Marcus Rashford began 2019 in the same way that he finished it, with a goal. He scored Manchester United’s second in a 2-0 away win against Newcastle on January 2nd 2019, his third goal in four games.
Still, none of these goals seemingly counted, for Rashford, the team in general or Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, because they were goals and wins against lesser teams. The first real test was in the game ahead against Tottenham Hotspur who were third in the league and 10 points ahead of us.
Ahead of the game, Solskjaer talked up the then 21-year-old, claiming that he could go on to enjoy a goalscoring record as good as Harry Kane’s if he developed as expected. This was met with derision from some United fans as much as rivals.
Rashford already had 23 Premier League goals to his name and 39 in all competitions. At the same age, Kane had just three top-flight league goals. For the sake of comparison, the all-time top Premier League goal scorer, Alan Shearer, had scored 10, while Andy Cole, the third highest Premier League scorer, didn’t have a single one.
Obviously Rashford had played in more first team games then than those players had, but that’s a story in itself. Since making his debut at 18, fast tracked to the limelight thanks to injuries to all our other forwards, he has managed to hold down a place in the team. Louis van Gaal, who had an excellent record in bringing through youth, trusted Rashford and didn’t demote him once the other strikers returned.
Jose Mourinho played Rashford more than any other player. Not famed for his keenness to give youngsters a go, Mourinho wanted players he could rely on to do the business for him, and he picked Rashford week after week.
But could he go on to be a 20+ goals a season player? At the time of Solskjaer’s assertion he could be as effective as Kane, there were plenty of doubts.
We went to Wembley and beat Spurs, relying on David de Gea to have one of those games where he made quality save after quality save. But it took a moment of brilliance between Paul Pogba and Rashford to take home three points. The midfielder played an incredible ball up to the forward, who brought it down perfectly, took a touch or two, then fired it in at the far corner. This had been Solskjaer’s plan and they executed to perfection, as Rashford reflected on after the game.
We did a lot of work in training on switching the play. It’s been a tough week in training but that was one of the things we’ve been working on. For it to come out in a game is good for us. We knew that against a team, as Tottenham defend, that the chances were going to come in between the full-backs and the centre-halves.
The month ended with him being named Premier League Player of the Month.
Our next game was at home to Brighton and Rashford scored again in our 2-1 win. Cutting in from the left, his quick feet beat the defender then from a tight angle found the top corner. The brilliant skill in the lead up and quality finish summed up the threat he posed when playing in this position.
“The level of his performances at the moment, the maturity in his finishing, his work-rate, it is just a dream to have players like him in a team,” Solskjaer said after the game. “He is confident, you have got to be, the way he plays. He has just grown in confidence, the maturity the way he plays, but his work-rate never stops and that is the most pleasing. He has been top class. You start with work rate. He has that, works like no one else, runs channels, holds the ball up. He has now calmed down in front of goal and he’s very assured and is practising all the time. His technique and also his mind-set.”
Rashford’s next goal came two weeks later, after we had knocked Arsenal out of the Cup and came back to rescue a point against Burnley after coming back from 2-0 down in the final nine minutes. We beat Leicester 1-0 away from home after Rashford displayed an excellent first touch and clinical finish to score.
The 21-year-old didn’t score in our next five games but it didn’t do us any harm, with us drawing against Liverpool, knocking Chelsea out of the cup, and beating Palace and Southampton. He assisted Pogba’s goal against Chelsea though, with his inch perfect ball finding the Frenchman’s head.
The 0-0 draw against Liverpool showed Rashford’s mentality at its finest. United picked up four injuries in the first half and made three substitutions, meaning Rashford had to play on injured for the rest of the game. Denying them the three points felt so important, knowing the impact it could have on Liverpool’s title hopes, and Rashford worked his arse off for it. In the end, Liverpool lost out on the title by one point, keeping it 20-18 for the time being.
“Marcus is a warrior and he’s a Manc and he knows what this game means,” Solskjaer said after the game. “We had to keep him on, because we already had to make three subs. It seemed like it was their plan, to just kick him, because they kept kicking him from the first minute. But he stayed on. His ankle is like a balloon, so it was a fantastic attitude by him.”
In these five games was the home defeat against PSG though. No team in the history of the European Cup had come back to progress to the next round after being two away goals down. We travelled to Paris with 10 first team injuries and a bench made up of kids.
Romelu Lukaku put us a goal up after two minutes but the home side soon equalised. The hope had been nice, but it was fleeting.
Then, with half an hour played, Rashford had a go from distance and Gigi Buffon couldn’t hold on to it and do anything better than palm it out in to the path of Lukaku, who made it 2-1. We were back in it.
In the last minute, when the ref trotted back from the VAR screen and pointed at the penalty spot, I could hardly believe it. This was too goo to be true. “How’s your bottle?” the commentator asked, as Rashford prepared to take it.
Imagine being 21, playing for the club you’ve loved your whole life, away against PSG, having never taken a first team penalty before, knowing that if you put away this away your through to the Champions League quarter-finals. Imagine Buffon, the goalkeeper with 33 penalty saves during his career, who had denied the likes of Roberto Baggio, Ronaldo and Luis Figo, standing in front of you. And then imagine smashing the ball in to the top corner. Fucking hero.
But just as that was the peak of Rashford’s season (and likely career to date), it was also as good as it got for United too. We lost against Arsenal four days later, then six days after that Wolves knocked us out of the FA Cup. Rashford did score us a late consolation but it was too little too late. In his next game, he scored his final goal of the season as we beat Watford 2-1.
Over the summer, Rashford signed a contract extension that will see him stay at the club for at least another four years, with the option of a fifth. He was understandably delighted and made a promise to the fans that he would do everything to get the club back to where it should be.
Manchester United has been everything in my life since I arrived here at the age of seven. This club has shaped me, both as a player and as a person, so it is such a privilege every time I get the opportunity to wear the shirt.
I want to thank Ole and his staff for everything they have done for me; they are the perfect group of coaches to learn from as I continue my development and look to push on to the next level. I will be giving everything I have to help get this club back to where it belongs and deliver the success that our fans deserve.
The start of this season couldn’t have gone much better for Rashford as he scored twice in our 4-0 win over Chelsea. But it wasn’t plain sailing from there, with him missing a penalty in our 2-1 home defeat against Palace, which brought us back down to reality.
His next goal came a month later from the penalty spot as we beat Leicester 1-0, and from October onwards Rashford has enjoyed the best goalscoring form in his life.
In the last 16 games, starting with our draw against Liverpool (sadly making us the only team this season who have been able to take points off them) he’s scored 13 goals, including the two goals to knock Chelsea out of the League Cup, with that ridiculous 35 yard freekick being one of them, two goals in our 2-1 win over Spurs in Mourinho’s return, and the first goal in our 2-1 win away to City.
He ended 2019 with 16 goals in 26 appearances for the season, and for the year, 23. Only two players have more league goals than him this season. He’s becoming the player we all hoped he would be.
“When I was kid this is what I dreamed of doing,” he told ESPN last month. “You can’t ask for anything more. Of course you have ups and downs, and for me it’s all part of the journey of becoming successful. I’m obviously very happy in my position right now and you just want to keep improving and keep bettering yourself as a person. It had to be United for me. I remember when I was younger, you used to go and train at other clubs and as soon as I trained at United that the first time, that was it. I remember saying to my brother, ‘I don’t want to go to anywhere else now. And that the feeling of a family that we have in Manchester, when I went to United, that was the exact same thing. It’s like one big family and everybody, the coaching staff, from all ages, they all want the best for you. I think that’s what draws people into Manchester United. Once they become a part of it, it never leaves them. When I was a kid this is this is what I dreamed of doing.”
Rashford now has more Manchester United goals than Robin van Persie, Dimitar Berbatov and Javier Hernandez. Only 192 more to go to become the club’s all-time top scorer!
It’s been a brilliant year for our Marcus. Here’s to 2020 being even better.
Happy New Year, Reds.