After a slow start to the 2019-20 season, Marcus Rashford is quietly beginning to have a great campaign for Manchester United – and it’s not just about his exploits in front of goal.
The striker has scored six league goals, at a rate of one every 173 minutes – almost identical to the records of Mohamed Salah and Harry Kane – and is on course to register his most prolific goalscoring campaign with half of the season to spare.
It’s not just about the goals, though. As the Englishman is asked to do important work from wide positions as well as through the middle, he’ll need to show off his ability to end lives in one-on-one situations. And against Brighton & Hove Albion, he did just that.
Davy Pröpper didn’t have the best of days at Old Trafford. His touch was the final one as United went 2-0 up via a goalmouth scramble, giving his team little hope of mounting a comeback, but things would later get even worse.
As the Dutchman looked to stop Rashford cutting inside from the left, something the United man did so effortlessly early on as the hosts looked to break the deadlock, he did everything within his power to limit his opponent’s options.
We, and Pröpper himself, would soon learn that stopping Rashford was never really an option.
Rashford’s skill is the kind of thing you can’t just watch once.
The process begins when you attempt to understand what he has done to evade Pröpper. This ought to only take a second or two, but there’s understanding what he has done and then there is understanding what he has done.
There’s almost a rubbernecking element to it as you pay closer and closer attention in the hope of pinpointing the exact moment where Pröpper’s pride is separated from his physical form.
Before watching the clip, you didn’t think pride even had a physical manifestation, but by this point you’re convinced you just haven’t been looking hard enough.
By the time you’ve watched it 10, 15, 20 times in a row, you’re pretty sure you’ve managed to identify everything there is to identify. And yet your eyes remain drawn to it, unable to look away for fear of the curse being passed on to you like the video in The Ring.
This kind of thing is nothing new to Rashford, who similarly humiliated Huddersfield Town’s Mathias Jørgensen last season, with one critical difference. To roll the ball through a defender’s legs with acres of open space in front of you is one thing, but to do so in such an enclosed space requires a commendable level of control to envelop the unpredictability.
There’s something nightmarish about the way Pröpper is rendered entirely helpless by the situation.
He can see what is happening to him, at least closely enough for his mind to kick into gear and recognise what he needs to do next, but his mental processes are just a tiny bit slower than needed.
In any normal circumstances, his speed of reaction would be admirable, finding a way of nullifying a remarkable piece of skill and breaking down the expected narrative. However, by getting closer, he makes his eventual failure even more demoralising.
While his mind knows to turn and pursue, his legs don’t share the urgency: sure, the Dutchman might be pumping his limbs with the intensity required to cover the ground, but they’re not playing ball.
He’s the marathon runner a mile from the finish line, or the child striving to climb a steep hill in a recurring-yet-horrible dream. The moment he gets the sense of being close to fulfilling his objective, the task seems to double in both difficulty and importance.
Doesn't feel like it, but Rashford has got 10 goals in 17 starts this season for United and England. Should certainly have more. Can't be a coincidence his form was sparked by Southgate taking him out of the team, either. Responded resoundingly. #mufc
— Samuel Luckhurst (@samuelluckhurst) November 10, 2019
It would have been easy to frame this piece around the goal Rashford scored to put United 3-1 ahead, the kind of finish which instantly looks more impressive for having crashed in via the underside of the bar.
However, Rashford’s recent record is beginning to paint such moments as the norm rather than anything spectacular. His last seven games have brought six goals, and another six between now and May would confirm this as his most productive season in pure goalscoring terms.
And, sure, he missed a sitter just a couple of minutes after his goal – he’s certainly not the finished article yet – but just look at his desire to get into the box for a chance at 2-0. When you’re willing to work that hard to get your rewards, fluffing your lines from time to time hardly matters. The next chance is always just around the corner.
Rashford’s run from own box. Shows hunger and elite speed. These things don’t get highlighted enough. Sometimes he’ll miss sitters, but this is what you want to see from a united player. from r/reddevils
Alongside this, incidents like the mental evisceration of Pröpper are the ones most deserving of our attention; those which demonstrate that, even in those weeks were the goals aren’t coming, he remains a daunting opponent for more or less anyone who has the misfortune of going up against him.
Oh, and did we mention he’s only just turned 22?
By Tom Victor