Marcus Rashford continues to elevate himself. In Manchester United’s emphatic victory over RB Leipzig the striker joined the action after 63 minutes and proceeded to score a hat-trick in a cameo display of menace and ruthlessness that personified Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side.
The 22-year-old continues to be an inspiration in his unswerving fight against food poverty that has already caused one government U-turn and is aiming to provoke another. Against United’s German visitors he was a one-man demolition act, scoring on 74, 78 and 90 minutes, even having time to display the selflessness that drives him to help those less fortunate.
This particular moment came after United won a penalty when Anthony Martial was felled. Having already scored twice Rashford eschewed the opportunity to try to complete his hat-trick by allowing the Frenchman to take the spot-kick, which he did, successfully. Modest as ever, Rashford shrugged off the act.
“I feel confident with Anthony taking them as well. So no problem,” he said. Martial returned the favour by teeing him up for a simple finish. Rashford’s first had come when Bruno Fernandes slipped him in and the forward beat Peter Gulacsi, Leipzig’s No 1, with ease. The assistant referee flagged yet VAR showed Rashford was not over halfway and onside, and the goal was reinstated.
“I thought I was in my own half so I was a bit confused when the flag went up,” he said. Rashford’s second was of similarly high quality – his speed of thought and execution allowing him to thump past Gulacsi.
“I think the manager wanted me to up the tempo,” he said of his introduction. “That for us means going forward. There were definitely spaces there. We got Bruno and Paul [Pogba] on the ball. We looked dangerous throughout and looked like we could score every time we went forward.”
On Instagram, Rashford posted: “Can’t stop smiling, I’ve waited a long time for that. Just wish the fans were in to experience it with me.” Always thinking of his campaign he added: “ENDCHILDFOODPOVERTY”.
The manager, though, kept his star man grounded. “He came on and did well. You want that from the substitutes,” Solskjær said. “Now is not the time to think about how many goals you’ll end up with. There’s one step at a time and if you get too far ahead of yourself you’re going to lose focus. Marcus has showed he can keep focusing on what’s important on and off the pitch – he did really well.”
That Rashford and Fernandes had started on the bench was illustrative of the depth of quality of Solskjaer’s squad as the manager chose Donny van de Beek for his full debut in the competition for the club.
From the start United were intent on a muscular pressing tactic that had Martial harrying Dayot Upamecano when the middle of the three centre-backs deployed by Julian Nagelsmann tried to initiate play. It was the Frenchman’s break down the right that had Leipzig scrambling but when Martial tried to find the on-rushing Mason Greenwood the pass was behind him.
The tempo was high: Leipzig moved the ball slickly upfield in a sequence that ended with Emil Forsberg shooting and Aaron Wan-Bissaka hoofing clear. The sense, though, was of each team thundering at the other while lacking poise. Upamecano, who endured a torrid outing, hit a pass straight to Fred who in aiming for Van de Beek found only the opposition.
Nemanja Matic received on halfway, spun, and chipped towards Greenwood but once more the radar was off. The latter was about to show ultimate precision. Pogba made the teenager’s opener with a surge that had Leipzig back-pedalling and a slide-rule pass which met the sweetly timed run of Greenwood, whose angled finish beat Gulacsi. He appeared marginally offside but VAR ruled otherwise and the goal stood.
Here was the latest evidence of Greenwood’s undoubted class. Of the 19-year-old, Solskjær said: “He normally does that with his first touch – he is a great finisher and I was very pleased with the timing of his run.”
When they attacked Leipzig were targeting Luke Shaw’s flank as Christopher Nkunku and Benjamin Heinrichs looked for combinations in this area. Heinrichs also appeared lucky not to be booked for a stamp on Pogba, Harry Maguire asking the referee, Matej Jug, why he had not located his yellow card.
Martial, thus far quiet, now went on a familiar surge that had him ghosting into the area and just failing to tee up Van de Beek.
On 63 minutes Solskjær introduced Scott McTominay and Rashford for Matic and Greenwood. Now came The Rashford Show. He is quickly becoming a phenomenon for all the right and admirable reasons. “Today we managed to find the gaps,” he said and he certainly did that.
Solskjær also revealed Alex Telles, the defender signed from Porto in the summer, has Covid-19. “He’s been out now for a little while. He’s tested positive for coronavirus. But he has no symptoms; he’s fine and we can’t wait to get him back.”