Solskjaer’s strikers filling fans with hope

By Pete Reilly Source: Global Times Published: 2020/7/9 13:38:40

Striker Marcus Rashford of Manchester United Photo: VCG

You wait for one and three come along at once is a phrase best known about buses. It might be a joke but there is truth in it, too.

Researchers at the University of New Mexico in the US have even looked into the problem known as "platooning" - which also affects trains and elevators.

Fans of Manchester United might add 20-goal-a-season strikers to the list of things affected by the phenomenon, although neither supporters nor manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is likely to call it a problem.

On July 4 against relegation threatened Bournemouth in the English Premier League, both Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial hit the 20-goal mark for the season. This was the first time either had achieved the feat for the Old Trafford side.

More impressive was the fact that both have managed to mark that milestone in the same season.

The last time that happened at Manchester United was in the 2010-11 season when both Dimitar Berbatov and Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez breached the 20-goal barrier.

Laconic Bulgarian Berbatov scored 20 in the league as Alex Ferguson's side went on to win a 12th Premier League title in 19 seasons, also reaching the final of the UEFA Champions League. The Mexican, who arrived from Guadalajara the summer before the season started, finished with 20 goals for the season.

There have been several players to hit solo 20-goal seasons in the meantime. Wayne Rooney hit 34 overall the following season, Robin van Persie scored 30 the season after that and Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored 28 in his first season in 2016-17.

Even in the trophyless season of 2017-18, newly arrived Romelu Lukaku had 27 goals in all competitions but this last decade goals have not been the only problem, particularly since Ferguson left in 2013 with his 13th Premier League title.  

Return of goals

Solskjaer is the fourth full-time manager to follow the Scot and it is fitting that the former United striker has brought about the return of goals to the side.

"I think the team creating chances, Anthony working hard, being the No.9 in a settled position," Solskjaer explained as reasons for Martial's improvement in front of goal. "But also once in a while rotating with Marcus and switching positions. Today, for his goal, he started off on the left and curled it into the top corner."

Rashford's return has no doubt helped the Frenchman. The England forward had seen his season threatened to be over when a back injury put him out of action in January before the coronavirus delay allowed him to return for the restart. He is now back among the goals too.

"It's definitely a nice feeling to back scoring goals," Rashford said after the game. "But you know for forwards you just take it one game at a time. Whether you score or you don't score, the next game is always about scoring."

The whole team seems to be about scoring more than they have been in years. Their 5-2 win over Bournemouth was the first time the club have scored five times at home in the league since December 26, 2011.

Academy graduate Rashford and Martial, who was signed from Monaco by Louis van Gaal, have been key to that but there is a third point of attack from the Red Devils' attacking trident - and he might prove to be the sharpest of the lot.

Mason Greenwood is another product of the club's famous academy and the one who has impressed the most. After two goals against Eddie Howe's side, one with either foot, he has reached 15 goals in his first full season with the first team.

The match-winning performance against the Cherries came on the back of shooting down Brighton & Hove Albion with a goal and an assist in the game before.

"He's a fantastic player. I've watched him before he got to the first team," Rashford said of Greenwood after the Bournemouth win. "It was never a matter of if was going to play with us, it was just when. When can we get him involved? Ole has done a terrific job with him.

"You've got no reason not to have confidence in a player like Mason. But, for me, I just tell him to keep doing what he's doing because what he does is score goals, so he doesn't need to do anything else," Rashford continued. "You know, forget everything whatever people are doing outside, whether it's praise or negativity."

Defender Nemanja Matic of Manchester United Photo: VCG

All praise at the moment

Greenwood has seen comparisons with Dutch striker Van Persie and his former national teammate Arjen Robben for the ease with which he cuts onto his other foot. 

Coaches still talk of their disbelief that he would take free kicks and penalties with either foot. His manager has called him the best finisher at the club.

There are obviously hopes that Greenwood, who has made the right side of the front three his own since the restart, can add five more goals this season. 

Depending on their results in the FA Cup, where they are in the semifinal against Chelsea, and the Europa League, where they have a foot in the quarterfinals after beating Austria's LASK Linz 5-0 in their first leg, Greenwood has 11 more games to do so.

If he does so then this will be the first time that United have had three players to score 20 or more in a season in 55 years. 

The last time it happened was in 1964-65 with Denis Law, David Herd and John Connelly hitting the mark in the club's first league title since the Munich Air Disaster.

Matching a record that goes back to Matt Busby's days will no doubt please Solskjaer, has talked plenty about the club's DNA since he took over as caretaker manager in December 2018.

It will also please Ferguson, who reportedly told a League Managers' Association lunch in 2016 or 2017 of Greenwood - "We have found one."

When it comes to 20-goal strikers, they might have found three.
Newspaper headline: Treble Twenty


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