A SWOT analysis of the two teenagers who just might decide the Manchester derby
They are the teenage forwards who are the talk of Manchester – England’s rising star versus the Nigerian striker proving that kids can make it at Manchester City.
Marcus Rashford, Manchester United’s 18-year-old, goes into Saturday’s derby clash against City having scored a hat-trick for England U-21s against Norway in midweek following his surprise omission from Sam Allardyce’s senior squad.
And 19-year-old Kelechi Iheanacho, set to stand in for the suspended Sergio Aguero at Old Trafford, goes into the derby in fine form after scoring a stunning goal against Tanzania in midweek that has already become YouTube.
Rashford and Iheanacho offer the promise of glorious futures for United and City, but what are their strengths and weaknesses and how have they got to where they are now?
But for Anthony Martial suffering an injury during the pre-match warm-up against FC Midtjylland in February, Rashford may still be an unknown outside of Old Trafford.
However, with United struck down by an injury crisis, Rashford scored twice in the Europa League tie and then went on to score another double in the Premier League win against Arsenal.
He ended the season with 8 goals in 18 appearances – including the winner in a 1-0 derby win at City – and was called into England’s Euro 2016 squad after scoring on his full debut against Australia at Sunderland.
After scoring for City against Sporting Kansas City on the club’s pre-season tour of the USA in 2014, Iheanacho, then 17, was earmarked for the first-team by Manuel Pellegrini once his work permit had been secured.
But it was not until the summer tour of Australia and Vietnam last year, when Iheanacho proved a star turn, that Pellegrini elevated him to the senior squad for good.
A last minute winner at Crystal Palace in his second game for City highlighted his predatory instincts and Iheanacho went on to make 35 appearances last term – the highlight being an FA Cup hat-trick against Aston Villa.
The Manchester-born youngster has electric pace, but it is his awareness and readiness to run at defenders which marks him out as a special talent.
Rashford’s direct style forces defenders to back-pedal and defences to drop deep, but he is more than just a runner.
His awareness when teeing up Ander Herrera to score against Arsenal last season highlighted his unselfishness, but his finishing is also cool and composed beyond his years.
Iheanacho is quicker than Rashford and more of a six-yard box predator, but he is also capable of running at defences and scoring from anywhere in the final third.
The Nigerian possesses the silky finishing of Daniel Sturridge, but has proved much more robust than the Liverpool forward.
It is his pace, however, that is most likely to strike fear into opponents.
At 18, Rashford has yet to learn the defensive side of the game when playing out wide.
It is this weakness that has made Jose Mourinho reluctant to deploy Rashford from the start of games, but it is a minor flaw when weighed against his strengths.
There have been times when Iheanacho’s team-mates, Sergio Aguero in particular, have shown frustration with the youngster’s lack of awareness in the final third.
Iheanacho will instinctively look for a strike on goal rather than seek out a team-mate in a better position.
The goal against Manchester City last season, when he escaped Martin Demichelis with a quick trick and burst of acceleration, showed the true potential Rashford possesses.
But after escaping his marker, Rashford then displayed nerveless finishing to slot the ball past goalkeeper Joe Hart.
Iheanacho’s second goal in City’s 4-0 win against Stoke last April, when he accelerated away from three defenders before coolly rounding the goalkeeper, was a classic finish.
It was a goal which showcased his strengths – pace, determination to go for goal and a calm finish at the end of it.
It appears to be only a matter of time before Rashford becomes a regular starter for both club and country.
Wayne Rooney, Michael Owen and Robbie Fowler have all laid the path for Rashford to follow with their teenage heroics.
All three were compromised by over-work and injuries, however, so careful management of his talents is key to his future.
City are light on forwards with Pep Guardiola offloading Wilfried Bony during the final days of the transfer window, so Iheanacho will get ample opportunities to shine this season.
If he is managed correctly, Iheanacho could find himself earmarked as a ready-made successor to Aguer
Independent News Service