Sunday, 11 March 2018

Like Manchester, Rashford is Red.

It was two years ago last week that the world was first introduced to Manchester United's 18-year old wildcard striker by the name of Marcus Rashford. The kid from Wythenshawe was thrown in at the deep end as Anthony Martial - at the time our only other recognised striker - dropped out in the warm up in the midst of an injury crisis. What followed was a story that most script writers would struggle with.

Enter, Rashford. He netted twice on his debut and followed that up three days later with another double, this time against title-chasing Arsenal on his league bow at Old Trafford. The Theatre of Dreams indeed: a star was born. Since then, he hasn't looked back and proved to be far more than just the flash-in-the-pan one season wonder that many thought he would be. Since then, he's developed a penchant for debut goals: the Manchester derby, England U21 and senior team, FA Cup, Champions League and League Cup. Add to that list now the net-busting and match winning brace against our fiercest and oldest rivals in the biggest game of them all, capped with a man of the match performance.

Whatever the occasion and no matter the stage, Rashford has always risen to the occasion. That can only bode well, for United and England.

Having not started a league game since Boxing Day against Burnley, amid the usual rumours about his unhappiness over lack of game time - particularly with the World Cup on the horizon - Rashford showed why he has to be in the starting line-up in Russia. With Martial absent through injury, his inclusion on the left of United's attacking quartet proved a masterstroke. After biding his time on the sidelines, Rashford was unleashed on the unsuspecting Scousers. Alexis Sanchez may have arrived a few weeks ago with the present in mind, but Rashford is still very much the future. Still only 20, his quality is there for all to see. Louis van Gaal - justifiably so - had his critics from his largely unsuccessful time at the helm, but his faith in youth, none more so the breakthrough of Rashford, remains his overriding Old Trafford legacy.

 His lack of playing time clearly hasn't affected his confidence or ability, and he took to his task with aplomb. Given the job of taking on Liverpool right-back Trent Alexander - Arnold at every opportunity, the young defender was bamboozled time and again as he had no answer to Marcus' pace, penetration and direct running. His two goals were exquisite, the first one in particular. He latched on to Romelu Lukaku's flick on, pulled the ball down, dragged it back inside T A-A like he wasn't there and curled a sublime finish beyond the reach of Loris Karius. His second had an element of luck about it as he seized on a loose ball in the box, but he still had a lot to do and did so with aplomb, to apply an almost carbon copy finish past the stranded keeper. Two goals in ten minutes and the game almost won. This has probably been the most challenging and turbulent season of his fledgling career so far, but it was always going to be impossible for him to maintain his level after the pressure and expectation placed on his slender shoulders after that blistering start. After all, form is temporary, class is permanent.

In front of the watching national manager Gareth Southgate, there couldn't have been a more apt afternoon for Rashford to throw down a marker and send out a message.

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