Rivalries are one of the great hallmarks of sport. They are essential to maintaining competition and interest. The Premier League has never lacked this: Keane and Viera; Wenger and Mourinho; Terry and Bridge. In particular, the Manchester derby always brings something special to British football. Since last season, it brings a burst of passion in two very special young players: Marcus Rashford and Kelechi Iheanacho. But who is the better player? Laolu Ayeko and Sam Pace share their opinion in the first edition of ‘Head to Head’.
Laolu Ayeko on Kelechi Iheanacho
Let’s be real here, there is only one winner in this contest, and he wears blue.
Iheanacho first burst into the scene with awe-inspiring performances in the 2013 U17 world cup, the like of which hadn’t been seen since John Obi Mikel and Lionel Messi participated in the tournament in 2005. He not only spearheaded a Nigerian win of the tournament, but also managed to secure the best player award for the competition. During this time, Rashford was struggling to break into an England youth side that did not even qualify for the U17 World Cup. In defence of Rashford, his international career has since improved, making six appearances for the senior team and even scoring on his debut. Iheanacho only has four times as many goals in one more appearance.
Yet Kelechi has made his real mark in the Premier League. City manager Pep Guardiola said himself at the start of the season, “Kelechi is a natural goalscorer. I knew about him before, but I’ve been really impressed with him since I arrived. I like his personality, his attitude, his ability—we hope to help him reach the highest level and to realise his full potential.”
Iheanacho seems to have a sixth sense at times, always in the right place at the right time. Admittedly, Rashford has the higher goals to appearances ratio out of the two with 0.32, compared to Iheanacho’s 0.3, but this statistic is incredibly misleading as it only takes Kelechi an average of 141 minutes on the pitch per goal, whereas it takes Rashford 204.
If you think Iheanacho’s contributions to City’s team have ended at goals, you are mistaken. Iheanacho’s confidence and ability to take players on greatly contributes to the potency of City’s attack, attributes severely lacked by Rashford. When comparing their assist tallies in their club career, it’s not even close. Iheanacho has assisted three goals in his career and Rashford is yet to clock one assist.
Iheanacho’s goals last season often came at crucial times for City. He was personally responsible for five of City’s points last season, without which they would have finished finished seventh in the league instead of fourth, outside of the Champions League qualification spots.
If you weren’t already convinced, I’ll finish with this: Iheanacho, unlike Rashford, is a member of the prestigious list of players almost signed by Arsenal boss and legendary developer of talent Arsène Wenger, along with Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Didier Drogba. His parents obviously knew he was destined to be special—they gave him the middle name Promise.
Sam Pace on Marcus Rashford
While Iheanacho is solely used in the central striking role, Rashford has often been forced to ply his trade out wide to enable other offensive talents to fit in alongside him. Even with this, Rashford manages a far better goal to game ratio than Iheanacho in the Premier League. Rashford has scored eight goals in 25 games, giving him a goal to game ratio of 0.320. On the other hand, Iheanacho has only managed three goals more in twelve more games, giving him a goal to game ratio of 0.297.
Iheanacho is yet to fully establish himself in the Manchester City team, scoring very well from the bench in sporadic substitute appearances, or starting when Aguero’s discipline so frequently lets him down. On the other hand, Rashford scored on his European debut and then twice in his first Premier League appearance against Arsenal to win the game of Manchester United. He also scored the winner in the Manchester derby, showing him to be a big game player.
My sentiment for Rashford’s superiority is echoed by the highly reputable The Sun Football journalist, Andrew Richardson, who says, “It’s a close call between Marcus Rashford and Kelechi Iheanacho for me—but the United man just edges it. He is an explosive player who can change games. Despite the Red Devils’ obvious struggles, he has kept up his form and hit important goals. Difficult to recall a bad performance.”
It is undeniable that Iheanacho is an exciting talent, but he is one of many in the Premier League, with the likes of Alex Iwobi and Jordan Pickford, showing similar levels of, if not greater, promise. Rashford has shown his potential to transform his team’s fortunes, evidenced by his cameo performances for England during his young, but blossoming, international career.
What’s more, it could be argued that Iheanacho has only scored frequently at such a young age due to the creative talents of Silva, De Bruyne and Sterling. The dire creative ability of a drab Manchester United team, on the other hand, has done nothing to help Rashford, who has had to show great talent at such a young age to be able to succeed.