Marcus Rashford looks a liberated soul under the guidance of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Manchester United striker on the scoresheet as well as having a hand in one of Paul Pogba's goals as 1-0-man United run riot over Bournemouth
Manchester United could not have hoped for a better start to their 4-1 win against Bournemouth. The clock was about to tick into a fourth minute when Marcus Rashford went past two defenders with an outrageous act of skill, sashaying over the ball and using his quick feet to get beyond Nathan Ake. Dancing like that in the Hacienda is one thing, doing it below the 20LEGEND flag in front of 75,000 fans with three opponents trying to dispossess him quite another.
Rashford then beat Diego Rico and curved a low ball into the six-yard box where Paul Pogba was in an advanced position to meet it. Would Pogba have been so advanced under Jose Mourinho?
As Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who had praised Rashford effusively before Saturday's match, embraced fellow coach Kieran McKenna and hugged Mike Phelan, United fans at both ends of Old Trafford sang: “We’ve got Rashford, Paul Pogba and Fred,” to the tune of The Stone Roses’ Waterfall.
United were playing through Bournemouth’s three centre-halves with ease, while Rashford kept the pressure up on goalkeeper Asmir Begovic. The Mancunian doesn’t always look like a natural No 9 and he still has much to learn. Aside from Wayne Rooney, which 21-year-old English striker hasn’t?
Rashford’s own song about him being red soon followed. It was his eighth consecutive Premier League start, his second longest run after a spell under Louis van Gaal, the man who gave him his debut. Mourinho called Rashford "the head of youth talent" at the club, but while he featured in many games, he wanted more minutes – and ideally in the central striker's role he is enjoying under Solskjaer.
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He had scored five times and made five assists so far this season before setting Pogba up, but his stats shouldn’t be compared to other No 9s because he has seldom played in that role.
Pogba got his and United’s second after 33 minutes, exposing the lack of height in the Bournemouth defence as he jumped high to head a superb Ander Herrera cross in.
Rashford made it 3-0 after 44 minutes. Matic played a long ball to Anthony Martial – another seemingly liberated soul under the new caretaker manager. The Parisian flicked it towards the far post for Rashford to finish from four yards out.
Bournemouth replied immediately, which is the norm since this United side are incapable of keeping clean sheets. David Brookes, once of Manchester City and impressive in his first top-flight season, crafting a goal for Nathan Ake to head in.
“We’re gonna win 4-3" sang 1,800 travelling Bournemouth fans in good humour. There are still gaps in United’s defence that sterner foes will exploit – and Eric Bailly’s 79th minute red card after a reckless and needless challenge drew sighs from fans who would love to see some stability in defence - but with more goals flying in at the other end, fans can live with that for now.
Mourinho said a few weeks ago that a player can’t work on his finishing, the implication being that you have either got it or not. Solskjaer vehemently disagrees, says that he wasn’t born a finisher – so who is better to teach United’s No 10 to finish?
Rashford’s trickery was too much for Bournemouth’s players as United set about a third straight win under the Norwegian. In the 63rd minute, Diego Rico’s solution – and revenge for that first goal? – was to boot him in the ankle. Two minutes later, Pogba threaded a ball forward to Rashford, but Begovic, who had conceded five goals against Tottenham Hotspur on Boxing Day, came out quickly to limit Rashford’s space.
Rashford received a standing ovation when he was replaced by Romelu Lukaku after 69 minutes. The Stretford End also rose to applaud him as he went immediately to the dressing room. He can now prepare for Wednesday’s trip to Newcastle United. Lukaku wasted no time with a goal of his own – scored after just two minutes with his first touch to make it 4-1. Old Trafford was bouncing, the atmosphere better than at any point all season. The mood is unrecognisable from the last days of Mourinho.
Solskjaer has been insistent about the quality of players in United’s attack. He still has Alexis Sanchez to return. If he can get a tune out of the Chilean like he has got from Pogba, Rashford and, on the brief evidence of this match, Lukaku, then United’s recovery should remain firmly on track.
Updated: December 30, 2018 10:34 PM