Marcus Rashford injury means no Man Utd fear factor – Jermaine Jenas analysis
Manchester United have been relying a lot on Marcus Rashford’s brilliance, so his absence is particularly damaging for them right now.
Rashford is out injured for at least the next six weeks and while he is not on the pitch, I am not sure where United’s goals are going to come from.
If you watch the best sides, then the way they attack and the way the team functions is not down to any individual.
Look at Liverpool, and the way they get it wide or get the ball in behind to one of the front three and you can see how and where they create.
But a lot of the goals United have scored this season have come purely and simply down to Rashford doing something special.
The one game where they were set up brilliantly in terms of tactics, was in their win against Manchester City at Etihad Stadium in December. Other than that, they have just been looking to him or Anthony Martial for inspiration.
If Rashford was on the pitch at Anfield on Sunday, then there would have been fear in the Liverpool team straight away – because they know what he can do and how he can hurt them.
Without him, United never looked convincing when they attacked, even when they had more of the ball in the second half. Other than Martial, the goal threat just was not there.
When you look forward and think they will probably also be without Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay until March, then their hopes of getting the Champions League spot they so desperately want are looking pretty bleak.
So United have to do something, because they do not have a number nine while Rashford is out – Martial is capable of flashes of brilliance too, but he operates best on the left and clearly wants to be out there.
Do they sit and wait for Mason Greenwood to develop? Or could they go and get Edinson Cavani from Paris St-Germain, who does not seem to be getting the game time that he wants?
I know players are not easy to get in January, but they are out there. They could have gone a bit harder to get Erling Braut Haaland before he joined Borussia Dortmund, or gone for Mauro Icardi before he left Inter Milan.
This is United we are talking about – money should not be an issue.
‘Firmino shows what United are missing’
If United sign Sporting Lisbon midfielder Bruno Fernandes this month then he will give them more creativity in midfield, but he will not solve all of their problems.
It feels like they need to bring in a couple of ‘names’ – and I am talking about players who the opposition will instantly respect.
It is great that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is giving young players a chance, but there are certain areas of the pitch where they need more of a presence here and now.
Andreas Pereira, who was playing in the hole behind United’s front two at Anfield, is a good example of someone who does not command enough respect in his position yet.
Pereira is a decent footballer – he has got really nice feet – and I look at him sometimes and think, technically, he is good enough.
But he is not a goalscorer and does not pose enough of a threat when he is on the ball. He did make one brilliant chance for Martial against Liverpool, but that was by far the best thing he did in the game.
He was playing against Liverpool, so of course it was never going to be easy for him, but the best players who operate in his area, like Roberto Firmino for the Reds, get the opposition guessing whenever the ball comes near them.
When Firmino drops deep, people don’t know whether to mark him tightly or drop off because he might run in behind, and he has got a trick in him to get past them.
If the ball goes into Firmino, then he knows what the opposition midfield and defence are doing. He seems to almost suck everyone in, so they are waiting for him to make his move, which gives him time and space to pick a pass.
Firmino does that better than anyone. Pereira has plenty of potential, but he is not at that level where his presence imposes on everyone else’s game.
It is the same in other positions too – Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Daniel James, Greenwood and Brandon Williams are all good players, but it is going to take time for them to grow – United are going to have to wait for them.
‘United are still miles off where they want to be’
United have made it clear they are going down the youth route as they try to rebuild, but even there I don’t see a clear plan.
You look at the way the top teams are playing right now, and then you look at United.
Using the back four as example, even their summer move for Wan-Bissaka was an odd one.
He is one of the best defenders in the league but now he is playing for a team who have always had the ball for the majority of games, and needs quality going forward. For £50m, was he really what United needed?
That is the only gripe I would have with Solskajer, but he is not the only manager at fault there.
I looked at United’s team before the Liverpool game and thought: “Where has all the money gone?” They have spent a lot in the past few years without having very much to show for it.
Go through that line-up and it does not strike fear into anyone, which is a worry – and on the pitch things are not much better.
Every time I watch United, I feel like they are miles off where they want to be. Halfway through Solskjaer’s first full season in charge, I am not convinced they are getting any nearer.
Some of their individual performances against Liverpool on Sunday were actually quite good, but overall, as a team, they just did OK.
Is that good enough for United? No, it’s not. I did not see anything at Anfield which they could build on, either.
Yes, Luke Shaw, Williams and Wan-Bissaka played well. Nemanja Matic and Fred looked a decent partnership in midfield and, up front, Martial stepped it up in the second half too.
But I never really felt like Liverpool were going to lose. The only thing that really kept the game alive was that Jurgen Klopp’s side missed so many chances to score their second goal.
United battled well to stay in the game but, as far as I am concerned, effort and work-rate alone should not be enough for them.
You have to take into account that they are miles off Liverpool in every way – points, position, style of play and form. But the fact is they did not carry enough of a threat in attack, and while Rashford is out injured, that situation does not look like changing.
So I don’t know what United fans are thinking. I would imagine the ones who were at Anfield walked out of the stadium feeling a little bit confused.
Some of them were probably thinking they could not really criticise what they saw, because the team dug in and gave it a go.
At the same time, you have to ask what United are trying to do. Are they simply building for the future? And, if so, what is their style of play going to be?
At the moment, I just don’t know.
Jermaine Jenas was speaking to BBC Sport’s Chris Bevan.