Monday 16 September 2019

Faltering Rashford in firing line as late winner papers over cracks

Manchester United's Marcus Rashford. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire
Manchester United's Marcus Rashford. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

James Ducker

Jose Mourinho almost sounded like he was doing Marcus Rashford a favour by starting him at centre-forward. "They are always asking for Rashford to play, so you cannot complain that Rashford is playing as a No 9," the Manchester United manager said, again underlining that no one can damn people with faint praise quite like him.

By "they", one must assume Mourinho was referring to the media and, in particular, the pundits he has had a long running beef with and, to a lesser extent, the supporters. But did he not consider for a moment how Rashford himself might have felt hearing that? Or, for that matter, "people like Fred", as Mourinho rather witheringly referred to his £52 million signing.

It hardly sounded like a vote of confidence in Rashford, a call to arms ahead of what the manager had admitted was a very big game.

With Romelu Lukaku without a goal in 11 matches and dropped to the bench alongside Paul Pogba, Mourinho needed a big performance from the England striker but gave the impression of a man grumbling that this was all he had as back-up to the Belgian.

Mourinho was shaking his head at Rashford as early as the fifth minute, when the 20-year-old lifted the ball a foot over the crossbar with just David von Ballmoos, the Young Boys goalkeeper, to beat.

In fact, he spent a lot of the night shaking his head at Rashford. Rashford should have scored - he knew it as well as anyone - and a goal at that early stage would have alleviated so much of the pressure that would gradually come to build on a team who look frightened playing at Old Trafford. But it cannot be easy playing in an environment where tension is stoked as much by the manager and his frequent barbs and rebukes as poor results.

If there is such a thing as trying too hard in football, Rashford was the embodiment of it. He worked tirelessly, ran the channels, got into good positions but in front of goal he looked every inch a player who had scored only once at Old Trafford since mid-March but Marouane Fellaini's last-gasp winner papered over the alarming cracks.

Rashford, Martial and Lingard have scored eight goals between them at Old Trafford in 2018. To put that into context, it is one more than Raheem Sterling has scored in his last nine appearances at the Etihad Stadium for Manchester City.

But then United did not even need to kick a ball last night for so many of their problems to be laid bare. The sight of Pogba and Lukaku, all £164m of them, on the bench, and £500,000-a-week Alexis Sanchez not even in the squad, told us much about the extent of the dysfunction. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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