Manchester United were already two goals up against ten-man Sunderland, with the game already won, but one man who battled until the end and got his reward is 19-year-old Marcus Rashford.
Without a goal since the 24th September – almost seven months and 20 Premier League games ago – he came on as a second-half substitute and finally ended his goal-drought after a fine late finish, with his arrowed shot into the far corner finishing off a sublime counter-attacking move from the visitors.
Rashford’s goal-drought hadn’t been for the want of trying, with the England forward putting in some excellent displays of pace and direct attacking play of late, but he’s lacked a clinical edge once inside the penalty area that has somewhat stalled his progress since bursting on to the scene during the latter part of last season.
Four goals in 25 Premier League appearances doesn’t do his season justice at all, with Rashford arguably one of United’s most potent attacking options, but it’s not the return he would have wanted.
In a sense, Rashford has been the epitome of Manchester United’s season so far; fairly dominant and able to do the build-up play well, but struggling to find the cutting edge in front of goal.
Last season, the United teenager managed to score five times in just eleven appearances, a far better return than this year, and he has to be careful that he doesn’t start taking steps backwards in his Old Trafford development; at the end of the day, the role of a striker is to find the back of the net with regularity and, if Rashford can’t do this, Mourinho will have no choice but to leave him out of the side.
Yet is has to be said that the Manchester United manager has dealt almost perfectly with the youngster this year, continuing Louis van Gaal’s confidence in him and giving him time to grow in the first-team.
Mourinho hasn’t stifled him, giving him the backing to play as a lone striker during Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s recent suspension, and although he didn’t manage to break his goal-scoring drought during that period of time his level of performance never dropped and he was a constant threat.
Nobody in the Manchester United side can match the impact he has out wide, with his ability to take on and beat his man proving successful on most occasions, whilst there’s not many defenders in the Premier League that can keep up with his acceleration into space – a big hallmark of Rashford in attack.
Only a few days ago Mourinho was saying in the Daily Mail that Rashford’s confidence was running low after struggling to score, but fast forward five days and the Portuguese manager – and Manchester United supporters – will now be hoping that Sunday signals the start of a rejuvenated forward.
Football can be a funny old game sometimes, and it’s certainly possible that this one goal could open the floodgates for Rashford between now and the end of the season; and United will certainly hope so.
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