ERIK TEN HAG has challenged Marcus Rashford to plunder 20 league goals a season for Manchester United, saying he should be capable of that target.
Early signs were certainly promising as the pair were on the mark – with Rashford opening the scoring then setting up the second for his French team-mate inside the opening 22 minutes in a 3-0 win against Forest.
Because the bottom line is that Ten Hag looks doomed to be a loan ranger in next month’s transfer window, with the Red Devils boss apparently unable to make a permanent signing.
But events of the last 24 hours appear to show that plan is on hold.
Rising Dutch star Cody Gakpo announced on Boxing Day that he is joining Liverpool, for a bargain £37million that could rise to £50m.
That news came as a jolt to Ten Hag, who had wanted his countryman next month even if he does not immediately fill the gap left by finally shedding Ronaldo – with the young Flying Dutchman more of a wide player than a number nine.
It appears that the Glazers’ attempts to sell the club in the new year and a summer of big spending mean there will be no major funds available – with a loan signing apparently now Ten Hag’s only option.
Even Portuguese wonder kid Joao Felix, available at Atletico Madrid, is out of United’s price range because of the multi-millions the Spanish club want for a loan deal.
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Instead, United will be shopping in the bargain basement world of veteran strikers, free agents and loans-to-buy.
Fans still remember – and not always fondly – the likes of Edinson Cavani, Odion Ighalo, Radamel Falcao or, going back further, Henrik Larsson.
That’s the place Ten Hag is now looking although, at least, Rashford and Martial are heading in the right direction based on the victory over Forest – even if their current tallies of five and three goals, respectively, are hardly in Erling Haaland territory.
Both have a best career season of 17 league goals – amazingly, both in the same 2019-20 campaign.
And, although it will be a tall order with just 23 games to go, Ten Hag could do with both of them hitting that kind of form over the remainder of this term.