LONDON: Marcus Rashford has always had the tools to become a world-class forward, now he has added a clinical touch to his searing pace and box of tricks.
The 22-year-old already has 13 goals for United this season – equalling his best-ever return for the club in a single campaign and is the undisputed leader of the team’s attack.
Just weeks ago Rashford was struggling for goals in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s misfiring team, finding the net just once between the opening day of the season and the match against Liverpool on Oct 20.
But then things clicked for the former United trainee and he has scored regularly for club and country, including three in his past two appearances, against Tottenham and defending champions Manchester City.
His goals have lifted United to fifth in the table, five points behind fourth-placed Chelsea, after an unbeaten run of five Premier League games, with Everton to come at home on Sunday.
Playing mostly on the left side of United’s lightning-quick attack alongside Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial and Daniel James, Rashford frightens defenders with his blistering pace and trickery.
Solskjaer spoke in glowing terms of Rashford after his two goals in the recent 2-1 win against Tottenham.
“The boy is 22 and he played like he was in the backyard, garden or playground with his mates,” said United’s Norwegian boss, who has compared his attributes with former United player Cristiano Ronaldo, who also took time to become a prolific goalscorer.
“Sometimes, maybe, there is expectation and pressure on him because we do expect a lot from him, as he has shown (what he can do) so many times.”
The elegant Rashford says he is tougher on himself than any critic and has talked about minor adjustments he has made to his game.
“Just little stuff like, for me holding off defenders is a big one,” he said in an interview with former England player Gary Lineker for Goalhanger Films.
“It’s something that I speak about quite often a lot with my brothers who see me play all the way through. I always say if you’re trying too hard to do it then you’re not quite at your maximum.”
“I feel like this season I’m doing little stuff that shows that it’s becoming a bit more natural and easier,” he added.
Rashford’s dream is to play as the focal point of United’s attack.
“I want to be able to play in all positions,” he said.
“No 9 is obviously the dream but for me in this day and age now, it’s ideal to be as effective as you are in No 9, on the left and the right.”
Rashford made his debut as an 18-year-old under the leadership of Louis van Gaal in February 2016, scoring twice against Midtjylland and then repeating the feat against Arsenal a few days later.
He was immediately taken to heart by United fans hungry for a home-grown superstar to bring back the good times to Old Trafford.
But the weight of expectation has at times appeared to hang heavy. He struggled to pin down a permanent starting place and his goals return has often been sub-par.
In his defence he has been used as a substitute many times. He has played 191 times for United, scoring 58 times, but he has come off the bench 62 times.
But now, established under Solskjaer, Rashford speaks positively about how the boss, a former striker at United, has infused the side with attacking intent.
“The way we train and prepare for games, it’s about us and what we can do to hurt them, not how we’re going to stop them,” he said.
“We do speak about obviously the opposition and what threats they possess but the first thing he says is about ‘how are we going to score goals?’ Mentally that gives you a big push going into games.”