When Marcus Rashford took down Paul Pogba’s perfectly weighted pass in the 44th minute at Wembley on Sunday, all Manchester United fans would be forgiven for expecting him to waste the chance.
This is a hugely-talented young forward who has played in, and sometimes scored in, a large number of intense, elite-level games on a domestic, European and international stage. However, his finishing can be off, the composure isn’t always there. Or at least, it hasn’t been for the entirety of his first three seasons in the United first team.
No one should have been overly critical of a 21-year-old occasionally missing chances. But now, the ‘Manc born and bred’ Rashford is showing new levels of quality. Caretaker United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has already worked on the Englishman’s composure in front of goal and it showed with his winner at Wembley.
Even before Solskjaer replaced Jose Mourinho, Rashford was showing new confidence and effectiveness. But that goal summed up how good Rashford really is. This was the one chance in a big game that elite strikers have to finish to be just that. He is not yet at the level of Harry Kane, whom Solskjaer believes Rashford can eclipse, but he is rapidly developing now after a couple of seasons of slow progress.
Solskjaer’s tactics help hugely. Rashford thrives when he is making runs off the shoulder of a defender and running onto balls from an undeniably talented midfielder like, say, Paul Pogba.
For a player who has spent much of the early part of his career playing on the wing for United, Rashford’s record of 40 goals in 149 games for the club is superb. After the same number of games, Cristiano Ronaldo had netted 31. He soon developed his game to become an insatiable goalscorer, and while Rashford will never reach the preposterous levels of his childhood idol, he is on his way to making himself United’s long-term striker.
Critics silenced with consistency of quality
Form is temporary, of course. Rashford is in a purple patch, but he has quickly made his critics cower into a corner. With a smile, the Wythenshawe-born kid from Manchester is devouring defences with pace, intelligent movement and now, finally, composure. Never forget, he’s only 21.