Marcus Rashford will undoubtedly feel he could – and should – have made a decisive impact in Manchester United’s underwhelming 1-0 win over Young Boys, but even before the match he was on a hiding to nothing thanks to Jose Mourinho.
The England international was starting as United’s main striker in place of the dropped Romelu Lukaku, and Mourinho made it seem as though the selection was inspired by fan pressure, as opposed to the Belgian’s dire form.
“They [United fans] are always asking for Rashford to play, so you cannot complain that Rashford is playing as a number nine,” Mourinho said to BT, seemingly in a pre-meditated move to absolve himself of any criticism.
Mourinho spoke extensively in the build-up about wanting United players to be able to cope with the pressure of playing at Old Trafford, saying they should stay at “home” if they cannot handle it.
Indeed, Alexis Sanchez was left at home, whereas Rashford – pressure increased tenfold – was in the firing line before the game even started.
The attacker was one of United’s liveliest players throughout. His movement kept the Young Boys defence guessing, his ability on the ball leaving them in knots on occasion.
While he was guilty of overplaying once or twice, few can blame him wanting to prove a point to the manager.
The first chance of the match fell to Rashford after just five minutes – his blistering pace seeing him collect a Luke Shaw pass in behind the defence, but he fired over when one-on-one with the goalkeeper.
It was Mourinho’s reaction that was most noteworthy, however.
Stood on the edge of his technical area, he turned away in disgust, held his arms out to the United crowd as if to say “I told you so”, then crossed his arms and looked down at the floor – the look on his face one of expected disappointment rather than anger.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) November 27, 2018
Television pundit and former striker Gary Lineker subsequently wrote on Twitter: “If I saw my manager react like that, I would be absolutely livid.”
Whether Rashford saw the reaction is unclear, but he looked undeterred and continued plugging away – he just couldn’t find the target.
He whistled a 25-yard strike just wide in the 27th minute, before doing so again in the second period from slightly closer in.
The introduction of Lukaku saw Rashford shunted out to the right and shortly after he was played into a corner in his own half and accidentally carried the ball out under pressure from three Young Boys players.
Mourinho put his hand to his face, shook his head and walked away.
Rashford remained positive and direct, but with United’s tactics becoming increasingly unimaginative as the clock ticked, the forward faded.
As the match entered the final eight minutes, United surpassed the club’s previous record of 264 minutes without a home Champions League goal.
Fellaini’s last-gasp winner will arguably spare Rashford from scorn, while the Belgian’s reaction – running over to his manager for a hug – suggested there are definitely some players at United who react positively to Mourinho’s management style.
But for someone who preaches about United needing more “heart” in their performances, Mourinho could do with showing a little more love to those like Rashford who are enduring difficult spells.
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