A player many were ready for Manchester United to sell. A winger afraid of taking on his man. A forward incapable of scoring goals. How far detached do these statements seem from Marcus Rashford now?
Although the opening two goals against Everton have been marked as assists, Rashford’s crucial and spectacular involvement in both can effectively rule them as his goals.
One year on from a dire situation at the club – when many were questioning the Englishman’s capabilities and whether he had the stature to play for United, or, to play for a top Premier League club – and opposition players, staff, and fans are now fearful of the left forward.
Noticeably, Rashford lost possession against Everton on 20 occasions – but the fact that seven of these was through unsuccessful dribbles is a positive.
He is unafraid to take on defenders anymore, no matter how many times he has failed, at any stage of the match. The Rashford of last year would have downed tools at the first unsuccessful attempt.
He was still eager to test out Ben Godfrey’s tired legs in the 88th minute, a testament to his eagerness, dedication, and ruthlessness. But some days it just does not pan out.
13 goals and five assists under Erik ten Hag is demonstrative of the new manager’s impact on the ill-performing Rashford.
Indeed, the Wythenshaw-native has produced similar attacking output in previous seasons, but not to this overall consistency and not with this determined ferocity.
Ten Hag has brought stability to United on and off the pitch. The disciplined nature of his managerial style is undoubtedly paying dividends to the revitalised culture and attitude within the dressing room.
The signings of Lisandro Martínez and Casemiro have made the defence and midfield secure and of elite quality, enabling the forwards to feel relaxed in the final third as well as igniting quick attacks.
The coaching philosophy is helping too. Ten Hag, in seeking Dutch Total Football, wants his attackers to be direct in penetrating the opponent’s half with and without the ball and confident in taking on defenders. Rashford is ticking each of these boxes.
“Nobody can stop Rashford when he is like he was tonight,” said United’s manager following the Everton fixture.
“It’s more about bringing him in the right position – he has to do it – but make sure as a team we create spaces so he’s coming as a strength.
“Marcus is doing really well but also is the team to get the right shape so he can bring his strengths in and then he’s unstoppable with his speed, with his dribbles, with his directness.”
Indeed, many were optimistic upon Ten Hag’s announcement as manager that the tide would soon turn positive for Rashford.
The Dutchman has a track record of turning forwards into ruthless goalscorers, creating a system in which they are allowed to blossom. It is perhaps this reason why Rashford chose to give his United career one last stab amidst Paris Saint-Germain’s strong interest in August.
United’s attack may currently be revolving around Rashford, but as Ten Hag underlines, it is the team’s negotiation in movement and shape which allows him the opportunities to flourish.
Furthermore, the 25 year old’s natural tendencies to engage in build-up play is commendable and helpful to a strikerless United relying on runs from deep.
His ability to play a through ball from the left side halfway up the pitch is becoming high calibre and a common occurrence.
Not all of the credit can be lauded on the Ajax renaissance at Old Trafford. Rashford has displayed his personal drive and desire to be one of the best before.
Called out by José Mourinho for being physically inept? Okay, he’ll go to America and work out all summer during his holidays and come back looking like an athletic specimen.
After all, Louis van Gaal did highlight that the ability to handle criticism is one of Rashford’s greatest assets.
Called out by pundits, fans, and social media for not being focussed on sport during the exceptional free meal campaign? No problem, he’ll finish the season with 17 goals and be awarded third in FWA Premier League Player of the Year.
Mental, physical, or form. Rashford has shown that he can overcome the perennial struggles involved in professional high-level sport.
As Casemiro stated last week, United’s left forward can become one of the best players in the world.
And with his own drive, application, and confidence in ability, under the stewardship of Ten Hag this might just be realised sooner than we think.