Marcus Rashford: 21/22 Movement Profile

We all know Rashford’s best quality is his attacking movement off the ball, but what types of runs does he favour?

Marcus Rashford celebrating his most recent goal in a 3–0 win away to Spurs 10 weeks ago

When you think of squad profiles at Manchester United you start to categorise players in terms of what they can do and what they provide.

  • Creators: Fernandes, Shaw, Sancho and Pogba
  • Defenders with recovery pace: Varane, Shaw and Bailly
  • Hold-up play: Martial
  • Aerial Outlet: Pogba
  • Runners: Rashford and Cavani

The image of Rashford being sent to chase a Victor Lindelöf diagonal is easily recallable. But I wanted to look at Marcus’s final third movement in a large sample to identify what type of runs are common to him and this is the result:

Wide run on the outside of narrow opposition shape

Leicester (A) 21/22, Premier League

Most of the time this run happens in transition when the opposition is disorganised and have thus conceded space in wide areas. But sometimes it happens when the other team has overextended themselves in settled possession:

Watford (A) 21/22, Premier League

He immediately sees an opportunity to run on the outside and delivers a low cross that isn’t capitalised on.

Atalanta (A) 21/22, Champions League

Rashy gets to the byline with two Atalanta players in front of him and purposefully steps into one to draw a foul…?

MFW

Runs into Large Depth

Tottenham (A) 21/22, Premier League

Rashford’s bread and butter, he’s got the physical quality to lose defenders when making runs into such large spaces. He recognises the opportunity and immediately angles his body for the run as soon as Matic turns to goal.

Diagonal Runs through the back line

Atalanta (H) 21/22, Champions League

He tries to exploit the space vacated by the wide centreback, but unfortunately, there’s not enough depth to his run so he misses the ball and even if he got there the adjacent centreback would be ready to press him.

Vertical runs through the back line

Crystal Palace (H) 21/22, Premier League

Here I think Rashford doesn't separate enough from the right centre-back to open the lane for a through pass and thus has to receive to feet, ultimately being blocked.

Manchester City (H) 21/22, Premier League

His first run is ignored through it creates space for Fernandes to receive unpressured.

Curved Runs

Atalanta (H) 21/22, Champions League

Rashford shapes his run across the front of the defender. If Rashford trusts his left foot more he could have shielded the ball from the player on his shoulder. His insistence on the right foot here means the defender can tackle him.

Tottenham (A) 21/22, Premier League

Safe to say Jesse Lingard is not a ball playing 10, though the angle is a bit tight.

Crystal Palace (H) 21/22, Premier League

The pass to Rashford here is just not on. The curved runs have the utility of helping to avoid being offside by increasing the amount of time Rashford is behind the defensive line whilst his teammates pick him out.

Blindside movement

Atalanta (H) 21/22, Champions League
Atalanta (H) 21/22, Champions League

Rashford darts in behind whilst the centrebacks aren’t looking, using their unawareness against them.

Channel runs

Chelsea (A) 21/22, Premier League
Watford (A) 21/22, Premier League

Another type of run that occurs a lot in Transitions.

Combination Play

Atalanta (A) 21/22, Champions League

That heavy touch is his undoing here.

Watford (A) 21/22, Premier League

These are pretty weak examples of giving and goes by Rashford because there’s not many that I have found, I also think that a lot of his ball receptions in front of the defensive line are attempts to instigate combos where he can get in behind but they’ve not happened for him.

My Documenting of 94 runs, movements and gestured runs from Marcus Rashford this season in the PL and CL

Now did I get every move he made? No, but this is a significant sample of runs that can paint a picture of how he’s been performing offensively off the ball so far this season.

Thus far whilst on the pitch for United, Rashford hasn’t come up against many compact, low-block teams. Newcastle could be that team but it would be the only one and I didn’t watch it for this analysis :-). Despite the more favourable conditions of mid blocks and expansive opposition, Rashford’s movement hasn’t been too impactful as shown by his:

  • 3 goals in 758 minutes of PL and CL competition
  • His Premier League npxG per shot of 0.10, which denotes that on average the quality of each chance/shot that he’s taking in the league is worth 0.10 npxG. For perspective, from what I’ve gathered prolific goalscorers tend to have an average shot quality of 0.16 and higher on Statsbomb’s xG model.
  • His 0.17 npxG per 90 in the League. This means that every 90 minutes Rashford has a less than 1 in 5 chance of scoring a non-penalty goal based on all the shots he takes within that 90.
  • His 1.79 shots per 90 also in the League which is very low.

All this data comes from Statsbomb via FBref.com

These numbers are very bad and a departure from previous seasons which may go to show that Rashford is currently not in a good place mentally or physically having been run into the ground for two seasons straight.

Amongst other reasons for his poor performances is; the whole team falling off a cliff in the run-up to the end of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s tenure as manager of Manchester United. But Rashford himself has a part to play with his disregard for shot quality, his affinity for the ball, his lack of security in positions of superiority following an off-the-ball run and even his choice of runs.

For instance:

Chelsea (A) 21/22, Premier League

This was a poor run considering the position in which the prospective passer, Ronaldo receives, the pressure on him and the angle that he’d have to play the ball through to reach Rashford. So it’s reasonable that this run was ignored.

Though, outside of his own volition, a lot of Rashford’s runs are ignored or not successfully found; for instance, he made 22 runs off the ball against Crystal palace (that I documented) but was found only 9 times. Yes, not every run a player makes will be rewarded. If scoring goals is about accumulating shots, then taking shots is about accumulating runs and movements. It can be demotivating to work like this and not to be rewarded with a pass but it’s the game and Rashford understands this to a degree.

So what is Rashford good at?

Vertical runs in behind opposition defences particularly in transitions and against high lines and disorganised opposition shapes. His runs mainly make him accessible by through balls and lofted passes over the opposition defence. He is attentive to gaps and weaknesses that emerge in the opposition backline. He has shown a willingness to make runs against low lines and compact defences in settled play but not an ability to leverage those runs into chance reception or chance creation.

Where does Rashford need to improve his movement?

Guile.

He has previously shown glimpses of intelligent movement that fools opposition defenders here at 0:33:

Look at how he suggests he will run to the near post but makes an abrupt run for the far post freeing himself of Joel Matip and hoovering up the ball that gets by Matip. Having double movements as a consistent and key facet of his game will give Marcus some much-needed variation. It makes him a key target for horizontal deliveries like crosses and cutbacks instead of being a one-dimensional target of vertical deliveries like through-balls and long-balls.

Offside Camping

Rashford should also add offside camping to his game. This is where a player starts offside to eliminate themself from the attention of opposition defenders to quickly emerge onside before a delivery is made or to slip onside into the blindside of defenders. Check this out from Kylian Mbappe:

Mbappé vs Nîmes (H) 19/20, Ligue 1

He starts offside, freeing himself of markers because he’s not deemed a threat being in an offside position. But he returns onside and stays on the blindside of the defender and as the play advances on the wing, he slips into space unmarked and scores.

Box Movement

The best but the hardest thing to get good at, at Rashford’s age and experience level. Will he ever be as natural as someone like Cavani? No, but that’s fine because just a bit of effort and intent on his part will add to his overall game. He doesn't need to have elite box movement but good box movement will suffice. Rashford improves here first and foremost by being intense in the box, something he currently is not. Make these runs without hesitation, putting all his strength and speed into getting to the six-yard box or the goalposts and not stopping because he thinks he won’t get the ball or the defender will. Make that difficult for them. Duel for the ball in the opposition penalty area. Moreover, depth and variety have to be added to the runs, double movements, near-post runs and far-post runs should be added to his repertoire.

Take it from Edin Džeko:

Edin Džeko vs Bologna (A) 18/19, Serie A

A nice double movement, one to commit the defender one way and the other for himself to be free in space and attack the ball.

Chelsea (A) 21/22, Premier League

I like how Rashy finishes his run in the box after making the whipped pass but he goes for a really simple far post run…without intensity. He could have gone near post (anticipating a weaker inswinger) to throw the centreback off or added some double movement in his approach. Feint moving one way but complete the run in the other direction. Though the most damning thing is the lack of grit to get on the end of the ball, thinking the Chelsea players will get to the ball he gives up too easily.

I even made a Twitter thread last season documenting all of Rashford’s runs in a game away to Burnley:

Ok, that's it from me. Bye.

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