Gary Neville has criticised Marcus Rashford for missing a crucial chance during the early stages of Manchester United’s 1-0 defeat to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge over the weekend.
Ashley Young, with just a few minutes on the clock, sent over a perfectly guided in-swinging ball from the left for Rashford, who had started up front, but with Thibaut Courtois rushing out he mistimed his header and it sailed over the bar.
Chelsea went on to dominate soon after, going ahead through Alvaro Morata, and while Rashford went close with a couple of powerful drives late on, he could not atone for his earlier mistake.
And Neville, speaking on Sky Sports, criticised the youngster for failing maintain his composure in front of goal.
“Oh Marcus,” he said. “You’ve closed your eyes, because you’ve thought the keeper is coming to hit you. If he just concentrates, doesn’t worry about the goalkeeper, he scores.”
“Never would have had Marcus Rashford down as someone who would shirk it or close his eyes thinking he would get a knock.”
Rashford has 26 senior club goals to his name since February 2016 but only two of them – at home to Arsenal on his Premier League debut and against Huddersfield Town last month – have come via his head.
But criticising this statistic makes little sense. The youngster has only just turned 20, after all, and will continue to hone various aspects of his game as he develops. But we can at the same time say that Rashford, at this stage in his career, is losing out on a number of goals and chances to effect games by lacking any tangible aerial threat.
The art of the header is a criminally under-appreciated craft – one that demands a mixture of intuition and physical clout. Positioning yourself well isn’t enough; you have to make the ball yours as well.
And Rashford, at least for now, hasn’t quite struck the balance, or perhaps even fully recognised the extra dimensions that come with being a potent header of the ball. But he can take inspiration from a player he knows very well going forward: Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Portuguese begun life at Man United in the same way, focusing primarily on eviscerating opponents with his raw skill and panache on the ball, before eventually adding aerial prowess to his game to storming effect later in his career.
Supporters will hope to see Rashford, who has made exponential progress under Mourinho, do the same over the next few years.