Premier League
May 11, 2017

Martial and Rashford: the Red Devils’ dichotomous duality


Duality: an instance of opposition or contrast between two concepts or two aspects of something

Dichotomy: a division or contrast between two things that are or are represented as being opposed or entirely different

Duality and dichotomy are often used interchangeably due to their similarity in definition but in truth, there can be a slight difference. Duality does not necessarily mean the two things are opposed, whereas dichotomy has a mutually exclusive division between two sides such as science and mysticism.

The idea of having one incredibly talented young player is enough for most teams but every so often, some clubs, usually in the upper echelon of football, are gifted with having two at one time. Many feel that this is the case at United right now in the shape of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial. It harkens back to the days of the youthful Rooney and Ronaldo who spearheaded the 2006-09 team, which Sir Alex Ferguson considers the greatest team he has assembled. Whilst the Liverpudlian and Maderian are diametrically opposed in many aspects, they worked together to form one of the most fearsome attacks the Premier League had seen. The potential is there in Rashford and Martial to create something of that ilk but the media and manager, José Mourinho, seem to have them in two separate boxes when it comes to ability and, more importantly, mentality, which could disrupt this budding partnership. Therefore, the question is whether these two attackers’ differences will be used to aid a partnership between them or separate them, making it a choice of one or the other.

But what makes the differences between them so distinct?


Marcus Rashford is a known quantity. Nevertheless, his development and journey to becoming the player he is now is what makes him so intriguing as a prospect. To understand the nuances to Rashford’s game, what makes him as good as he is and what gives him the space to improve to the level that many expect of him, the coaching he has received since he was about 14/15 is integral.

The Wythenshavian actually wanted to be a ‘clever number 10’ according to Paul McGuinness, Man Utd’s former U18s coach, but such was his ability and speed that the decision was made that his talent would only get the appreciation it deserved if it was backed up by goals. Thus began the development of Rashford becoming a central striker, where McGuinness and the U18 team worked on his timing, body shape, runs including 1v1 work with Colin Little, former Crewe striker.

When Rashford came into the U18s, he wasn’t goal-orientated yet his form in the tail end of the 15/16 would have shown everyone otherwise, by getting real poacher like goals. This year, it has waned(impossible to maintain a 67% shooting accuracy rate). He has barely played in the central position that he has been prepared for during his time with the youth team but there is an appreciation from the young England international from having to play wide as part of the education.

He recognises that there are few pure No.9s in the game today, referencing Kane, Lewandowski and Suarez, the latter playing almost exclusively wide left during his stint at Ajax. Rashford’s first game for the U18s, away at Newcastle, was as a winger at 16 years old and Nicky Butt even commented that his best position is off the side, from the left, comparing him to Thierry Henry in that aspect.

Even with all of this, it is clear to see that he is not the finished article. Butt says also in that article that Rashford would find it difficult vs some centre backs until he gets to build his physicality and it is something that has happened since he has come into the first team. Liverpool away, in the Europa League, West Brom away and Spurs away in 15/16 and Arsenal at home and City at home in 16/17 has shown the young striker being bullied.

His hold up play has been poor when he has had to receive the ball with his back to goal and has much more joy holding up the ball by running into the channels for long clipped balls and then waiting for support. Examples are prevalent Herrera’s winning goal vs Arsenal in 15/16 and one of Lingard’s chances vs Chelsea at home in April. He also has an issue of vacating central areas too quickly rather than occupying CBs, probably due to him lacking the presence to go up against them. Louis van Gaal told him this vs Midtyjlland, where he was instructed to stay within the width of the 18 yard box more in the second half, where his two debut goals came from. He was taken off at Spurs away by the Dutchman because of this same reason.

The 1-1 draw vs Arsenal saw one of the better chances being created by Rashford, from a wide right position, but the only player in the box was an onrushing Pogba, who just missed the ball that flashed across the box.


That Arsenal game was on the 19th November. Rashford was only playing up top due to the virtue of Ibrahimovic being suspended. Before the game had even started, the spotlight was put onto his teammate, Anthony Martial, by Gary Neville’s assertion that a player of his fee should be performing to a higher level than he had so far this season.

We all know the type of player Martial is now. But the development and journey he has had so far makes him as intriguing as Rashford as a talent. Not so much on a technical basis but more mentally and a lot has been made of Martial’s seemingly blasé attitude. Whether it is the fact that he does not seem to care if he misses a chance, as Paul Scholes alluded to, or the fact that he may not expend much energy when the ball is lost to retrieve it or the lacking intensity when he picks up the ball to go at his opposing number. Mourinho can be heard many times from the touchline clapping at Martial to run at his full back more and his better performances have come when the Frenchman has adhere to this instruction

Issues with his mentality and attitude are not new. Reports of Claudio Ranieri demanding more from Martial in training have been shared when the Italian manager was at the helm of AS Monaco. Leonardo Jardim embarrassed the then 18-year-old Frenchman when he brought him off after subbing him on because he did not follow tactical instructions. But, as explained in the wonderful book of Martial: The Making of Manchester United’s Teenage Superstar, Martial was not in a fit state of mind to be playing that game.

A transfer arms race was occurring at Monaco where one of Martial or Falcao would be allowed to leave and at the point, Martial was going to go to Valencia. He had not played the week before so he would not be injured in preparation for the switch. However, Falcao pushed for the loan move to Manchester United so much that Martial was made to stay. He took a while to get back on track but him doing so meant that he would go to Manchester United a year later.

Those were unique situations that would be tough for any player, let alone one of his age but Mourinho comments throughout the season do not provide any comfort. “Martial should listen to me, not his agent,” declared the Portuguese in December and there is no need to go through the endless quotes of what José has had to say about Martial’s commitment and consistency of performance.

It is not just his mentality that is questionable. Toto, as he is affectionately referred to, is at a crossroads footballing wise. Right now, he is an in-between player. His attributes lends itself to playing as a left-winger or centre forward but play him in both of these positions and he looks unpolished.

Out wide, he looks one-dimensional as he collects the ball on the halfway line from a wide position and is expected to affect the game positively by dribbling his way out but he cannot and should not look to do it all the time. He does not look to make movements in behind enough when a midfielder or a striker who has dropped deep enough into midfield territory (you know who) has the ball. If you even look at the way he receives the ball wide, he does so like a striker. He barely ever gets the ball on the half turn. He is always fronting up towards the ball and coming closer to the player who is going to pass it and shuts off other options.

As a central forward, he is capable of the individuality that he has continually showcased, most famously on his debut vs Liverpool. His capability of mixing it on the physical side is underrated however, the part that McGuinness has tried to teach Rashford. Neville surmised it well after Martial’s 3rd PL game for Manchester United, 3-0 win vs Sunderland. He expected a winger-forward to come but really he saw in him a No.9, a complete one.

Yet even in that position, he lacks the patience of the ball coming to him as many a young striker do. He drifts out wide when he should really provide a central point and is capable of doing, shown at Burnley this season. It is even more of an issue given the fact that he lacks the directness to get back into the box, which Danny Murphy spoke about on Match of the Day in that game. He has the penchant to hold onto the ball for a bit too long too, leading to turnovers. No point making it stick, as Martial does very well, when it is just going to be turned over as he doesn’t release the ball quick enough. The first half in the last game vs Arsenal showed the good and bad in Martial as a ST, where he was stretching the defence well and bringing others into play. As the United side was more encamped in their own half, though, he went hunting for the ball and receiving it in areas where he was surrounded by too many bodies, eventually losing it.


The word for Aristotle’s quote of the “the whole being greater than the sum of its parts” and when you look at the qualities that Martial and Rashford both have, shared or exclusive, you can see the possibility of a fantastic partnership in the future. Rashford’s appreciation of the No.10 side of the game has not been lost. His flair and creativity is probably what sets him apart from many young forwards in today’s game. He is capable of feints and flicks that show he has the picture in his head associated with the more creative players. Martial is more of the typical central striker but he lacks Rashford’s hunger for goals in that he makes less direct movements towards goal. It is far from a natural aspect of the England international’s game and such a thing being offered to Martial would unlock a completely new level to his game. Both need to work on their movement in any case. A game of watching Kylian Mbappe shows that much.

Mentally, Rashford seems more focused. The Parisien has well documented off the pitch affairs with his partners that could contribute to him losing focus this season but Jardim, Ranieri and Van Gaal have all made pointed statements of the mental strength that £58m player has. On the pitch, Rashford is willing to put in a shift, Mourinho even saying that this aspect of his game is why he played despite not scoring and performing poorly on many occasions. Martial is more likely to not be in the game at all and for an attacking player, not appearing at all is as bad as appearing badly. Both have had trying seasons but Martial’s value has probably depreciated whilst Rashford’s continues to rise.

But, development is not linear. These players perhaps represent two different sides of achieving potential but not in a dichotomous fashion where one is willing to make it and the other is not. More of a duality, in this case, where one needs more hands-on motivation so as not to slack. It is similar to Ronaldo and Rooney where Rashford emulates European’s football all-time leading scorer’s drive whereas the latter, like Martial, needed a fire lit under him something both appreciated and Mourinho looks set to continue the theme that previous managers have adopted with Anthony.

No one knows the future but if a footballing bond could be cultivated between the two it could once again be very special times at Old Trafford.

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