For the second time this season, Manchester United fans in the Stretford End unfurled a banner waving the word ‘standards’ under the faces of three of the club’s iconic captains: Bryan Robson, Eric Cantona and Roy Keane.
The black and white canvas was a clear message for Ralf Rangnick’s players as they headed onto the pitch for Monday night’s FA Cup third round clash against Aston Villa.
Indeed, it wasn’t just a celebration of three of the greatest frontrunners ever to field for United; it was a reminder of the levels of effort and dedication the Old Trafford faithful expect from every player lucky enough to wear the shirt.
It’s no surprise, then, that the same group of supporters let out a collective groan as Marcus Rashford failed to chase a stray ball into the penalty area with 16 minutes remaining at Old Trafford.
The downcast expression on the 24-year-old’s face as he was knocked out 12 minutes later spoke volumes.
“Everything seems like a huge push for him right now. There’s no spark,” Alan Shearer said on BBC.
Rashford has privately accepted that his recent performances simply haven’t lived up to the “standards” required at United.
But why is the striker underperforming at the moment?
Some Old Trafford sources believe Rashford has been distracted by his off-pitch efforts to help tackle child food poverty and they want him to spend more time working to get back to full fitness to get back to his best. form.
However, blaming the England international’s disappointing performances solely on his charity work is short-sighted.
While Rashford accepts that he must take responsibility for his poor performance, there are also tactical considerations that must be factored into the equation.
Some United insiders believe the player has yet to find the right coach for his particular skills.
He was optimistic that former United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would prove the mentor he needed to take his game to the next level, but the former striker rarely underwent training during his tenure.
Rashford remains convinced Rangnick can help him improve, but the team is a complete mess at the moment, meaning the caretaker manager has plenty of other issues to deal with at the moment.
Still, the German clearly hasn’t found where to play Rashford yet, who has already been deployed in three different positions under Rangnick’s watch.
Of course, Rashford has to take his share of responsibility here as well. He played in the preferred position on the left side of United’s attack against Aston Villa and was again disappointed.
His dip in form has caused him to overthink things and sources claim the striker is suffering from a crisis of confidence after an 11-game goalless streak.
In a week where Cristiano Ronaldo has questioned the mentality of some of his teammates, some might point the finger at Rashford due to his body language in recent weeks.
He has at times appeared downcast and disinterested, but those close to him say his apparent sulking is simply the result of him wearing his heart on his sleeve.
Certainly, his commitment to the cause should not be questioned. During his rehabilitation from shoulder surgery, Rashford regularly spent 12 hours at the club’s Carrington training base working on his fitness, arriving at 7.15am and not leaving until after 7.30pm.
The problem however was that he was not able to do much cardio training due to the nature of his injury and his inability to run. This means that in the absence of a pre-season, he is still not in top form.
Nonetheless, Rangnick has been impressed with Rashford in training in recent weeks and GOAL understands the club remain keen to open talks over a new contract this summer.
As it stands, Rashford still has 18 months to run on his current contract, with the option of a one-year extension.
He therefore still has plenty of time to get back to his best and United remain confident that he will soon be back to his best.
When asked why the academy graduate was underachieving, Rangnick replied, “I don’t know. Of course, it would be good for Marcus if he could score a goal.
“However, as long as he tries, as long as he trains well, I don’t really see a problem.”
Given the nature of his fitness issues, Rashford’s current blip is not a major cause for concern, even if his stats are poor.
During his six-year professional career, he averaged 0.30 goals per game in the league and that has dropped significantly to 0.18 this season. He clearly needs to improve his numbers, and fast.
With Anthony Martial looking for an exit, Edinson Cavani unable to play twice a week and question marks over Ronaldo’s versatility, the need for Rashford to start shining again has never been greater.