Marcus Rashford’s defensive frailties have forced Erik ten Hag to play him centrally in an effort to get Manchester United’s stuttering season back on track.
That is the view of former Premier League manager Alan Pardew, who believes Rashford’s poor defensive work has been frequently “exploited” by opposition teams.
United currently sit a lowly 10th in the Premier League table having lost four of their opening seven games – the latest coming at home to Crystal Palace on Saturday – with Rashford, the club’s top scorer with 30 goals in all competitions last season, restricted to just one so far this term.
Rashford was rewarded with a new five-year contract last summer, but has struggled for confidence and form in recent weeks.
Ahead of Galatasaray’s Champions League visit to Old Trafford on Tuesday, former West Ham and Newcastle manager Pardew feels Rashford’s lack of contribution defensively has left Ten Hag reluctant to deploy him in the wide positions.
Yet, despite holding reservations that Rashford can be effective as a true centre-forward, Pardew remains convinced that the 25-year-old is still lethal in advanced areas of the pitch.
Asked why Rashford has struggled to replicate his performances from last season, Pardew told talkSPORT: “I think a lot of that comes from confidence and form and everything else that goals get you, but the one thing about Rashford is [that] he’s never been a great defender of the side of the pitch.
“I managed against him a couple of times [and] the full-back down that side of the pitch would get some joy – and I think that gets exploited by away teams a lot down his side.
“The answer to that at the moment for Ten Hag seems to be: ‘Put him through the middle and I’m less weak on the side.’
“The back four isn’t great at the moment so you can’t now have [an opposition] full-back raiding down that right-hand side of the pitch.
“And then is he really a number nine? There are some question marks about him.
“But offensively, I still see the same player. I still think, when he’s got the ball, he’s danger.
“He gets it on to that right foot and he can smash it from anywhere. If not, he can take you down the left-hand side and put an OK cross – not, perhaps, a [Kieran] Trippier-type cross – in.
“So he is a problem offensively, he’s good enough for Man United, for sure – but they have to come up with a way of compensating for his non-defensive work.”
Pardew also appeared to question the wisdom behind the club handing Rashford a contract extension, claiming his performances last season weren’t strong enough to merit a new long-term deal.
“They gave him a bumper new contract,” he added. “He’s probably in the top 10 [best]-paid players in the country.
“Did he really deserve that contract? Had he done enough in that small period when he was very successful at the back end of last year? I don’t know.”
Pardew’s assessment of Rashford’s situation comes after former Manchester United trainee Robbie Savage exclusively told Football365 what Ten Hag must do to stand a chance of turning the club’s season around.