Marcus Rashford isn’t the only star that has risen in recent months. The Manchester United forward may be grabbing all the headlines with his achievements but Kelechi Iheanacho is performing just as well on the other side of the city.
Pep Guardiola’s arrival at Manchester City must’ve been an exciting prospect for Iheanacho, who seems to have relished the opportunity to grow under the former Barcelona boss. He featured in City’s opening Premier League clash of the season and was handed a start in the Manchester derby, a statement of how far he’s come in 12 months.
Most Blues’ fans can’t understand why Iheanacho isn’t getting the attention his Red counter-part is receiving but statistically, he’s the deadliest out of the two academy graduates.
Rashford’s rise from his debut brace against Midtjylland to his England goal within three minutes of making his international bow has been nothing short of exquisite. The 18 year-old became the youngest Three Lions star to score on his debut and after netting a hat-trick against Norway U21’s, he’s now scored on every competitive debut he’s made. That’s some achievement and it’s no wonder he’s the one everyone’s talking about but has Manchester City’s 19 year-old star been overlooked?
The Nigerian forward scored his third senior goal in five international appearances for Nigeria on the same evening as Rashford’s U21 debut hat-trick and the Blues star got the nod ahead of new signing, Leroy Sane to start in the Manchester derby in place of Sergio Aguero who missed out due to suspension. However, instead of bursting onto the scene like Rashford, Iheanacho’s rise has been slightly more progressive, though with deadlier effect.
Rashford’s debut came more as a default in the Europa League when Martial picked up an injury during the warm-up but Iheanacho was introduced to the City crowd with more precision. It came as a surprise that Manchester City would start to 2015-16 season with just one renowned striker in injury-prone Sergio Aguero. Wilfried Bony did little to suggest he’d be up to the task of being City’s front man but Manuel Pellegrini felt no need to invest with Iheanacho in the ranks and his decision proved to be an inspiring one.
Unlike Rashford, Iheanacho was eased into the Manchester City team through substitute appearances and European inclusion but was equally as impressive, bursting into light and scoring ruthlessly. His debut goal was an important one too, coming in a 1-0 victory against Crystal Palace in September 2015. His impressive goal-scoring continued and after netting a brace against Stoke City in April, he had a better goals per minute ration than Luis Suarez, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
Statistically, he was sublime. Topping Europe’s elusive list of forwards, averaging a goal every 81.3 minutes of football he had played. Of course, some of Iheanacho’s goals have come in victories where City have dominated or have come during cameos when his side are well on top but there’s no denying that his stats are impressive.
At the age of 19, his form doesn’t seem to have wilted this season either after netting against Manchester United in the derby and getting an assist against Stoke City. He looked dangerous against Sunderland in his opening fixture too and under Guardiola, looks to have grown already.
Rashford’s facing a season where he’s likely to make more impact from the bench after Jose Mourinho spent huge money on Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan but the youngster has netted nine times in 20 appearances since making his European debut and he’s become a player hard to ignore.
With plenty of options available, it’s easy to understand why Mourinho has opted against starting the 18 year-old but Rashford’s form has become so impressive that it’s only a matter of time before he’s given the nod.
Both academy graduates have shown immense talent and each have unique qualities. Rashford enjoys success when he runs in behind defenders and his pace makes him very dangerous when given space to run. Iheanacho is a clinical finisher and is a proven goalscorer when given any opportunity. It would be foolish to suggest one is better than the other, though statistically, Iheanacho has proven the deadlier of the two.
The Manchester City forward could prove to be more influential on his side this season too. Rashford, who would undoubtedly strengthen any team, is accompanied by quality in the forms of Martial, Ibrahimovic, Mata and Mkhitaryan so his input may be less depended upon. However, if Aguero’s injury woes continue, as past seasons suggest, City could turn to Iheanacho and Sane for goal-scoring prowess and the youngster has done all he can so far to prove Guardiola’s faith would be rewarded.