Marcus Rashford made his first-team debut for Manchester united in unprecedented circumstances.
A part of Louis van Gaal’s injury-riddled side in 2016, he was named on the bench for an important UEFA Europa League round of 32 second leg tie against Midtjyland FC. He ended up in the starting line-up after Anthony Martial got injured during the pre-match warm-up.
Unfazed by the circumstances, the 18-year-old put in a brilliant performance, scoring two second-half goals as United cruised to a 5-1 home win.
He repeated the feat three days later in the Premier League when Arsenal came visiting, scoring two and setting up a third as United beat the Gunners 3-2. A star was born.
Since then he’s gone on to score 64 times for Manchester United, establishing himself as a key player under current manager Ole Gunner Solskjaer.
The journey from prospect to starter wasn’t straightforward for Marcus, however. Louis van Gaal often deployed the young Englishman as a center-forward, but upon the arrival of Jose Mourinho, that position was swiftly filled by someone with a much more imposing presence.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic was signed to lead Mourinho’s frontline which meant Marcus had to settle for stints out wide. Never one to complain, he worked hard for the team whenever he was selected and went on to make 125 appearances in two and a half seasons under the Portuguese boss.
He produced some stellar moments under Jose, helping Manchester United to their first-ever UEFA Europa League triumph in 2017. When Ibrahimovic got injured in the quarter-final against Anderlecht, it was Rashford who stepped up and delivered.
He scored the winning goal in the 107th minute of the game, with a deft heel chop to beat his marker and a left-footed low finish into the bottom left corner.
His heroics continued in the semi-finals against Spanish outfit Celta Vigo. In the first leg, he got the crucial away goal with a wonderfully struck free-kick to help secure a 1-0 win for Mourinho’s men at the Estadio Municipal de Balaidos. In the return leg, he provided the assist for Marouane Fellaini to equalize, as United held on for a 1-1 draw at home.
By the start of the 2017/18 season, Rashford had established himself as a regular in Jose’s Manchester United. However, the arrival of Romelu Lukaku from Everton for a reported fee of around £75 million meant that he had to continue to ply his trade out wide.
Marcus helped United finish second in the Premier League that season, making 35 appearances and scoring seven times in the league, including two wonderful goals against fierce rivals Liverpool.
He then went on to represent the Three Lions at the 2018 FIFA World cup before returning to Manchester to begin the 2018/19 season. At the start of the season, Marcus was entrusted the with number 10 shirt, a number previously worn by Manchester United’s record scorer, Wayne Rooney.
A huge responsibility, but also a sign of increased faith from the gaffer and the club as a whole. A Manc born and bred, wearing an iconic number, and playing for Manchester United.
Halfway through that campaign however, Jose Mourinho was given the sack after a 3-1 loss at Anfield. Marcus has since gone on to enjoy unarguably the best spell of his career under Mourinho’s replacement Ole Gunner Solskjaer.
The debate continued over his best position on the pitch and how best to deploy the young, pacey, eccentric Englishman. Ole initially deviated from the Mourinho approach and tried playing Rashford as a center-forward.
The approach seemed to work for some time as Rashford enjoyed a purple patch, scoring 7 goals in his first 16 appearances under Solskjaer, including a pressure penalty against Paris Saint Germain in the UEFA Champions League round of 16, winning the tie for Manchester United.
That form wasn’t sustained, as United got knocked out in the next round of the Champions League by FC Barcelona and missed out on a top-four finish in the league as they stumbled across the finish line that season, with Rashford netting just twice in his next 11 appearances.
Something needed to change and, in the 19/20 season, it did. Marcus was returned to the left flank but with a different role. This time he was tasked with cutting in from the left with the options of shooting or combining with teammates to create chances.
Marcus Rashford Heatmaps 2018/19 vs 2019/20
The center-forward position was given to Anthony Martial. He and Rashford struck up a very effective partnership, each serving as a foil for the other to flourish.
Rashford was also given extra responsibility, assigned as one of the penalty takers for the side, and later on, one of the club captains.
Ole’s pace-oriented counter-attacking style suits him well and with his combination of pace, guile, trickery, and explosiveness, it proved to be a very effective tactic and the results were evident from the very first day of the season.
Rashford scored twice in a 4-0 home thrashing of rivals Chelsea and went on to become the club’s top scorer for the season, netting 19 times before picking up an injury that kept him out of the side till the season got suspended due to the current coronavirus situation.
With the addition of Bruno Fernandes to the squad, Rashford can now look to make more runs in behind the defence from the left side.
This potential partnership, working in tandem with the current understanding he has with Martial, could be devastating for defences, and a wonderful watch for fans.
Rashford’s growth has seen him establish himself as a key player for Manchester United, and probably their most important one.
Barring any injury woes, he seems set to become their talisman for the next few years and eventually, a club legend.