March signals the beginning of the end of the English Premier League season, as some sides enter their final charge to win the league title, some find themselves stuck in mid-table obscurity, and the minnows at the bottom of the table are finally coming to grips with reality, as the fight to remain at top-flight is coming to a humbling close.
While the season is entering it’s final months, some young players are starting to get playing time as injuries occur or managers tire of players who have been in poor form. It’s not always expected for young players to have an impact on a match or even their side’s season, but some starlets have risen from below the floorboards, making their way up the youth academies or simply barging their way into the first team with brilliant play in domestic ties or making their presence known during practice. It’s not often when a young player gets a chance to be in the starting 11 for their Premier League side, but one youngster this season has made a splash, and he happens to play for a certain club.
Manchester United is one of the biggest sports clubs in the world, but this year they’re having a tough go in the Premier League, finding themselves occupying various places near the middle of the table, but now hold the fifth spot.
They might be worse off if it wasn’t for an 18 year old who climbed the rungs of United’s youth academy. Heading into their Round of 32 second-leg tie against Danish squad Midtjylland in the Europa League, Manchester United were down 2-1 on aggregate, and it seemed like the small club could eliminate United from the tournament if they played 90 minutes of error-free football.
In the first leg, they played in Denmark, but Rashford didn’t make an appearance, and even at that time he was still largely unknown in the football world. On the evening of February 25, 2016, that changed.
In the 29th minute of the second match, Midtjylland netted a goal, putting the side up 3-1 on aggregate. With that goal, the home crowd, already lacking energy, got put on life alert. A few minutes later, United finally scored thanks to a shot from Memphis Depay that deflected off a defender, but the fans were still very much aware of how dire their current situation really was, and remained eerily quiet.
The score was 1-1, but 3-2 on aggregate, and United, now with less than half an hour left in the match, discovered a new source of hope in the form of Marcus Rashford, an 18 year old striker, something you don’t find very often in big clubs. This explosive, naturally gifted teenage kid resuscitated Old Trafford with a first-touch goal that he must have dreamed of a million times throughout his childhood, and suddenly the clubs were tied on aggregate.
Thirteen minutes later, Marcus Rashford found himself at the top of the box, patiently waiting for an opportunity to present itself, something most strikers his age don’t do often. Suddenly the ball was played into the right half of the box, attracting the attention of all defenders, including the goalkeeper, leaving Marcus wide open in the box.
That wasn’t smart.
I mean, come on, he just scored on you, and no one is marking him? Well good, I’m glad he’s open in the box again. Let Midtjylland beat themselves if they’re not going to learn from their mistakes against a huge club that they could have taken down.
Back to the action. With the defense distracted, Marcus took a casual stroll down the middle of the box, making his way towards the goal. Guillermo Varela suddenly delivered a cross that seemed to land right at Marcus’ feet, although it was really Marcus that found the ball, as two other United players made attempts to head it in. Another first-touch goal that rocketed into the net, and Marcus Rashford found himself having one hell of a debut. Two goals! Two clutch goals! Manchester United, a team that may do some rebuilding this summer, were riding the coattails of a teenager into the lead, and into the next round!
After Marcus scored, United’s offense was energized, forcing three more goals past Midtjylland’s humbled defense. Young Rashford had one hell of a competitive debut for his home town club, but then there was his Premier League debut.
Just three days after the second half slaughter against Midtjylland, Marcus Rashford and Manchester United would face Arsenal, a club in the midst of a (losing) fight for the Prem title.
Shortly before the half hour mark, United had the ball in Arsenal’s third of the pitch, and many players quickly charged towards the box, one of which was Marcus Rashford. Another Varela cross makes it’s way into the box, slicing right to left and just like his Europa League debut, Marcus was in the middle of the box with no defenders tightly marking him, and once again, he found the ball, driving it home on his first touch.
There he is again, finding open space and scoring goals, two things largely lacking in United’s campaign so far.
Three short minutes later and United has the ball in Arsenal’s end. Marcus Rashford knows the drill, and waits for his chance. He doesn’t need to be very patient today, as Lingaard sends the ball his way, this time above eye level; use your head, Marcus!
He did, slamming a powerful header past Petr Cech, a legendary goalkeeper nearing the end of his career, but is still in elite form. Net minders of all creeds will need to keep an eye fixed on this striker if they don’t want to become another one of his statistics.
United were now up 2-0 and held the lead for the rest of the match, winning 3-2. Fun fact: Marcus assisted Ander Herrera on the third goal, further stacking his stat sheet. This was a sad day for Arsenal and it’s fans, but a brilliant day for Marcus Rashford. Well, every day is a brilliant day for Marcus Rashford; he’s getting paid to play a sport he loves for a team he loves, and he’s playing remarkably well.
Watford were Manchester United’s next opponent, but Marcus wasn’t able to bag a goal or an assist, although his side did win, thanks to a late free kick from Juan Mata.
United travel to play at West Brom on Sunday, and I would expect Marcus to get some shots on goal against a side that have given up 20 goals at home so far this season.
It’s so easy to throw more hype onto the already large pile in terms of this young striker’s potential, but it’s not often when young players make these kinds of debuts. Some of them have made the hype worth it, but a majority have not, largely falling into obscurity. Before we place Marcus on a pedestal he may not come close to reaching, let’s just watch him match by match, and see how he addresses various defenses; if he keeps up his current pace, he could be worth the hype and attention, but for now, let’s just watch him play.
Shoot, someone has to keep an eye on him.