Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag was adamant when he first took charge that improving the defence took first priority considering the record goals let in by the club last season.
And while conceding goals has gone down drastically, scoring them has proved to be tougher than had been thought.
With Cristiano Ronaldo, goals were said to be a guarantee but the Portuguese eventually found the going too tough under Ten Hag and decided an explosive interview was the best way to jump ship. Enter local hero Marcus Rashford.
The Mancunian has not only had to contend with Ronaldo’s departure but also persistent injury woes of the team’s only recognised No 9 in Anthony Martial.
Rashford’s evolution is a joy to behold
And while many would have shied away from the challenge of taking up the goalscorer’s mantle, the 25-year-old has revelled in it.
It is a sea change from the Rashford of last season, who would let his head drop at the slightest hint of pressure, with plenty of fans calling for the club to sell their academy’s crown jewel.
Steve McClaren, assistant coach under the Dutch boss, had said prior to taking up the United role that Rashford had the potential to grow into one of the most fearsome forwards in the world but needed to have the right guidance.
— MUFC Data (@MUFCData) February 7, 2023
And that has arrived this season courtesy the Dutchman and his entourage of coaches. After scoring his 19th goal of the season, Rashford’s social media post had a comment from United coach Benni McCarthy, tasked with coaching the club’s forwards and it said, “Keep the fire burning.” Simple words but words that the 25-year-old might have finally taken to heart.
The academy graduate has always been a scorer of great goals ever since he started representing the club’s youth sides. Any highlights reels from those days will show the youngster shooting with his strange, yet super-effective technique from distance and scoring.
And that trend has continued in his senior career with his opener against Arsenal the perfect example. But former manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had said that Rashford not only needs to score great goals, but also become a great goal-scorer.
And there are certain examples that show Rashford might finally be catching up.
Rashford has added the missing piece
The England international has scored 11 times in his last 13 appearances and that run is even more impressive considering the fact that he has scored in all but three of the matches played since he returned from the World Cup, where he was severely under-utilised.
And since coming back to United, the Manchester-born star has shown how he has built up his repertoire this season.
Scrappy and scruffy goals that define an elite-level striker have finally been added to his trademark sublime solo strikes. Rashford continues to be unplayable down the left when given the chance to run at the opposition full-back, but he has also developed a ruthless streak as a centre-forward.
The last month couldn't have gone better for me. On a personal note, it's the first time I've won these awards together and hopefully not the last. Thank you to my teammates, the coaches, my family and the fans for helping me to win these awards. 🔴 #PremierLeague #ManUnited pic.twitter.com/Aw9XD5iO6a
— Marcus Rashford (@MarcusRashford) February 3, 2023
Take the goals against Crystal Palace and Manchester City in the Manchester derby as an example. The Rashford of old would have stayed out wide and tried a solo flick or cut inside to find a shooting angle for himself.
But this time around, the Englishman stayed in the penalty box and placed himself between the two centre-backs like a poacher, waiting for the right opportunity.
And Alejandro Garnacho and Luke Shaw presented Rashford with those opportunities, and he took them in style, manoeuvreing his body in such a way that he could guide the ball past the keeper. Goals legendary United strikers of the past like Solskjaer and Ruud van Nistelrooy would be proud of.
Rashford’s goals have rescued United
Many times, the United frontman has been guilty of trying to blast the ball past the keeper. But not any more, as he has tried to place the ball past the keeper this season despite being under pressure.
This can be seen from his goals against arch-rivals Liverpool and Arsenal at home. Now add two headed goals, including a great leap to score against West Ham, and Rashford is evolving at just the right time for United.
This should strike fear into opposition who were earlier afraid of the rampaging Rashford down the left. But now he lurks in the box as well and can change the complexion of the game in an instant and his statistics should give us all pause.
From a scorer of great goals to a great goalscorer, Manchester born-and-bred Marcus Rashford has finally arrived.
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