The news that Marcus Rashford will be sidelined until the end of October for surgery on a shoulder injury comes as a hefty blow for Manchester United.
The 23-year-old has played through the pain barrier for club and country England for so long but the procedure can’t be put off any longer.
Rashford had a scan on Tuesday to ascertain the severity of a muscle tear in his shoulder and it has been decided to have the operation now.
Marcus Rashford needs shoulder surgery and may not return until the end of October
The 23-year-old has been playing through the pain of the injury for several months now
Unfortunately, the chosen surgeon isn’t available until the end of July and it will then be another six weeks of recovery time before the forward can even resume training, let alone regain full match fitness.
In many ways, it’s better from United’s perspective to have arguably their best forward out of action at the beginning of a season as opposed to its climax.
But with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer desperate to avoid a repeat of the slow start that left them playing catch-up in the Premier League title race last season, the news is far from ideal.
Then, a United side who’d barely had any pre-season lost three of their first six league games, a run that included that humiliating 6-1 home drubbing by Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham.
While they weren’t the only ones who started sluggishly, those dropped points, which left them 15th in the table at one point, were ultimately a handicap too far as they struggled to keep pace with eventual champions Manchester City after Christmas.
Rashford played a limited role for England at Euro 2020 and saw a penalty saved in the final
Rashford and Jadon Sancho were brought on to take penalties but both missed their kicks
Rashford in 2020-21
Premier League only
Minutes per goal 266.18
Chances created 43
Total shots 79
Shot conversion 13.92 per cent
Shooting accuracy 63.79 per cent
Courtesy of Opta
Even unbeaten runs of 13 league games and then a further 11 either side of a shock loss to Sheffield United in late January were insufficient to catch up and they finished a distant 12 points behind their rivals in the final reckoning.
Given that United have a relatively gentle introduction to the new league campaign – they don’t face a title rival until Liverpool on October 23 – Solskjaer will demand they hit the ground running.
There’s also the Champions League to consider. Rashford is likely to miss half the group stage, and while United would be unlucky to get a repeat of last season’s tough group containing Paris Saint-Germain and RB Leipzig, they also don’t want to be failing to reach the knockout phase again.
So losing a striker who provided 21 goals last season, behind only the 28 of Bruno Fernandes, until around the time of that Liverpool game is a nuisance.
Not only did Rashford score 21 times in 2020-21 across all competitions, he also contributed 15 assists mostly from his favoured station on the left side of United’s forward line.
Given that Rashford played 57 games last season, starting 43 and amassing 4,146 minutes on the pitch for United alone, it shows how much of a No 1 choice in that particular position he is.
But while obviously United will miss the creativity and deadly instinct of a player who created 43 chances in his 37 league games last term, they do have options to ease the impact of his absence.
United made a poor start to the Premier League last season and were left playing catch-up
Three defeats in their first six league games left United behind and Solskjaer won’t want a repeat when the new campaign gets underway
The games Rashford could miss
August 14 Leeds United (H)
August 22 Southampton (A)
August 29 Wolves (A)
September 11 Newcastle United (H)
September 19 West Ham United (A)
September 25 Aston Villa (H)
October 2 Everton (H)
October 16 Leicester City (A)
October 23 Liverpool (H)
All dates subject to change
Draw made on August 26
Matchday one September 14-15
Matchday two September 28-29
Matchday three October 19-20
Third round w/c September 20
Rashford is also likely to miss England’s World Cup 2022 qualifiers against Hungary (away), Andorra (home) and Poland (away) in September plus Andorra (away) and Hungary (home) in October.
It could well be that Jadon Sancho begins his United career – assuming all formalities on his £73million move from Borussia Dortmund are completed this week – on the left of the attack.
The England man is equally at ease on both flanks, as he’s shown with Dortmund time and time again.
In fact, Sancho’s most productive spell in the Bundesliga last season, in February just before he suffered an injury, came as a left-sided forward in a 4-2-3-1 system similar to United’s.
He scored four goals in five games and also added two assists in that time, while he also netted twice from the position in a 3-2 win over RB Leipzig in May.
Edin Terzic, interim coach for the second half of the season, saw far more potential in Sancho on the left flank as his former boss Lucien Favre did.
Jadon Sancho, poised to complete a £73m move to United, could begin life there on the left
Sancho played brilliantly in that position in Dortmund’s win over RB Leipzig back in May
So while Rashford is likely to remain playing there when he returns to full fitness, with Sancho playing in what is perceived to be a weak spot for United on the right flank, the early season gap is easily filled.
Likewise by Paul Pogba, who has often flourished on the left side of midfield in the past.
One of his most commanding performances of last season came when he replaced Rashford at half-time during the Europa League away leg with AC Milan in March, scoring the winner just three minutes after coming on.
Pogba ran the show for United from a left attacking position against Milan back in March
Daniel James could also step in and fill the void left by Rashford’s injury in certain matches
Daniel James is another option and also Anthony Martial but nobody else at United really measures up to Rashford in that role.
You can envisage it now that his return will be timed for the Liverpool game in late October, adding to a United forward line that with Sancho, Fernandes, Martial and Edinson Cavani should compare well to any other in the Premier League.
The key for Rashford’s colleagues is to ensure they’re not already out of title contention by the time he gets back.