Much has been made of young Rashford’s struggles of late. His last league goal came at the start of December against Manchester City. Since then he’s only netted once, in the FA Cup against Yeovil Town. Sure, injury has hobbled him over the winter, but he’s still produced nothing like the consistent quality he was doing at the start of the season.
Some were even questioning his status in the United squad and whether or not he should leave in order to get consistent minutes – Teddy Sheringham mentioned this in his post-match analysis on Sky. If that sounds ridiculous, it’s because it is, and Rashford’s display against Liverpool was proof of it.
Rashford has always possessed the kind of mental toughness that allows him to ride out the rough patches all players have when they’re that young. Despite his winter of discontent, he changed the game against Crystal Palace in midweek, and then against Liverpool he sealed victory.
Rashford was phenomenal at Old Trafford. From the first whistle he was running at Trent Alexander-Arnold, driving him back and unsettling the Liverpool defence. United had clearly identified the channel between Alexander-Arnold and Lovren as one to attack and they did exactly that through Rashford.
With Lukaku dropping deep to collect David De Gea’s long passes, it was Rashford who would race into the space his Belgian teammate created. This is exactly how the first goal came, where Rashford capped his movement with a wonderfully rasping finish. Ten minutes later he was at it again, running forward and being in the perfect place when Liverpool tackled the ball away from Juan Mata.
So there it was, struggling Marcus Rashford came back into form like a hurricane. He devastated Liverpool to complete the set: he has now scored against Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool. The classic “big four” opponents have all felt his wrath and he’s only 20. The idea that his future at the club was even slightly in doubt is laughable.
As José Mourinho said after the match: “Sometimes media, fans, in relation to options, you are not in the training ground. You don’t see how well or bad players are training, the confidence, the mood. The mood with him was improving in the last weeks.”
Speaking of Mourinho, after the Liverpool win, Dutch coach Frank de Boer said: “It’s a pity that the manager is Mourinho because normally he’s an English player you want to give him time and he can then make mistakes. But Mourinho is not like that. He wants to get results.” A comment which did the Portuguese coach a disservice.
Despite Mourinho’s tendencies towards mistrusting youngsters, he’s actually handled Rashford quite well (short of actually playing him up-front, of course). Yes, he’s held him back at times, but does anyone recall the way Sir Alex Ferguson used to treat young prodigies? Sending them off for mini-breaks every now and again? Or how careful Pep Guardiola is when integrating youngsters into the first-team?
When you’re playing for a side that is expected to win every week, there are a whole different set of pressures to deal with in addition to simply just playing and proving yourself. So youngsters need to be kept out of the limelight sometimes, held back so they don’t burn themselves out or charge headlong into a run of form so bad they pick up bad habits trying to get out.
That’s exactly what Mourinho has done with Rashford, and it’s paid off. The youngster has found his rhythm in training again and this has translated to performances onto the pitch. He was dynamic against Crystal Palace and absolutely lethal against Liverpool. Mourinho’s comeback to De Boer was glorious but also true; he has taught Rashford to win.
“Marvellous” Marcus Rashford may encounter a few more bumps in the road along his development (all players do), but ultimately his quality and work ethic will see him get to exactly where he needs to be: feared as one of the most devastating forwards in Europe. He’s not there yet, but give him time.