Summary: Manchester United - Charlton 0:3 (Sport1)
The 2022/2021 season was considered one of the most nightmarish in Manchester United's history.
Between a change of coaches, a split and divided dressing room, disappointing results and the relationship between the club and the fans that gradually became minimal, the main feeling was that drastic changes were required and as soon as possible to try and restore the infrastructure of the club that for years was considered the undisputed spearhead in English football.
A new manager (but lacking any Premier League experience) was signed, players left and joined, the saga of Ronaldo's future hovered as usual and in the background, the central question regularly asked every summer, when Marcus Rashford - one of the greatest talents the Red Devils academy has ever produced - will provide the the goods?
The previous season all figures associated with Manchester United would prefer to forget, and Rashford was one of the clear signs of this in what was the worst season of his professional career.
A safe and consistent part of the team, he became a bench player with a minimal impact and a poor contribution that was expressed in only five goals and two assists throughout the entire season, but beyond the disappointing statistics there was something more significant that stood out in particular - his body language that conveyed a complete lack of confidence.
Five months into the current season, and now we can say for sure - not only that Rashford delivers the goods, he mostly allows United fans to fantasize about returning to happy days and landing new titles in the club's trophy cabinet soon.
The numbers that the star issues do show the degree of improvement and quality that the 25-year-old striker offers, with 13 goals and six assists, and shatter one of the theories that emerged in the summer in connection with the appointment of Erik ten Haag as the manager of the Red Devils.
The Dutchman sat down in the captain's chair at Old Trafford during one of the sensitive periods in the club's history and one of the main discussions surrounding his arrival was why he would be able to fulfill the task in which all of Rashford's previous coaches in the theater of dreams had consistently failed - to get the best out of the English diamond and polish him to the proper extent.
Totally missed last season.
Rashford (Photo: GettyImages, LINDSEY PARNABY/AFP)
His penalty against Frank Lampard's hapless Everton in the FA Cup recently marked Rashford's seventh consecutive home game to find the back of the net (equaling the legendary Wayne Rooney's feat in 2012).
It seems that very soon he will equal the record of his conquests (17), which he achieved in the 2019/20 season under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
However, Rashford was not satisfied with just equaling Rooney's record, and a few days after the impressive performance against Everton, he came on as a substitute against Charlton Athletic in the League Cup and in just half an hour on the pitch added another pair of goals to send United to the last four stage of the factory.
The star also kicks on goal and hits more frequently compared to the past, but one of the main elements that helped him to function maximally offensively this season is the defensive responsibility that was removed from him under his current coach.
Under the interim coach last season, Ralph Rangnik, Rashford (as part of an offensive squad that included the defenseless Cristiano Ronaldo) was also tasked with various defensive tasks that included, among other things, the need to regularly chase the opponent's defenders, but now this area of responsibility has been removed from him.
The fact that United's midfield was significantly upgraded last summer and includes experienced names such as Casemiro and Christian Eriksen has also been instrumental in the dramatic improvement of Rashford, who knows that the team now has a stable and reliable engine in the center of the pitch.
As a result, he himself looks significantly sharper and more focused in translating his qualities in the last and front third of the team.
It seems that the secret of the magic of Ten Haah, who manages to bring out Marshford's abilities that have been dreamed of in the theater of dreams for many years, not only lies in the tactical instructions and professional demands from his English striker, but is also related to the nature of the personal relationship he was able to build with him in a fairly short period of time.
The game against Everton gave tangible evidence of the peak ability Rashford is now in and the feeling was that at any given moment the risk he poses to the Toffees' defense can allow United to do as they please with their opponent.
The striker was absolutely involved in the game, when he scored the first goal for Anthony after only four minutes, delivered the ball that splashed from the Everton defense and set up United's second in the form of an unfortunate own goal and scored from the penalty spot in the closing stages to ensure qualification for the next stage in the oldest factory in the world.
"Marcus can be unstoppable," the manager boasted to the media at the end of the game, explaining what makes his striker a well-oiled goalscoring machine:
From the first moment this evening he not only showed confidence and belief but a constant threat to Everton's defensive unit.
True, he can improve his weak head and footwork, but when we as a team help him improve, create spaces and increase the amount of opportunities for him - he delivers the goods, and in a big way.''
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The elder brother praised, and rightly so, his striker (and not for the first time this season), but inspired by the 'Ronaldo incidents', which formed a constant cloud around the team's performances from the beginning of the season, he also knew how to take significant disciplinary measures when he sensed that there was a certain relaxation in the matter.
Ahead of United's visit to the Molinho Stadium for a match against Wolves recently, Rashford dropped to the bench and was not included in the starting line-up of the Red Devils in a move that was portrayed by the local media as quite unusual, given his impressive performances this season.
A wave of rumors that accompanied the reasons for Ten Haach's puzzling decision was finally clarified at the end when the player admitted that he was kicked out of the warm-up due to a disciplinary offense - a few days before the game, Rashford simply did not wake up in time and was late for the team meeting and Ten Haach did not hesitate to act on the matter.
The striker eventually came on as a substitute for the second half and provided the lone goal that helped United get the three precious points from Paz, and the main feeling that accompanied the spot-on move made by Tan Haah on that given day served all sides - the message to all the players of the squad that the required values and the leading ethical code are equal Value for each player (without different status differences, reminiscent of Ronaldo's days at the club).
At the same time, there was also an understanding that the opportunity to play and contribute to the team still exists, without past sediments due to one or another disciplinary incident.
Today (Saturday, 2:15 p.m., Sport1) the Red Devils will line up for a prestigious local battle against Pep Guardiola and Manchester City, with the resounding defeat inflicted on them by the Spanish manager's men in the previous derby held last October at the Etihad Stadium still in mind.
City's convincing sixth in style was achieved with a double hat-trick in the form of the unstoppable Erling Holland and Citizens youth graduate Phil Foden.
For Rashford, who grew up just a few miles from Old Trafford, a double chance has arisen today against City: his fantastic current form should be a decisive factor in United's bid to exact revenge on their hated city rivals for their embarrassing defeat three months ago, and a home win for the Red Devils will bring them within just a point of their city rivals, And at a reasonable distance from Arsenal, who will face their own mine, in the North London derby against Tottenham tomorrow.