There was a point at which Marcus Rashford’s Manchester United future looked to be at risk, at the very least under scrutiny. It was midway through last season, when the young forward was struggling for first team opportunities as Jose Mourinho made his mark on the squad at Old Trafford. This, they said, was typical of the former Chelsea and Real Madrid manager.
Mourinho doesn’t give chances to young players, after all. That’s what the stereotype says of the Portuguese and not so long ago Rashford was predicted to be a victim of that. Since then, however, the 19-year-old has done his best to dispel that particular aspect of Mourinho’s reputation.
Indeed, Rashford has become a key player for Man Utd under Mourinho, demonstrated by his performance against Basel in the Champions League last. Coming off the bench, he found the net to give his side a 3-0 lead, completing the scoring against the Swiss visitors to Old Trafford.
The teenager has now scored four goals in his last six games, following on from strikes against Leicester City, Stoke City and Malta and Slovakia in back to back England internationals. So frequently, the final product is the last thing to be added to a young player’s game, but Rashford is blessed with the gift for finding it. He is an inherently productive talent.
Of course, Man Utd aren’t without their choice of exceptional attacking players. Romelu Lukaku has hit the ground running at his new club, already reaching 10 goals for club and country this season, with Henrikh Mkhitayran, Juan Mata and Anthony Martial also impressing at various points over the past few weeks.
It’s the form of the latter, Martial, that is most interesting when evaluating the importance of Rashford to this Manchester United side. The Frenchman and the England International tend to share the same position, with one starting and the other coming off the bench.
But while Martial has played well early on this season, can Mourinho refuse Rashford the permanent starting spot for any longer? He seems to hold the key to unlocking Man Utd’s attacking potential, playing in a more central position to Martial. That, in turn, seems to get the best out of Lukaku in the process.
United were far too one dimensional last season. With Zlatan Ibrahimovic leading the line, they were too quick to launch the ball up to the commanding Swede in the hope that he would hold it up, bringing others into the game. It worked at times, but for the most part, it eliminated the natural dynamism Moutinho’s team possessed across the attacking line.
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Lukaku is a more suitable frontman, with the Belgian willing to run the channels and drive at opposition defences in a way Ibrahimovic wasn’t last season. However, Rashford has also been a factor in the rise of the new, faster, more dynamic Man Utd team, giving the Old Trafford side another dimension in the final third.
Mourinho recognised the need for this dimension over the summer, targeting Antoine Griezmann in an attempt to find it. The deal for the Atletico Madrid striker fell through, but in Rashford he already had a player to provide what he was looking for. The 19-year-old stretches the pitch with his pace, opening up space for others while carrying a goal threat of his own. He might not be Griezmann, but Rashford is performing the role that Mourinho planned to be filled by the Frenchman.
Much is demanded of Rashford, with the weight of English footballing expectation piled on his still young shoulders. But nobody demands more from their players than Mourinho, and at present the teenager is delivering on everything that has been asked of him and more.