In Focus: Resurgent Rashford racing towards England return
Only last month, Marcus Rashford’s career seemed at an all-time low — but Manchester United’s No10 has his mojo back.
The 24-year-old followed up a long overdue goal against Liverpool by setting up Jadon Sancho’s winner at Leicester, before bagging a brace and another assist against Arsenal last weekend.
As the Red Devils start their Europa League campaign at home to Real Sociedad this evening — a game where Rashford is expected to be rested — we assess his upturn in form and whether he can make a late run for Gareth Southgate’s World Cup squad.
One of the biggest criticisms of Rashford in recent times has been the alarming way in which his goals have dried up.
During 2019-20 and 2020-21, the academy product netted 43 times across all competitions, establishing himself as one of world football’s most reliable finishers.
Yet last term, the Three Lions star found the net a meagre five times in 32 appearances.
Disruption around Old Trafford undoubtedly played a big part in his dip in form, particularly during Ralf Rangnick’s spell in charge.
Rashford started the German’s first three Premier League games at the helm but was only in the XI for six of the next 18 top-flight outings.
He even found himself out of the England squad in March, with Southgate stating: "We have players in that area of the pitch playing at a better level, so it is harsh but that is the nature of elite sport unfortunately."
Asked in March if a lack of game time was behind Rashford’s poor form, former boss Rangnick said: "I don’t think that he’s not had enough game time.
"He’s had 13 or 14 games since I’ve been here now [in all competitions], he played more games from the start than he didn’t play from the start.
"He didn’t say anything to me about being unhappy, he said to me that he is still happy and that he wants to perform on a high level for the club."
However, former Red Devils stalwart Gary Neville publicly questioned the 64-year-old’s handling of the situation.
Neville said: "To play without a centre forward at home against Leicester when he has had a couple of weeks off is a big decision by Ralf Rangnick.
"That’s killed Marcus Rashford today, not playing in that team."
When Erik ten Hag was confirmed as Rangnick’s successor in April, many speculated that Rashford would be one of the main benefactors of his appointment.
The Dutchman arrived with a reputation for delivering devastating counter-attacking football, favouring quick players with a direct nature — just like the Manchester native possesses.
Sure enough, Ten Hag wasted little time in restoring Rashford to a first-team regular.
His first two outings were filled with frustration, struggling to make an impact on the left of a front three during embarrassing defeats to Brighton and Brentford.
Yet what has truly reinvigorated Rashford has been his return to a central striking berth.
In four appearances through the middle, United’s No10 has three goals, two assists and one man-of-the-match award.
Despite debate raging throughout Rashford’s career about his best position, a quick glance at his goalscoring record speaks for itself.
His current Premier League tally of 62 strikes already has him inside the division’s top 80 scorers of all-time — with some stellar names keeping him company.
The speedster has better numbers than the likes of Gabriel Jesus, Gianfranco Zola and Gareth Bale, while United legends such as Mark Hughes and Eric Cantona are now within arm’s reach.
Given his relatively tender age, Rashford is well on track to seal a spot in the division’s iconic "100 club".
His goals against both Liverpool and Arsenal were typical strikes — burning past the last defender before coolly slotting past the goalkeeper when one-on-one.
There are few players on the planet as adept at running in behind a backline.
Confidence is key
For Ten Hag, finding the solution to Rashford’s poor form has been a straightforward task.
Rather than applying revolutionary methods or complex tactics, the ex-Ajax chief has drilled down on two aspects — improving his fitness and rebuilding his confidence.
Speaking on Rashford this week, he explained: "What I see now is a happy Marcus Rashford.
"We worked really hard the last two months with him on different aspects. He likes it, he wants to transfer it to the pitch.
"It started with his happiness. He comes in every day, he enjoys it, he’s smiling, a really positive vibe.
"If you put all of those things together and you are happy, you will contribute more to the team."
Riding the wave
It looks like everything is coming together for the speedy marksman at the perfect time.
Reports this week suggest United are ready to offer him a new contract, with the intention of finally fending off long-standing interest from Paris Saint-Germain.
Meanwhile, a recall to Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions squad for upcoming Nations League clashes with Italy and Germany looks virtually nailed-on.
Whether Rashford, who has 12 goals in 46 England appearances, can transfer his prolific form to the international stage is questionable given who he is competing against.
But after all that has gone on in recent times, just making the plane to Qatar will feel like a triumph.