HomeSportsFootballRashford is a Man United modern icon after latest scoring exploits

Rashford is a Man United modern icon after latest scoring exploits

Erik ten Hag dropped Wout Weghorst and Manchester United scored in the Premier League again. That was no coincidence. Without the non-scoring striker, United instead benefited from a forward in increasingly distinguished company. Marcus Rashford delivered their first top-flight goal since 19 February and restored them to the top four – a modicum of revenge for August’s thrashing by Brentford.

In a tale of United attackers past and present, he finds himself in more illustrious company than Weghorst, who has been an incongruous presence as a United striker. Rashford belongs rather more naturally in a grand tradition. His 121st United goal moved him level with Andy Cole. His former manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, on 126, looks catchable by the end of the season, perhaps even by the end of the month.

Rashford has 28 for the campaign, though it is still more remarkable 20 of them have come since the World Cup, and it is the joint most for United in a season since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, matching the tallies achieved by Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Bruno Fernandes. For weeks, however, Rashford has looked set to become the first since Robin van Persie to reach 30. Then Wayne Rooney’s twin bests of 34 will be in his sights.

He has proved prolific while creating a conundrum for Ten Hag. For much of the time, Rashford has been both his best left winger and his finest available striker. This time the dilemma was resolved by playing him through the middle; Weghorst’s ineffectual display against Newcastle led to his belated omission. There had been an element of obstinacy in persisting with the willing loanee for so long but the most obvious alternative proved the right one.

Rashford made for a sharper, speedier presence, bringing zip in the channels and purpose in the box. And, crucially, a goal, United’s first in the league since Leicester were overcome. A 327-minute drought was ended emphatically. After Brentford cleared a corner, Antony’s ball back into the box was headed down by Marcel Sabitzer and hit on the half-volley by Rashford, lifting his shot into the roof of the net.

It underlined a theme of the season: time and again when United had needed someone to produce something, Rashford has obliged. They perhaps should have scored more goals, with Scott McTominay’s half-volley whizzing over, Antony’s trademark curler going just wide and the substitute Fred skying a shot, but Rashford’s one sufficed as, for just the second time in 17 league games, Thomas Frank’s team lost.

If United’s previous meeting with Brentford was traumatic, this was rather more cathartic. Their 4-0 August evisceration was harrowing, Sunday’s loss at Newcastle a reminder that bad habits, as Ten Hag had termed them, are not fully shed. There were glimpses of a self-destructive streak – when David de Gea slammed a clearance into Ivan Toney, he was relieved to see the rebound fly wide – but the goalkeeper redeemed himself with a vital block from the substitute Kevin Schade.

United players celebrate their victory


In general, however, this was a much improved display. This time, Brentford did not run 13.8km further than United – not with McTominay covering many a mile in midfield – and comparisons could help illustrate how far they have come. Rewind eight months and the striker to start against Brentford was Cristiano Ronaldo: Rashford was on the wing, without a goal since January but on the cusp of a revival. A dark day for United came before a new dawn for Rashford, who scored in the following week’s win over Liverpool.

Defeats can bring rethinks. Ten Hag made a sole change to the starting 11 after the Newcastle game but rejigged his side. With Rashford leading the line, Jadon Sancho came in for Weghorst and brought a brightness with some jinking runs. The midfield was reconfigured: Sabitzer operated as the No 10 this time and fared better than he had on Tyneside.

Rashford reverted to the left wing after a substitution, but the striker brought on was Anthony Martial, not Weghorst. That remains Ten Hag’s preferred configuration but this was just the Frenchman’s third cameo since January. He has been a spectator for almost all of Weghorst’s odd reign as United’s regular No 9. But if Martial stays fit, if Ten Hag takes the view Rashford’s potency is required in the middle when he is not on the pitch, it may be over.

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