The unstoppable, the unfit and the unconvincing: Man Utd’s three mismatched musketeers
Instead, the right flank is likely to be manned by Ten Hag’s biggest buy. Antony’s £86 million price tag could be a millstone; ignore the question of cost, however, and the outstanding right winger at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday was Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka. Bruno Fernandes played off the right against City, earning Ten Hag’s vote for man of the match.
Antony can be overshadowed. Ten Hag cited the healthy scoring statistics of his former Ajax charge. The criticism lies less in Antony’s tally of five goals than his general performance level. “He is not losing games, he is playing and the team is winning and that already gives a message how well he is performing,” Ten Hag argued. “I see space for improvement and we want him to be more direct. He has an impact but with his capabilities, with his talents, he can do even more.”
Yet United’s revival is being fired by a solitary forward. Rashford has nine goals in his last nine games, and 17 for the season. Their other attackers, even including the departed Ronaldo, only have 18 between them. It has been a colossal one-man effort, even as Ten Hag stressed his tactics are suiting the rejuvenated Rashford.
Marcus Rashford has almost single-handedly turning Manchester United’s season around
“This team can help him be in the right position to score goals,” he said. “This team is constructed so that his qualities come to the fore.” Those qualities have been very apparent of late, but Rashford has long had admirers. Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi said in December his club would be interested in signing the England international on a free transfer in the summer. United then triggered a one-year contract extension and are in talks about a longer deal. But while Rashford has taken on Ronaldo’s mantle as the main man in United’s attack, it is instructive that PSG see him as a potential successor if the trio of Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi and Neymar are broken up.
Ten Hag feels a Mancunian is best served remaining in Manchester. “I hope that all our players can get interest from clubs because that means you do a good job,” he said. “But I think he understands Manchester United is his club first and in this environment, in this team, he is playing his best football.”
The rest of his answer was illustrative of his own considerable ambitions. United have not won a trophy for six years and finished sixth last season. He explained: “I would say this is the best place to be because we want to construct the best team first in England, then in Europe, then in the world.”
It is something Sir Alex Ferguson did, often with a phalanx of feared forwards. Now Ten Hag may have a trio who can’t stop scoring, can’t get on the pitch and can’t live up to a huge price tag respectively. But if every goal Rashford scores may make him more appealing to Paris Saint-Germain, it also contributes to the sense Ten Hag is taking them towards being the best. If the eventual target is the world, first comes the Carabao Cup.
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