Monday 20 August 2018

United starlet makes light of ring-rust to deliver knockout blows

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho gives instructions to Marcus Rashford during the match against Liverpool. Photo: Andrew Yates/Reuters
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho gives instructions to Marcus Rashford during the match against Liverpool. Photo: Andrew Yates/Reuters

James Ducker

This was the first time since his unforgettable Premier League debut against Arsenal two years ago that Marcus Rashford had scored twice in a game and, much like then, this was a textbook definition of how to seize an opportunity.

It was proving a frustrating 2018 for Rashford even before Alexis Sanchez pitched up in late January and threw another obstacle in his path but this was a very timely reminder, not just to Jose Mourinho but the watching England manager Gareth Southgate, of the penetrative qualities and particular skill-set of the young Manchester United striker.

Rashford could not have imagined when he lined up against Burnley on St Stephen's Day that he would have to wait another 74 days for another start in the league, but two decisive goals against Liverpool will help to soften that blow a little and doubtless lift his confidence which, as Mourinho later acknowledged, had dipped recently.

It is probably symptomatic of the challenge Rashford faces to nail down a regular starting spot in this side that it was he, and not the underwhelming Sanchez, who made way for Marouane Fellaini with 20 minutes of this full-blooded game still to play. The sustained boos that circulated the moment Rashford's No 19 went up on the fourth official's board told you all you needed to know about Old Trafford's reaction to that decision.

But Rashford had already made his point by then with two moments in the space of 10 first-half minutes that will have been a source of comfort to Southgate, who had been getting quite anxious about the 20-year-old's lack of playing time.

It is all well and good Mourinho saying Rashford will go to the World Cup with England this summer so long as Southgate trusts him. That already seemed beyond doubt. But there is a big difference between being trusted and actually having the minutes under your belt and the momentum the England manager's wants in his players going into the tournament in Russia. In fairness, there was nothing ring-rusty about the way Rashford took his first goal. He had anticipated Romelu Lukaku's knock-down from David De Gea's long ball to get the run on the inside of Liverpool's similarly youthful right-back, Trent Alexander-Arnold, but there was still a lot to do, even if he made it all look rather effortless.

Cutting inside Alexander-Arnold with the deftest turn, Rashford created the opening beautifully for himself and steered a wonderfully accurate finish into the far corner beyond Loris Karius. The ensuing celebration, charging to the corner flag and throwing himself into the arms of jubilant fans, said everything about what scoring in this fixture means as a Mancunian. With Anthony Martial ruled out through injury, Mourinho said it had been a no-brainer to play Rashford and he will be glad he did.

That contest between Rashford and Alexander-Arnold, two local boys on opposite sides of the divide, had proved a mismatch for the majority of the first half. The Liverpool defender looked uncomfortable against the pace and quick thinking of his opponent.

Still, there was a moment when Rashford almost lost his head. Having already been booked for diving in on James Milner, he came perilously close to picking up a second yellow card with an ill-advised challenge on Alexander-Arnold and, by his own admission, he told himself to calm it at the interval. But this, otherwise, was a level-headed display and certainly hard to believe he had played only 97 minutes of league football since the turn of the year.

It also says a lot about the standards Rashford keeps that he cast such a critical eye over his first touch in the lead-up to that opening goal. "My first touch was actually a bad touch, I couldn't finish it in my stride so I had to sort of revive it, recover it with the second touch, and the rest of it was quite simple from there," he said. "It gives you the confidence to do more." Telegraph

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