Manchester United should keep faith in their young attackers
Dips in form are natural for any young attackers and few clubs are as intensely scrutinised as the Red Devils, whose fans should stick by their young talents.
If it is unusual for so many big transfers to be processed during the month of January, it is even less common to see direct rivals doing business for star players.
The biggest deal of the most recent window saw Manchester United swoop for Arsenal star Alexis Sanchez, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan moving in the other direction.
It was a piece of supreme opportunism from the Red Devils, trumping rivals City to land the Chilean.
Manchester United knew their rivals could not offer him assurances of a regular starring role in attack while – due to their involvement in a number of contract renewals for star players – they could also not offer the economic package which was on the table from Old Trafford.
As a strange by-product, though, the exit of Mkhitaryan, a player clearly reaching the end of his spell in Manchester, alongside Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s short-term future with the club ensures that, far from limiting the opportunities for younger forwards, this deal enhances their futures.
Reports indicate boss Jose Mourinho was keen to ensure Alexis Sanchez sat beside Marcus Rashford in the Old Trafford dressing room, in the hope of the two striking a strong professional relationship and the former Barcelona star passing on his experience to the promising English forward.
Doubts over Rashford’s first-team opportunities are unfounded – last season he made more appearances than any other player in any of Europe’s top five leagues, while only seven outfield players have more minutes in league competition than the 20-year-old this season.
The youth product’s rise to stardom has been meteoric since his debut in February 2018, but it is important also to protect him from potential fatigue and burnout – not only enhancing performances but also to avoid injuries.
Mourinho has worked hard on restructuring an attacking system which was visibly flawed under his predecessor Louis Van Gaal.
Ibrahimovic was a short-term fix to a deeper problem and the summer acquisition of Romelu Lukaku went some way to amending that. Without the Swede’s finesse or supreme confidence, the former Everton striker is the natural goalscorer that United lacked and provided the physical presence, tactical awareness and movement to open up deep defences.
The Belgian is often-criticised for his lack of goals against the league’s top clubs (despite him netting home and away against City last season, at Arsenal and a brace against Chelsea in the 2016 FA Cup quarter final).
However, the reality is he was signed to open up games against resolute defences, just as he did against Huddersfield on Saturday. 19 goals this season is an impressive return while his record of 130 league goals, aged just 24, is nothing short of remarkable.
Martialing the troops
Anthony Martial too has shown his best form of his career at times this season, with his pace and directness a constant threat.
Like Rashford, he has often produced underwhelming performances in the context of his ability but his growth and status as one of the world’s most promising young attackers is clear for all to see.
Outside of his sensational French international teammate Kylian Mbappe, there are few European strikers in the same age bracket who are a step ahead.
Running the risk
Sanchez has been criticised for the number of occasions in which he ceded possession against Huddersfield – 32, a record high for a Manchester United player this season – but that in itself, rather than a flaw, is an indication of his willingness to take risks and his desire to become explosive in the final third of the pitch.
The Chilean, alongside the composure and awareness of Juan Mata, add experience to an offensive force which is being built with the future in mind.
For a club like United, success and trophies are a requirement but their current crop of forwards ensure those aspirations can be combined with a long-term legacy.
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