Hard work starts now, Van Gaal tells Rashford
Louis van Gaal has warned Marcus Rashford that life is about to get significantly more difficult now he has made such a big impression at Manchester United.
Rashford has made a spectacular start to his senior career by scoring four goals in his first two games for the club after being promoted from the youth set-up.
The 18-year-old scored twice on his debut as Danish champions Midtjylland were defeated in the Europa League last Thursday, and followed it up with two more goals in a 3-2 Premier League victory over Arsenal on Sunday.
Van Gaal is confident of the teenager’s ability to handle the extra attention that is coming his way, but is still wary of placing too much responsibility on his shoulders.
For that reason, the manager is reluctant even to guarantee that Rashford will retain his place in the starting line-up when Watford visit Old Trafford this evening.
Wayne Rooney will remain out of action for around another month with the knee ligament damage he sustained a fortnight ago, but Anthony Martial is in contention to return after missing the last two games with a hamstring injury.
It was Martial’s injury, suffered during the warm-up before last week’s match against Midtjylland, that gave Rashford his chance, and Van Gaal is pleased with the way that the Manchester-born forward has responded.
Van Gaal said: “You never know if a player can cope with the rhythm of your team until you give him a chance. He did it very well.
“But I always say that it is not so difficult the first time because the player is so focused. Now the pressure shall increase for him because everyone is looking at him in another way.
“After four goals, the fans are expecting the fifth goal. But he has certain qualities. He can score goals and that’s because he sniffs out a situation before other players can.”
Van Gaal’s policy of keeping a small squad has forced him to call up a host of players from the club’s academy as injuries have restricted his options. United’s manager has indicated that Rashford’s progress with the academy was a key reason why he did not push to sign a striker in January.
He said: “I did not buy a third striker, so Marcus had a chance. He was on the bench at Watford earlier in the season. He was having a very good period.
“He might have come in for that match but we played another system, and Memphis Depay and Jesse Lingard played very well.
“We have a small squad and have no more than two senior players for each position, so you can give an opportunity to a youngster.”
United’s injury concerns are beginning to ease as, in addition to Martial, defenders Matteo Darmian and Chris Smalling are in contention to face Watford after recovering from shoulder injuries.
Midfielder Marouane Fellaini is back in training after three weeks out with a hamstring injury, while wing-back Antonio Valencia is also getting closer to a return, having not played since the end of October because of a broken foot.
Van Gaal, meanwhile, has dismissed claims that Rooney needs an operation on his knee.
“He does not need an operation,” the manager said. “He may even be back in March.”