Marcus Rashford, Daniel James and Anthony Martial.

Why United's youthful attack will only get better

Saturday 09 May 2020 07:00

The XI that Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer named back in November for the game against Brighton & Hove Albion had an average age of 24 – the youngest average age of any starting side in the Premier League so far this season.

The second youngest? United's team against Newcastle in December. This is an incredibly youthful side, and the attacking line-up, in particular, is literally years ahead in its collective development compared to what you’d expect from players of this age.

United's four most frequently used forwards in the Premier League this term have been Daniel James, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood – the average age of that group of players is just 21.5.

It’s easy to forget just how young those players are – especially Rashford, who has become a key player for the Reds despite still being under the age of 23. What really best puts this into context is taking a look around the league and in Europe to see what some of the most highly rated forwards were doing when they were the same age as our attack.

Watch Daniel James's best moments from his first term as a Red.

Let’s start by looking at Liverpool’s front three, compared to our young trio of Greenwood, Rashford and James. To make things a little simpler, we’re taking each player's age from the start of the season here. So, our attacking trident started 2019/2020 as 18, 21 and 22 respectively.

Roberto Firmino didn’t make his first appearances on European soil until he was 19 and wasn't handed a Premier League debut until he was 23. Sadio Mane, meanwhile, was still at Generation Foot at Greenwood’s age and, by 22, hadn’t made an appearance in any of Europe’s top five leagues.

Similarly, Mohamed Salah spent his teenage years at Al Mokawloon in Egypt, and didn’t play a full season in one of the top five leagues until he was 22 years old – the same age by which Rashford has 64 United goals and counting.

Another telling example here is at Tottenham Hotspur. Their most-used forwards in the Premier League this season have been Harry Kane, Son Heung-Min and Lucas Moura – an attack with over 250 Premier League goals between them. Again, though, things were pretty different for them when they were the same age as our young trio.

Kane was playing for Leyton Orient in League One at Greenwood’s age before exploding onto the scene at 21/22. Son first played in Europe a few months after his 18th birthday and didn’t make his Premier League debut until he was 23. Lucas Moura was 20 when he made his first appearance in a top-five league, moving to England at 24.

If we look a bit further afield and into Europe, there are some more striking contextualisations of just how early into their careers our trio are. The current top scorer across Europe’s top five leagues –Lazio's Ciro Immobile – didn’t claim over five goals in a top-flight division until 2013/14 – which he started at 23.

Neymar, meanwhile, was 22 by the time he really established himself in the Barcelona starting XI in 2014/15. Luis Suarez was 24 before he made his debut in one of the top leagues. 

United's top scorers have enormous potential to get even better.
So our current crop of forward talent is very much in the early stages of its collective development, compared to most of their peers at the top level right now. What really makes this exciting is the fact that they’re already producing! Rashford is currently the top-scoring player aged under 25 in the Premier League this season, despite having spent a significant period out injured.

Martial, meanwhile, is fourth in that metric with 11 league strikes to his name this season. United and Everton are the only two sides in the division that have two players in that top 10. Greenwood is also the top-scoring teenager in the division and Europa League, while no forward aged under 23 can claim to have more Premier League assists this season than Daniel James’ s six. This is a group of players who are already competing with the very best and yet have years of development ahead of them!

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