It’s been more than 48 hours since Manchester United altered the dynamics of the title race by comprehensively beating runaway leaders Chelsea 2-0 at Old Trafford on a day when simply everything went to plan.
Jose Mourinho went with a side that was as unconventional as it has been in his brief time at Old Trafford so far – with the usual suspects Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Michael Carrick and Henrikh Mkhitaryan on the bench and Ashley Young taking the armband off Marouane Fellaini – starting at left wing-back. Homegrown talents in Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard played off each other up front harassing the opposition back three from minute one, which almost set the tone for what came after.
The first half-chance was carved out of Lingard’s willingness to hassle a tired-looking David Luiz, when his closing in on the Brazilian aided the deflection towards goal which Rashford was available to pounce on to. The warning signs were planted right from the very beginning and Manchester United looked primed to strike when the opportunity was available. And they did, not long afterwards.
It was Marcus Rashford again and this time he put the ball past Begovic and into the net. A turn over in possesssion and the home side broke on a run in a flash, thanks to Rashford’s clever positioning right on the shoulder of a nonplussed David Luiz – he was able to find just enough space behind Chelsea to utilize his pace and a finish that merited a lead over the league leaders.
Midfielder and man-of-the-match Ander Herrera would add a second goal to his assist for the first one to cap off one of the finest individual performances of the season for the Red Devils. But it was youngster Marcus Rashford who typified what Jose Mourinho’s footballing idea has always been about.
Rashford’s performance as up top against Chelsea would fit right into Mourinho’s idea of a center-forward in many ways when we think back to some of the more successful forwards he has had across different countries, who were all defined by their hard-working/sacrificial nature as much as important goals.
Although the very idea of Rashford being called a ‘center-forward’ on the back of that game sounds grossly incorrect given his work ethic and the positions he was willing to take.
More importantly his all-round display on Sunday would also place more emphasis on the changing times in the Premier League and football in general and the oft-criticized Jose Mourinho adapting to it at his new club without renouncing his old ways. But this is where it gets interesting for players who have not pulled the weight in a way he wants his players to – especially Anthony Martial who despite his undeniable ability on the ball and scoring goals has been struggling to impress the manager enough to force the way he thinks.
His most recent cameo against Anderlecht was as unimpressive as the whole of this season on a personal level and barring very few of stand-out performances – against West Ham in the EFL cup, Middlesbrough and Watford in the league, Martial has almost been anonymous, completely in contrast to the attention he was receiving and rightly so, last season.
But when there were doubts about what Martial could do to bridge that gap and turn the spotlight on him again, the answers were staring him in the face one by one – cue the Mkhitaryan comeback from near wilderness and an ongoing Luke Shaw recovery, a lot fresher in memory.
But the greatest example has come from the youngest of players in Marcus Rashford – particularly more in the last two games. Firmly in the good books of Mourinho after Sunday, it is easy to forget that the 20-year old did not always play as well as he did against Chelsea. But he has grafted his way into the side with determination and a ‘I shall not be moved’ attitude that Mourinho favors in all of his players, all the more so when they are not contributing enough in terms of actual goals and assists, which Martial, like many others, has not.
Blessed with brilliant skill, Martial has the world at his feet, but only when he wants to. That should change for his own good and thankfully the template has already been set by his teammate and colleague.