keeper came out to spread himself and Marcus was going at a certain pace but he changed his pace at the very last second of it, as his leg was going towards the ball, and it gave him enough time to fool the keeper with a little dink.

“It was good, lovely in fact, and he's not done many of them. When he does ones like that, it opens up new-found confidence where you can go through. You don't just have to hit it in the corner - you can dink the keeper, put it through his legs or even go round him."

Colin Little features in the latest edition of Inside United, the official club magazine.