Marcus Rashford’s nutmeg shows Man Utd’s flair was just in hibernation
Manchester United’s interim boss Ole Gunnar Solskjær might have had two especially welcoming games to start his tenure, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find some positives.
Two wins from games against Cardiff and Huddersfield are to be expected, perhaps, but the manner in which United have won those games is still a big deal.
Eight goals from six different scorers is no mean feat, while the attacking, flair filled football is worlds away from the worst of José Mourinho’s tenure.
The victory over Huddersfield was arguably even more comfortable than the 3-1 scoreline suggests, with the Red Devils registering 10 shots on target to the visitors’ two and being home and dry before Mathias Jørgensen’s late consolation.
However, one of the stand-out moments of the afternoon ended with one of United’s two shots off-target: Diogo Dalot was the man with the shot, but it was all about what Marcus Rashford did to get the ball to him.
As Jørgensen faces up to Rashford in the right-back position, he might well be anticipating the Rashford who at times was lacking a bit of his spark under the previous Old Trafford boss.
That Rashford might have seen an immovable object of a defender and looked for a simple pass, wary of the barrage of criticism that might end up coming his way for trying and failing, and deciding the way around it was to refuse to try.
“Maybe now you will not ask me why A, B and C do not play so much,” Mourinho said after last season’s defeat at Brighton, in what most interpreted as a dig at Rashford and Anthony Martial.
“People always ask: ‘Why always Lukaku?’ Well, now they know why always Lukaku, and why always this player and why always that player. We are probably not as good as people think we are individually.”
There has been a feeling at times that Rashford has internalised some of the criticism sent his way, but his displays in just two games under Solskjær give the impression of a weight being lifted off.
The appointment of the former United striker, a man who Rashford will have watched in action when growing up, sends a message of its own.
Without the pressure of a permanent manager who lives and dies by the club’s final league position, there’s more freedom to try things in the knowledge that the punishment for those which don’t come off will be less severe.
This is how you wind up with Jørgensen pulling out a stool to sit down and Rashford snatching it out from under him, leaving the Dane hurt and confused.
There have been a fair few moments this season where we have praised fantastic pieces of skill which end up having no end-product, and such moments aren’t without merit.
However, in delivering a peach of a cross at the end of it all, Rashford’s achievement goes up one notch.
It’s another example of a young man aiming for the best outcome rather than setting out purely to avoid the worst, and it really ought to have ended with a goal, rather than the messy scuffed finish produced by Diogo Dalot.
It’s the finish of a full-back, but that’s not all bad. Yes, the finish itself is awful, but the sight of a right-back being the furthest man forward will feel so alien to United fans used to Mourinho’s tactics that they might as well be watching another club altogether.
A manager applauding after two youngsters – including a full-back – combine for a good chance. That’s not the United they’ve known and hated for the last few months.
it will ultimately take more than a nutmeg or a great cross to turn things around for Manchester United, but it’s enough to lift the fans out of their malaise.
This is a fanbase used to winning, sure, but also one which is used to the carefree attacking style of a game of Wembley Doubles down the park.
After everything they’ve dealt with of late, the sight of players encapsulating the “Attack! Attack! Attack!” mentality of Solskjæer’s playing days can only be a good thing.
By Tom Victor