MANCHESTER, England // The player who is all the talk at Manchester United right now is not listed on the 31-man squad on the back of the team's match-day program.
There’s even a section currently up on United’s website, posing the question many are wondering:
Who is Marcus Rashford?
Well, he is the 18-year-old rookie striker who has saved under-pressure United coach Louis van Gaal from even deeper scrutiny, and who could be a potential star of the future at Old Trafford.
Playing in his first match for United’s senior team as a late injury replacement, Rashford scored twice against FC Midtjylland to lead United’s recovery in a 5-1 win that qualified the team for the last 16 of the Europa League on Thursday.
With an injury crisis coursing through Van Gaal’s squad, Rashford is likely to be starting up front against Arsenal in a globally anticipated English Premier League game in front of nearly 80,000 spectators on Sunday.
It’s something of a whirlwind for a player who, before Thursday, had never started a game above under-19 level, and signed a professional contract at United only in 2014. Now he is the club’s youngest ever scorer in European soccer.
Van Gaal is clearly excited about Rashford’s potential, but is being cautious.
“It is fantastic (for him), but you have to be consistent and we are looking for consistent strikers,” Van Gaal said after the Midtjylland game, slightly puncturing the jubilant mood. “There are not so many on this earth.”
Of course, these are early days for Rashford and there are plenty of examples of where great starts to careers at United didn’t come to fruition. For every Wayne Rooney, who memorably scored a hat trick in the Champions League on his United debut, there is Federico Macheda – the Italian who scored on his first-team debut in April 2009 but has been on an unsuccessful tour of the English lower leagues ever since.
Rashford looks to have the composure and technique to go places, though.
Born and raised in Manchester, he comes from the same junior club – Fletcher Moss – that spawned former United players Wes Brown, Danny Welbeck, and Ravel Morrison. He has captained United’s Under-19 team and was the top scorer for the under-18s last season.
Against Midtjylland, he liked to get involved in play rather than just prey on the shoulder of the last defender. But his predatory close-range finishes for his second-half double showed a goalscorer’s instinct.
“In the first half he ran too much out wide,” Van Gaal said, “and I said he needs to be in front of goal to score.”
Rashford is arguably United’s sixth-choice striker – behind Rooney, Anthony Martial, James Wilson, Will Keane, and emergency targetman Marouane Fellaini. Those five are either injured or on loan (Wilson) so Rashford is likely to start against Arsenal, a game United needs to win to keep in touch with the top four.
“I watched him last night and he was quite impressive,” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said. “I know all of their players – Rashford I didn’t know.”
He’ll know more about the kid come Sunday evening.
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