Behind only George Best and Ryan Giggs, ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney, Marcus Rashford finds himself in elite company. The third youngest player to reach 200 appearances for Manchester United celebrated his double century in style during the 4-0 win over Norwich City.
Rashford’s brace made this his most prolific Premier League season, took his tally to 15 goals in 18 appearances in all competitions and enabled United to register their joint biggest win at Old Trafford since Sir Alex Ferguson retired.
“What an achievement to get to 200 at his age,” said Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. “He has been top class to work with. Great kid, wants to learn and is always available even though today he is carrying quite a few knocks. He has everything to become a top-class player: attitude, skill, physique.”
On the pitch, it was a restorative occasion after the trauma of Tuesday’s Manchester derby defeat. Off it, it was not. Perhaps it was only a superficially happy occasion. Chants were directed at the owners, the Glazer family, and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward. “I noticed it,” said Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. “As a club we have got to stick together and be a family. When I have been here I have been backed by the owners and Ed.”
Norwich have other issues. Rashford was too good for a team destined for a swift return to the Championship. “We are definitely in the worst position [in the league],” admitted manager Daniel Farke. “But this is not a season-defining game.”
Nor was it for United, whose supporters, before turning on the powerbrokers, began by serenading Solskjaer. They could leave savouring the performance of the younger forwards.
Along with Scott McTominay, Rashford represents the greatest success of the Norwegian’s decidedly mixed reign. He has graduated from a prospect rotated in and out of the side to a talisman, the closest thing to a guarantee of attacking excellence and goals in an undistinguished side.
Anthony Martial, another beneficiary of the summer departures of Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez, also scored.
Between them, he and Rashford have 30 goals for United this season. If the problem is their colleagues have too few, Mason Greenwood underlined the sense he could become similarly potent by driving in the fourth. At 18, with nine senior goals already, he may yet join Rashford on the list of the youngest players to 200 United games.
“Behind the scenes we know we are doing good work,” said Solskjaer. Factor in another promising performance from Brandon Williams and it amounted to a justification of his faith in youth.
There was a rather more senior contributor. Juan Mata can seem proof of United’s capacity to make players worse. He joined them as the most productive midfielder in the country. He has not scored a league goal this season and waited until January 11 to muster an assist, but he promptly got two, each with a delightful cross. “Juan was excellent,” added Solskjaer.
Rashford emerged in space at the far post to volley in Mata’s first cross. Martial headed in the second after a short corner. In between, Rashford had doubled his tally from 12 yards. Tim Krul had saved two penalties, one from Rashford, in October. There was no repeat, with this spot kick slotted past the Dutchman.
Krul brought down Williams, though the teenager was tumbling to the ground before contact was made. The teenager subsequently missed an open goal, but the vibrancy of his running and his ability to get into the final third showed why he has displaced Luke Shaw, a late withdrawal from the bench, as the first-choice left-back. “He has the heart for it,” Solskjaer added.
Greenwood came on for Martial and again looked a natural finisher, a left-footed finish having just a hint of Robin van Persie. With Harry Maguire making an unexpectedly swift return to bolster the defence, United recorded a first home clean sheet since September, aided by a terrific save from David de Gea to keep out a curler from Todd Cantwell. The winger should be found in the Premier League next season. Norwich, after nine games without a win, surely won’t be.