Does Marcus Rashford's match-winning display warrant a Manchester United starting place?
February 2016 began a rapid rise to prominence for 18-year-old Marcus Rashford. In the midst of an injury crisis last season, then-manager Louis Van Gaal was willing to take a gamble on the youngster from their Carrington production line, and threw him into the fray in their Europa League second-leg tie with FC Midtjylland. Rashford duly repaid the faith with a brace for the Red Devils, before stunning supporters and pundits alike with another two goals against Arsenal in his Premier League debut.
Since then, young Rashford has never looked back. He finished 2015/16 with 18 United appearances in all competitions and eight goals, including an FA Cup Quarter-Final winner at Upton Park against West Ham United and more importantly for the Red Devils a superb winning goal at the Etihad in the Manchester Derby against Manchester City, to restore bragging rights to the red half of the city. The 18-year-old even saw his season capped off with a call-up from Roy Hodgson to England’s senior squad, and a goal in his first senior international appearance, a friendly against Australia.
Since José Mourinho’s revolution began at Old Trafford however, less emphasis has been on the youngster as the mercurial talent of Zlatan Ibrahimovic has somewhat stolen the limelight from young Rashford. Despite getting a run-out in the Community Shield victory over Leicester City at Wembley, the 18-year-old didn’t feature in either of United’s opening two matches- victories over Bournemouth and Southampton- but with the Red Devils deadlocked at 0-0 with Hull City at a rainswept KCOM Stadium in Saturday’s late kick-off, Mourinho saw fit to throw the teenager into the fray on 71 minutes in place of Juan Mata as his team went for broke to get the points, and the substitution proved an inspired one.
The introduction of the youngster sparked further life into a Red Devils side that had hammered on the door of the Tigers but seemed to be running out of ideas against a stern rear-guard, led by Curtis Davies, who was a rock on the night.
Rashford offered United a far more direct approach in the final third, having three efforts at goal and attempting one dribble, including a fantastic run where he cut inside from the left and fizzed a shot towards goal of which goalkeeper Eldin Jakupovic had to be alert to tip the ball around his left-hand post at full stretch.
Rashford was not caught offside nor dispossessed in his 19 minutes on the field, playing one key pass around the area to create a chance, but finally given the chance to shine on his first appearance of the season, he went someway to propelling himself into Mourinho’s plans with a surging run into the box to get onto the end of Wayne Rooney’s cross after some excellent work from the England captain, steering the ball beyond Jakupovic deep into stoppage time to spark jubilant celebrations on the Manchester United bench just when Hull thought they had salvaged a point.
The youngster’s goal means that he became the first teenager to score in the Premier League for a José Mourinho team, and that the forward has now scored in consecutive league fixtures for the first time. He now has six goals in his last 12 Premier League outings, and his direct approach and impact, as well as his inate ability to drift beyond players will surely mean that the Portuguese manager will re-think his policy on younger players at United. The win was well-deserved for United who had battered away at Hull’s stubborn resistance, but when push came to shove they had to find a way to break through, and the means when the points seemed to be slipping away, was Marcus Rashford.
It was Rashford’s late, late winner that preserved United’s 100% record start to the season, and even Mourinho was quick to acknowledge that the 18-year old made all the difference in an interview with BBC Sport:
“Marcus Rashford gives new problems to the opposition so I am really happy with him and the team. I tell the boys every day we have to go into every match to win. We know we will draw or lose matches but the mentality has to be go to win. Today they showed that.”
Former Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers forward turned pundit Alan Shearer was also quick to tip Rashford for a starting spot at Old Trafford soon if he is able to continue this form under Mourinho, mentioning that the young striker is undoubtedly learning much under the tutelage of forward colleagues Zlatan Ibrahimovic and England skipper Wayne Rooney.
The extent of his impact on this United side even now in going at players and offering a new dimension going forward, as well as his inate ability to find the net renders him an exciting proposition indeed for club and country and his immense run of form of late, despite having a two-match spell of not featuring for his side, is a testament to his professionalism, attitude and ability amidst the frustration of not getting game-time over the first two weeks of the season. When given his chance however he grasped it with both hands and showed Mourinho exactly what he is capable of producing.
On a night where world stars such as Paul Pogba failed to produce the goods, Rashford proved himself a shining light in the Manchester United team, and more games will surely see the rough stone become a polished diamond. Bitter rivals Manchester City are next on the agenda in the Manchester Derby at Old Trafford, and given Rashford’s impact last time out against the same opposition, don’t be surprised to see him on the scoresheet again if Mourinho gives him another deserved chance. Ruud Gullit to name but one pundit certainly thinks he should, and he won’t be the only one, as many other analysts and many United fans alike will be hoping to see Rashford feature more regularly.
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