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Marcus Rashford: Erik ten Hag hails Man Utd forward | Goal streak ends after 2-1 win over Barcelona

Manchester United forward has scored 16 goals in 18 appearances since World Cup; goal spree, positioning and team tactics analysed; comparisons with forwards from Europe's top five leagues; scale of improvement quantified; combinations with team-mates revealed


Marcus Rashford has scored 16 goals in 18 appearances for Manchester United since the World Cup. So what's behind the sea change in form?

All data correct as of February 24, 3pm

The in-form forward looked set to lead the line when his side bid to end a six-year hiatus without silverware in the Carabao Cup final against Newcastle at Wembley, live on Sky Sports this Sunday - but the 25-year-old limped off at Old Trafford in Thursday's Europa League play-off win over Barcelona.

Erik ten Hag has revealed he is now waiting to see whether or not Rashford will be fit to start and he has every reason to be waiting with bated breath: the England international leads the goalscoring charts across Europe since the World Cup ended in Qatar.

Speaking ahead of the Barcelona game at the Nou Camp, Ten Hag said Rashford was one of the best forwards in Europe and advised his in-form striker to stay hungry for more goals: "I don't know [if his scoring] will stop, but he has to go from game to game and during the week do the right things.

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Erik ten Hag says Marcus Rashford's focus over 90 minutes and his team staying composed were crucial to Man Utd's victory at Leeds

"I think as a manager, as a coaching staff we have to push them but finally it comes from the player. When he loses focus then the scoring will stop. Clear.

"He has so many skills, such high potential and I think there can be even more. When he works well, he will even score more goals because he can score with his left, right and his head."

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Rashford says he has no intention of slowing down after he continued his amazing goal scoring run in the 3-0 win against Leicester in the Premier League

Fast forward one week and the 25-year-old has scored three more goals in three outings. Speaking after the Leicester game, Rashford said: "There's always something to push and look forward to. I don't feel like slowing down. I'm always looking to push and improve."

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Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville added: "Rashford has been sensational. Left, centre, it doesn't matter where he plays - it looks like he's got defenders right where he wants them.

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Gary Neville heaps praise on Rashford after his two goals against Leicester in the Premier League and says Manchester United cannot do without him at the moment

"It looks like he's got those pictures in his mind when he gets into the final third where he knows exactly what he wants to do. I always thought Thierry Henry was the very best at that, when he got into that left channel. Salah does it from the right, where he cuts in onto that left foot and bends it into the far corner."

To add statistical context, no top-flight player across Europe comes close to Rashford's 16 goals since late December - four clear of current runner-up, Karim Benzema.

Domestically, even Erling Haaland - who tops the Premier League goal chart with 26 goals - has managed only nine goals in all competitions since the World Cup.

Eddie Nketiah, Harry Kane and James Ward-Prowse rank fourth since the tournament ended in Qatar with six goals - nearly a third of the total Rashford has conjured in that time.

So what's behind the transformation? Is it just a prolonged purple patch or has Rashford changed his style and approach since returning from the Middle East?

Scale of improvement

Rashford's staggering numbers over the past two months have helped him secure a regular starting berth in Ten Hag's side - racking up 1,364 minutes across all competitions.

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Manchester United's win against Leicester in the Premier League

However, Rashford still outguns all rivals when factoring per-90 returns with 1.06 goals - ahead of Iheanacho (0.78) and Haaland (0.73), while only two Premier League players have averaged more accurate attempts per game.

Rashford has more than doubled his finishing ability since the World Cup, while the frequency of his fast breaks is up 50 per cent, and his shots on target, dribbles and clear-cut chances created for team-mates are all up around 25 per cent.


So what's changed?

Team tactics

In terms of his side's tactical set-up, not much has changed. Wout Weghorst has been the only notable addition to the squad during his sensational scoring spree - but the pair have only combined 16 passes in the Premier League.

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Ten Hag says it is a 'priority' for Man Utd to tie Rashford to a new contract

The graphic below shows the total passes and goal involvements between Rashford and his team-mates in league games since returning from Qatar.

Unsurprisingly, the data reveals his most fruitful partnerships are with Bruno Fernandes and the injured Christian Eriksen - with Luke Shaw frequently feeding the winger passes down his favoured left flank.

The graphic below shows how United's attacking approach has remained relatively constant - before and after the World Cup - with a greater skew of attacks still coming down Rashford's left channel.


The average positions appear to suggest Ten Hag has instructed his side to push further forward since the international break, although this could be a consequence of his side enjoying greater dominance in games.

Most notably, the centre-backs have advanced almost two metres higher upfield and closed the gap between the No 6 midfielders and, indeed, the firing line - with Rashford pushing clear as United's most advanced player.


Player positioning

The heat maps below elaborate on the average positions above, showing how the winger has had a slightly greater concentration of activity closer to the opposition box since late December - and has been tracking back less.


Additionally, the shot maps below plot every goal Rashford has scored in the Premier League before and since the World Cup and shows how the forward has converted a slew of goals in, around and along the six-yard box.


The England international has also boosted his creative output, creating eight chances for team-mates since late December - with every single attempt hitting the target.


The England winger's iconic goal celebration suggests his refreshed and clear headspace has contributed to his scintillating form and his talents also appear to be coming to the fore under his new manager.

He now faces a race against time to shake off his injury to start on Sunday. If achieved, to cite his manager's own words: can he maintain the focus to sustain his clinical form?

Marcus Rashford celebrates after giving Manchester United a first-half lead against Leicester
Image: Rashford celebrates after giving Manchester United a first-half lead against Leicester

What's next?

Manchester United switch their attentions to Wembley, where they take on Newcastle in the Carabao Cup final on Sunday, live on Sky Sports; kick-off 4.30pm. Erik ten Hag's side then host West Ham in the FA Cup on Wednesday; kick-off 7.45pm.

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