Manchester United returned to winning ways with a narrow 1-0 home win over Brentford on Wednesday after going three straight Premier League games without scoring.
As it’s often been the case this season, Marcus Rashford came to the rescue, rifling in a top-class close-range finish following Marcel Sabitzer’s shrewd lay-off to restore some confidence at Old Trafford.
Erik ten Hag was full of praise for the free-scoring English forward after the game, labelling his performance as ‘outstanding’ in a post-match interview with ManUtd.com.
Despite breaking a three-game goal drought in the Premier League and getting their stuttering top-four chase back on the rails, it’s hard to say the Red Devils impressed against downtrodden Brentford.
One of the main talking points raised the question of United’s inability to kill the game off with an all-important second goal and, more importantly, the incapacity to create more openings.
Man Utd may be boasting one of the most expensive frontlines in the Premier League, yet among sides fighting for European placings, only Aston Villa (39) have netted fewer goals than ten Hag’s team (42).
And it’s not only about a lack of firepower.
It seems the Red Devils have developed a habit of collapsing the scoring burden on Rashford, who, even though is having an outrageous season, cannot win it on his own every time.
His match-winning strike against Brentford took his tally for the season to 28 goals in all competitions, singling him out as United’s most prolific player by some margin.
As an individual, the 25-year-old has reached the promised heights in terms of the attacking output and overall influence on the field, but he lacks support from his fellow offensive comrades.
He has netted more than double that of Man Utd’s second-highest scorer – Bruno Fernandes (ten) – which perhaps best illustrates the shortage of goals elsewhere in the squad.
It only gets worse as you walk down the rabbit hole.
Rashford has more goals under his belt than United’s second, third and fourth-highest scorers combined, and it’s not like the rest of Ten Hag’s attacking options have come to Old Trafford for peanuts.
As we approach the summer transfer window, the clock seems to be ticking for several underperforming forwards, who could face a race against time to prove their worth to the Dutch manager.
Let’s look at the three United underachievers who may be staring down the barrel of a ‘make or break’ season finale.
When you spend a fortune on a player, like Man Utd did to prise Jadon Sancho away from Borussia Dortmund in 2021, the least you’d expect is a game-changer.
And while the Englishman’s underwhelming maiden season at Old Trafford can be attributed to the adaptation period and a relatively young age, the 23-year-old is quickly running out of excuses.
Except for occasional flashes of brilliance, the versatile forward has never shown his full potential at Man United, often struggling with inconsistency and a lack of match fitness.
For a player who used to score and assist at will in the Bundesliga and zig-zag through the opposition backlines almost effortlessly, Sancho has become more of a liability for United.
He’s clocked just four goals and one assist in 16 Premier League appearances in 2022/23, sparking rumours that Ten Hag is considering cutting him loose in the summer.
With the Red Devils embroiled in a closely-contested top-four race that will likely go down to the wire, Sancho could have ten matches to salvage his career at the Theatre of Dreams.
Brought in from Monaco as a generational talent in 2015, Anthony Martial has had numerous ups and downs throughout his eight-year stint at Man Utd.
After barely dodging the axe during Ralf Rangnick’s interim charge last season, the 27-year-old was surprisingly handed a lifeline by ten Hag during the off-season.
Unfortunately, despite excelling during the team’s pre-season tour, the Frenchman has endured an injury-plagued season, making just six Premier League starts.
In his defence, Martial has not disappointed when fit, proving himself far more valuable than Sancho, but his inability to avoid injuries has been a real issue.
Having finally returned from a long-term injury last week, he must do something noteworthy down the final stretch to convince the Red Devils to remove him from the chopping block in the summer.
Not many Man Utd fans were thrilled when the club announced Wout Weghorst’s loan move from Burnley in January.
Fast forward three months, and it’s hard to say they were wrong in their judgment.
The 30-year-old striker has had more than enough chances to earn a permanent contract at Old Trafford, but he’s done nothing to seize them.
With just two goals from 20 competitive appearances, Weghorst could be one of the worst finishers Man Utd have had in the 21st century.
It took Ten Hag more time than expected to remove him from United’s starting line-up, as the Red Devils dispatched Brentford on Wednesday without the Dutch giant.
Maybe it was the beginning of an end for Weghorst’s career in Manchester.
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