It’s March 2016. Excitement and expectation are through the roof for one particular teenager ahead of his first Manchester derby.
The local lad had already risen to the occasion in the Europa League and against Arsenal, but this was a far bigger deal for the 18-year-old who’d grown up a Manchester United fan.
Marcus Rashford started in attack with Antony Martial and their pace and mobility proving a lethal combination, particularly with respect to the former.
Highlighting his ice-cold mentality on the big stage, Rashford was decisive. Roasting Manchester City defender Martin Demichelis in the 16th minute, the striker nutmegged him at pace and left the experienced centre-back for dead before clinically dispatching past Joe Hart.
If onlookers hadn’t sat up and taken notice already after his heroics against Arsenal and Midtjylland, they were now. Rashford proved he was no mere flash in the pan.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) April 27, 2017
A leader’s mentality
Since that bright debut derby, Rashford has gone on to feature another seven times against City and he’ll be desperate to leave is mark in Saturday’s clash. It is the sort of occasion that has started to typify his status as a big-game player with an elite mentality.
Rashford’s most recent Manchester derby came in April, as City comfortably dispatched of United 2-0 at Old Trafford. It was this encounter that seemed to suggest their wretched form after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s permanent appointment was anything but a blip.
More than anyone, Rashford was scathing of United.
“It was quite clear who the better team was,” Rashford said to Sky Sports. “We didn’t play like Man United and the last few weeks it hasn’t felt like Man United. It’s not right. The bare minimum should be to work hard and give your all for the supporters and the badge.
“We need the mentality and willingness of running for your team. We never call each other out but we have to be real with each other. It’s a matter of trying to improve each other.”
While some may have put Rashford’s comments down to ‘holier than thou’ posturing in an attempt to win a new contract, which duly arrived in July, there’s little doubt he is now the talisman that should be speaking out.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) December 6, 2019
Motivation an issue?
Rashford has become the player many fans are still hoping Martial will develop into. With nine goals in 15 Premier League matches, the England international is already just one behind his personal best for a full campaign.
With 12 goals in his past 13 matches for club and country, Rashford is in the form of his life – yet even as recently as this season he has been a target for criticism.
It has been suggested he struggles to make the difference against opponents who sit back, the games United are expected to control and data backs this up.
In 85 matches against teams not in the current top four or traditionally part of the so-called ‘big six’, Rashford has scored just 19 times, an average of one every 275.9 minutes.
It’s a record that does raise valid concerns – after all, the best strikers score against pretty much everyone and anyone.
Proud to be named @ManUtd Player of the Month for November.
Fully focused on Spurs… let’s go pic.twitter.com/eLvQJzejlo
— Marcus Rashford (@MarcusRashford) December 3, 2019
At home on the big stage
But what highlights Rashford’s true ability and gives a clear insight to his mindset is the forward’s record against the biggest clubs.
In 41 Premier League meetings against the ‘big six’ and Leicester, he has an impressive haul of 17 goals, one every 163.4 minutes.
Rashford’s effectiveness in front of goal increases remarkably in such matches. Even though his shot frequency goes down from one every 28.8 minutes to 39.1 minutes, his accuracy is boosted significantly.
Against the biggest sides, Rashford’s shot accuracy rises to 48 per cent from 40 per cent, while his chance conversion increases from 10 per cent to 24 per cent.
Rashford proved his decisiveness last time out against Tottenham and former manager Jose Mourinho, who often did little good for his confidence.
He suggested United generally do better against teams who don’t invite pressure on to themselves – backed up by the fact they’ve only lost two of 11 matches against the rest of the ‘big six’ and Leicester.
And with a City side
that hasn’t kept a clean sheet in the Premier League for nearly two months next up, Rashford has another chance to prove any lingering doubters he’s worthy of being regarded United’s new talisman.
Didn’t score at the weekend apparently
— Marcus Rashford (@MarcusRashford) December 5, 2019
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