Marcus Rashford proves again to be the man for the big occasion for Manchester United
The English forward has netted key goals in the past for United and he struck two more in the 2-1 victory over Liverpool.
Manchester United have bigger name players, but Marcus Rashford has settled plenty of the biggest games in recent years.
At the age of 20 he has already scored the only goal in a Manchester derby at the Etihad Stadium, netted twice on his United debut at 18 and scored two more in his next game against Arsenal.
Add to that a key goal in the semi-final of a Europa League tie – and the strike that got his team to the final which they would go on to win.
His favourite goal came in an away FA Cup quarter-final tie at West Ham United in 2016, and again it would prove pivotal as United went on to lift the trophy.
Rashford might have to reassess that favourite goal label now for on Saturday at Old Trafford, he scored two first half goals in 10 minutes against Liverpool to help his side triumph 2-1. They were his 11th and 12th goals of the season as he surpassed his goal total for last term.
“He scored two goals in a big match against a top class opponent,” said United manager Jose Mourinho when asked what Rashford had done right in his first league start of 2018.
“The first chance he had, he scored. The last few months that was not happening with him and he was feeling that a little bit in terms of his self-confidence. Today we trusted him and felt the game would be adapted to his qualities.”
Rashford features regularly for United, but he has started in only 14 of United’s 29 league games.
The arrival of Alexis Sanchez in January has not helped his minutes on the pitch, but even before the Chilean arrived, Rashford was not in his best form.
Rashford had scored only once in his previous eight league starts. Inconsistent young attacking players, from Cristiano Ronaldo to Ryan Giggs and Anthony Martial, are nothing new at Old Trafford. The key is that they traditionally get time to develop and improve.
Jose Mourinho rates Rashford as the best young United player and fielded the Mancunian 53 times last season. With Martial injured, he had no doubt in trusting Rashford to perform in United’s starting line-up against Liverpool – explaining just why he did so afterwards.
“He’s improving a lot in training. The media and fans are not in the training ground to see the self confidence, mood and feeling,” Mourinho said.
Mourinho’s decision was quickly vindicated as Rashford’s pace enabled him to stretch Liverpool’s defence as he made runs to get behind them.
Rashford’s opener came after 14 minutes when he headed on a bouncing ball which Romelu Lukaku had won in the air, pushed the ball back beyond Trent Alexander-Arnold with his left foot before shooting with his right into the top right corner of the goal.
“Could Trent have done better? Probably,” admitted Jurgen Klopp, the Liverpool manager, who otherwise defended his full back. “It was a brilliant goal from Rashford.”
Rashford did not quite agree. “My first touch was a bad touch, I could not finish my stride, I had to revive it. It gives you the confidence to do more.”
The second came ten minutes after when he showed impressive technique before again striking the ball across goal into the far corner with his right foot.
Rashford was again modest. “The second one fell to me perfectly. When the ball falls to you like that I was sure it would go in.”
“For one team a big boost, the other a big blow,” was how Klopp assessed the two quick goals, which ended his team’s seven game unbeaten run.
Rashford was visibly confident and admitted later that he had to rein in his exuberance: “I needed to calm down in the first half, try and relax and play the game”. He was booked after a tackle on James Milner after 26 minutes.
Then he was cheered after striking a long ball forward into Milner’s head, flooring the Liverpool captain. He played one-twos with Juan Mata, who was supposed to be on the other side of the pitch, tackled and headed a ball from goalkeeper David de Gea. Like his team, Rashford was aggressive, direct and intense.
The goals from United’s number 19 won the game, but United were excellent in the first half. Eric Bailly’s return was welcomed and he was fast in a furious first half, though his own goal was unfortunate.
Scott McTominay played with the composure of a man with 180 appearances, not 18, cutting out passes and doing exactly what his manager asked of him.
Lukaku continued to show that he’s far more than just a No 9, keeping Virgil van Dijk and Dejan Lovren busy. Ashley Young contained Mohamed Salah.
Rashford came off with 20 minutes to play to be replaced by Marouanne Fellaini in a tactical substitution.
In front of the watching England manager Gareth Southgate who had said that Rashford needed more minutes on the pitch if he is to have a chance of going to the World Cup in Russia, the Mancunian had his best game of the season.
“It’s tight for second and we want to get that spot,” said Rashford, who had seized the opportunity he was given to start. “It’s been partly been patience but you have to be ready for your chance. When moments like this happen it is no surprise.”
Updated: March 10, 2018 08:51 PM