Marcus Rashford is in the goalscoring form of his life.
The Manchester United forward’s double off the bench against League One side Charlton in Tuesday’s 3-0 Carabao Cup win made it seven goals in six games since returning from the World Cup.
That’s the 25-year-old’s best run in front of goal since he made his debut in 2015. He’s well on course to beat his record of 22 goals from the 2019/20 season with 15 goals to his name already this time out.
Let’s not forget, Rashford was also England’s joint-top scorer at the World Cup with three goals.
His form hasn’t gone unnoticed, either. Team-mates Lisandro Martinez and Casemiro think Rashford has what it takes to reach the very top.
Martinez told Sky Sports last week: “For me, Rashy is an incredible player. He can be anything he wants to be, it all depends on him.”
“I was really surprised with the player Rashford is,” Casemiro told ESPN Brasil last month. “In my opinion, especially knowing the player off the pitch, I can tell you that if he’s doing well, he can be one of the top five players in the world”.
Not bad coming from a World Cup winner and a man with five Champions League titles. And, looking at the numbers, it’s hard to disagree with them.
United manager Erik ten Hag already considers Rashford to be in an elite bracket for his position. “I believe when Marcus’ positioning is on the back of the defending line, there is almost no better player in the world.
“There is [Kylian] Mbappe in this moment, a type like him.”
Ten Hag is getting more out of Rashford than any manager ever has and he is reaping the rewards. His return of a goal every two hours is by far and a way the most efficient the 25-year-old has been in his career.
Across Europe’s top five leagues, no one has been able to match Rashford’s post-Qatar haul. Not even Manchester City’s Erling Haaland, who will be going head-to-head with Rashford at Old Trafford on Saturday.
It was Haaland that was in flying form the last time the sides met. He delivered on his Manchester derby debut with a third consecutive hat-trick at home as City obliterated United 6-3 in October.
Rashford, meanwhile, was anonymous, playing as a lone striker. His performance, which was given 3/10 by Sky Sports, was a relapse to the lows we’d been accustomed to seeing over the previous 18 months.
What is Rashford’s contract situation?
- Man Utd triggered an option to extend Rashford’s deal in December.
- His contract runs until the end of next season.
- Ten Hag has promised Rashford will be a United player until the end of his deal.
- The Man Utd manager added that it is “up to him to make the decision”.
It proved to be just a blip and Rashford found his way back to goal. His form since has helped turn things around and taken United to heights not often reached at Old Trafford since Sir Alex Ferguson retired almost a decade ago.
Victory in the derby would leave United a point off second-placed City. With Rashford averaging a goal every 88 minutes at the Theatre of Dreams this season, you fancy him to have a say on Saturday.
Rashford’s season to forget
Considering the pivotal role he has had in United’s resurgence under Ten Hag, it is almost inconceivable that only last season Rashford was considered expendable by many.
His form took a nosedive after missing in England’s Euros final penalty defeat to Italy at Wembley in July 2021. Rashford had delayed shoulder surgery to be there and was coming off the back of a gruelling season in which he made 57 club appearances.
He had also endured penalty heartbreak in the Europa League final against Villarreal just a few months earlier.
Former United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s trophy-less tenure soon unravelled a few months into the 2021/22 campaign. The arrival of interim Ralf Rangnick did little to change things and the season soon descended into farce.
Rashford looked lost under Rangnick, who was out of ideas about how to help the former academy graduate. “I don’t know,” was Rangnick’s response when asked why Rashford was struggling.
A return of five goals across all competitions – a figure he has already trebled this season – cost Rashford his England spot and left his future up in the air. The local lad no longer looked at home at Old Trafford.
Ten Hag’s role in Rashford’s resurgence
The arrival of Erik ten Hag from Ajax as manager put an end to any exit talk. Almost immediately it was made abundantly clear that Rashford was central to his plans.
“I don’t want to lose him,” said Ten Hag in August when asked about interest from Paris Saint-Germain. “He is really important. You have seen from the first day that I am in that I am really happy with him. He will stay in Man Utd.”
Ten Hag came in and put his arm around Rashford after a tough spell. The 25-year-old has since explained that he was in a difficult headspace last season. “I was struggling at times with more mental things,” he told Sky Sports in November.
But his manager has now helped him fall back in love with football.
“The manager’s a joy to work with, really,” he said in October. “Is it hard work? Yeah, but I think we are enjoying it and we’re playing better football.”
Ten Hag has overseen a cultural reset at United and has discipline at the top of his agenda. Something Rashford found out when he overslept and was late to a team meeting over the festive period.
The forward, who had already scored in United’s two games after the World Cup, was dropped to the bench for the trip to Wolves on New Year’s Eve. He still managed to rescue the victory as a substitute with a second-half goal at Molineux.
Ten Hag’s show of strength to drop his star player paid off. Rashford’s reaction showed he was responding well to Ten Hag’s more stringent methods. “It’s team rules. I made a mistake,” he told BT Sport after the game. “That can happen. I’m obviously disappointed not to play but I understand the decision.”
For so long, Rashford had grown up at a club where failing to meet standards went unpunished. Ten Hag is now clearing the cloud of uncertainty at United and restoring clarity and consistency. The rules apply to everyone. Even if you are Marcus Rashford.
How Rashford’s game has changed
Rashford has simplified his game this season with a more defined role under Ten Hag.
The Dutchman wants Rashford to hold his width out on the left wing – the position he has spent more than half of his minutes playing in this season – to stretch the opposition and the heatmap shows that.
There is more discipline to Rashford’s positioning under Ten Hag than Solskjaer two seasons ago. Where Rashford may have been improvising under the Norwegian he is now following pre-prepared patterns of play.
For the most part under Rangnick, Rashford was shunted out to the right with Jadon Sancho preferred on the left. It has been a problem position for him in the past, but on the occasions he has filled in there this season, usually when Alejandro Garnacho takes up that left-wing berth, Rashford has begun to look more dangerous.
There is also a greater hunger from Rashford to score those poachers goals that Solskjaer so often said would elevate his game to the next level. Two of his seven league goals this season have come from inside the six-yard box and another was just on the edge. Last season just one of his goals was from close range.
Rashford is also reducing the number of optimistic long-range strikes he takes on. Seventy-eight per cent of his shots have come from inside the box this season compared to just 59 per cent in 2019-20. He still has a penchant for the spectacular but is becoming smarter with his decision-making.
It was clear that Solskjaer’s presence as a former striker was of help to Rashford when he was in charge. Ten Hag, who was a centre-back in his playing days, has made sure to have a similar influence in his coaching staff.
Benni McCarthy, the former Porto, Blackburn and West Ham striker, was brought in as a forwards coach. Rashford has credited him with helping bring about his upturn in form.
“He’s definitely helped me a lot,” Rashford told Sky Sports in November. “To have those attack-minded coaches in the squad is huge for us forward players. It’s just day-in day-out that we are thinking about scoring goals rather than the other bits of the game, which are important as well. We’ve got him always there speaking to us.”
McCarthy’s impact was clear when Rashford brought up 100 goals for United with a towering header against West Ham in a 1-0 win at Old Trafford in October. His leap was reminiscent of Cristiano Ronaldo and he showed a ruthlessness to knock Thilo Kehrer out of the way to get his goal. This was something different.
“The headed goal against West Ham United, I don’t think he makes goals like that so often,” said Ten Hag in December. “But he’s investing in it, I triggered him a little bit, he worked with our specific coaches on it, on finishing with headers and then you see he got the benefit from it.”
Rashford is learning to crave goals and fans are starting to expect them.