Man United pre-season: Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial must step up with Romelu Lukaku gone

Matt Jones - Editor 18:02 09/08/2019
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Manchester United fans head into the 2019/20 season in buoyant mood. Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka have been signed to plug a leaky defence.

The duo, alongside Luke Shaw and Victor Lindelof, as well as David De Gea, now all of a sudden look ship shape as opposed to a shipwreck last term.

Daniel James also provides a speedy asset up top, building into Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s blueprint to set his side up as a fluent, rapid attack that presses their opponents high up the pitch, which bodes well. Something that will also have pleased the boss in the build-up to the new campaign.

Pre-season has been positive – United won all six of their games (five victories against Perth Glory, Leeds United, Inter Milan, Tottenham and Kristiansund, and one draw, albeit they did overcome AC Milan on penalties in their final clash). And they head into their Premier League opener on Sunday at home to Chelsea in good form.

In the latest of our articles on the United players, we take a look at just how well the forwards performed over the summer.



Lingard (2)

One of, if not the most, reviled figures at the club – admonished for his bubbly and boyish behaviour, with his accusers claiming he cares more about his Instagram following than his impression on this United team.

Pre-season didn’t begin brightly either as he was believed to have received a dressing down from Solskjaer upon his return for an infamous video he filmed of a friend joking around while on holiday.

But for all the hate he attracts, Lingard is said to have responded by putting in a series of outstanding performances in training and been one of the most impressive performers among the squad this summer. The England international finished either top, or close to it, in many of the individual tasks.

Unlike his personal life, Lingard went about his business quietly as he impressed with his energy and insight on the pitch too.

Lingard’s tagline for his clothing line is ‘Be Yourself’, so he’s clearly never going to change as a person. The only thing that should concern United fans is how telling his contribution will be in 2019/20.


Like Smalling and Jones who have recently signed new contracts, eyebrows were raised when the diminutive Spaniard put pen to paper on a new deal. Again, the animosity towards the popular playmaker seems strange as he’s always contributed in five-and-a-half years since signing from Chelsea.

Maybe fans are simply venting and frustrated by the fact his arrival has coincided with the club’s demise, yet that’s hardly the fault of a player who has contributed 45 goals in 218 appearances.

His lack of speed and fragile build are popular misgivings to hang around his neck, yet neither are traits that have ever been associated with his game. Good professionals have been in short supply at United in recent years, and Mata is a positive figure to have around a young group.

Also performed well during the summer.


Angel Gomes wheels away after putting United 2-1 up against Spurs.

Angel Gomes wheels away after putting United 2-1 up against Spurs.

Like Tuanzebe, the 18-year-old is another youngster who’s really seemed to take a leap in the last 12 months. Has previously shown flashes of skill and promise, but this summer the London-born teenager turned that potential into performances – the highlight a stunning bit of individual skill and deadly finish to score a late winner against Spurs in Shanghai.

Having made his United debut on the final day of the 2016/17 season – he was the youngest player since Duncan Edwards to make his first team debut – Gomes has not had many more chances to shine.

But he played 145 minutes in pre-season and looked sharp, Solskjaer will certainly be thinking of thrusting him into his first team plans. Aside from his goal against Spurs he shone whenever he took to the field. He was on it a mere eight minutes against Milan and yet twisted Italian defenders inside out and also rocketed in a confident penalty during the shootout.


Dan James

Much like Wan-Bissaka, has been one of the standout stars of United’s pre-season. His raw pace, energy and work-rate are exactly the traits Solskjaer craves from his new-look team, and the young Welshman has all three in abundance.

Meanwhile, his unpredictability is sure to twist Premier League full-backs inside out, while at just 21, James has huge potential for development.

Isn’t the finished product by any means and his decision making and end product need honing, but he’s moved to the right club to further his learning, and Red Devils fans are rightly excited.


Had an underwhelming first outing against Perth but was then excellent against Leeds and Inter Milan – against whom he attracted the attention of the hatchet men.

Earned a penalty against United’s rivals from across the Pennines and was absolutely unplayable against Inter; Milan Skriniar – one of the world’s best defenders – could simply not live with the wiry 19-year-old. The Dutch U21 international could do with hitting the gym, but is another youngster deservedly hoping he can force his way into his manager’s plans over the course of the season.


Mason Greenwood

Green by name, but certainly not green by nature. Are 17-year-olds supposed to look this accomplished so young? No, they’re not. And while United fans gushing over his pre-season performances need to temper their expectation, Greenwood certainly seems to have the talent and temperament to be the latest young United success story.

With Romelu Lukaku gone and no replacement signed, that tells you how much confidence Solskjaer has in the teenager’s ability. Another who confidently stepped up to score in the shootout win over Milan, Greenwood bagged a thumping winner against inter and also scored a predatory strike against Leeds.


The languid Frenchman, perhaps unsurprisingly, had a slow start to pre-season, but grew into it. He scored a penalty in the 4-0 thrashing of Leeds, though endured a relatively quiet and frustrating game, but he was better after that, linking up well with Pereria for the opening goal against Spurs.

Like Rashford, will surely be buoyed by his prospects this season, with the manager favouring the duo’s fast-paced and tricky skillsets instead of the battering ram target man Lukaku.

Heads into the new season though with the same question mark hanging over him – can he finally make his mark and make this his team? At just 23, he has the potential to be the player – along with Rashford – that United can be built around for years to come. He just needs to want it and perform week in, week out. The stage is yours Anthony.


Marcus Rashford

A huge season beckons for the Wyhenshawe wonderboy who really needs to step up to the next level. A precocious talent who’s developed admirably since his stunning debut against Midtjylland in the Europa League three years ago, but it’s now time for Rashford to make a quantum leap because questions persist about how good he can actually become.

Some criticism is harsh – he is after all still only 21 and has more senior goals at this stage of his career than Alan Shearer and Andy Cole at the same time.

But musings about just how high his ceiling is are also fair. He has craved United’s premier striker role and a lucrative new £200,000 per week contract – plus Solskjaer’s favouring of him over Lukaku – suggests he will fully get his chance to be the star this season.

It is one he needs to grab. Has performed in pre-season – three goals and genuinely ferocious performances – that he is ready.

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