For most of this season, the only Manchester-based striker spoken of in reverential terms was a Norwegian, wearing City’s blue kit.
Marcus Rashford extended his scoring streak to a record six games in a row with his double against Charlton in the EFL Cup on Tuesday.
The 25-year-old’s total for the season is 15 – three times more than he scored last season.
He’s already topped his return from all but two campaigns in a career where he’s performed well enough to earn 51 England caps. From that position, few would be surprised if Rashford surpassed his highest tally of 22, from the 2019-20 season.
Manager Erik ten Hag certainly wouldn’t, provided Rashford stays focused.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re in the game or not, you have to keep focusing on the goals,” the Dutchman said last week when asked by BBC Sport if Rashford could continue to improve.
“A player like Marcus, but others in our team – Anthony Martial is the same – when they stay in the game, mentally and focused, with 100 per cent concentration, they have the skills and only need a moment to change the game in a positive way.
“If he develops this skill, he will score more goals and contribute to a successful season.”
It’s a point Ten Hag has brought home twice more in the week since he said those words.
As United face the litmus test of what appears to be a significant and sustained improvement since they were humiliated at the Etihad Stadium on October 2, Rashford’s name is spoken in the same breath as free-scorer Haaland.
The Rashford Reset
That Rashford has even come to this position is cause for quiet satisfaction.
In June, Rashford’s career seemed to be at a crossroads.
He had been left out of the England squad for all four Nations League games following a campaign that started with shoulder surgery which he had delayed to allow him to play in the Euro 2020 – a tournament that ended in mental anguish from a missed shootout. penalty that he had been specifically called upon to take.
The man who captured the attention and heart of a nation during lockdown for his relentless campaign to tackle child poverty was finding his day job difficult.
He needed a reset.
It wasn’t as awkward as his escape from Euro trauma, when he turned up at a local – and now closed – Power League center in the shadow of the Trafford Center with, among others, the former United prospect Ravel Morrison for a relaxed kick.
But, on a long summer trip to the United States, Rashford pushed himself through a thorough ‘pre-pre-season’ so when he started working under Ten Hag he would be ready from.
Rashford’s work spanned two sites. Nike HQ in Portland and a college field in New Jersey.
It’s fair to say that the former focused on marginal gains.
Rashford spent a week in Portland. He posted images of grueling workouts on social media.
But the detail was key.
His performance was subject to data entry and analysis of certain aspects of his game. One was the sprint take-off speed. Rashford was found to lose a tenth of a second by relying on his back foot.
Then there was Rashford’s maximizing peripheral vision, something Sir Alex Ferguson embraced during his tenure.
Work has been done on how Rashford turned away from the opposition or heading the ball. The changes could save anything from 0.1 seconds.
It’s tiny, but in the arena of Premier League football, where the best compete, the difference with the implementation of changes can be huge.
As Rashford’s videos show, he also ran a lot, working closely with strength and conditioning coaches in Portland and the East Coast, where he worked with a local varsity team on specific drills and delivery. of stopped kicks.
Rashford understood the importance of these sessions.
After a disappointing 12 months, with a new boss to impress, he needed to make his first ‘real’ pre-season since 2019 count.
No outfield player has been involved for more than Rashford’s 313 minutes in United’s six-match tour of Thailand, Australia, Norway and Manchester. He scored twice, both at the iconic MCG, against Melbourne Victory and Crystal Palace.
“Invaluable” is how Rashford himself described it at the time.
As with United as a whole, it has taken some time for Rashford’s hard work over the summer to pay off.
August defeats to Brighton and Brentford extended his goalless streak to 17 games, equaling the club’s worst run of his career.
But victory over Liverpool on August 22 turned Rashford’s season – and United’s – upside down. Since the Brentford debacle, United have won just five out of 25 games in all competitions. Rashford has scored in 12 of those games. All 12 have been won.
He regained his coveted place in England for the World Cup and finished joint top scorer in his country with Bukayo Saka.
This time around, Rashford’s post-tournament debate has focused on why Gareth Southgate didn’t play him for more than five minutes in the quarter-final loss to France.
Since his return, he has found the net in every game.
He wasn’t perfect. He was benched by Ten Hag for the December 31 trip to Wolves after missing the start of a squad meeting because he overslept.
The fact that he got the winner that day helped, but the player’s response – “It’s a mistake that can happen. I was disappointed not to play but I understand. I think we can draw a line under it and move on” – was professional and respectful. . Rashford and Ten Hag have indeed evolved.
Now City – and Haaland – stand in their way. Despite their position behind Arsenal in the table, this is the game United have been waiting for.
For Rashford, it’s the perfect scene to show there’s more than one striker in Manchester.