Rashford’s derby winner describes extraordinary resurgence for ‘real deal’ Man Utd

It’s been almost a full year since Marcus Rashford was replaced in an FA Cup win against Aston Villa and then took his place on the bench with the appearance of a player who seemed completely absent.

His body language, the apparent disappearance of his smile, his general form. Everything about Rashford has been scrutinized down to the last detail. A few months ago, it was reported that England sought help from a sports psychologist to recover from its role in the Euro 2020 failure.

In simple terms, a player who once looked like he could go as far in the game as he wanted was starting to look like a lost cause at Old Trafford.

Fast forward to 14 January 2023, Rashford is now the poster child for a new era at the Theater of Dreams, and his latest win in the Manchester derby shows that both he and United are finally coming out of a nightmare.

Of course, Erik ten Hag clearly played a role in both resurrections.

You can forgive him for approaching the game with a sense of apprehension, given that City destroyed them in a 6-3 win at the Etihad Stadium in October.

This was a reality check after their streak of four league wins, a defeat that essentially led Ten Hag to thank City for showing the Red Devils how much harder they needed to work.

Since then, and before Saturday’s game, only Newcastle United (24) had earned more Premier League points than the Reds. Obviously, recovery is quick and significant.

This time, City did not score like an avalanche in the first half. At the break in October, City took a 4-0 lead, with Phil Foden and Erling Haaland each backed – the Norwegian enjoying a brutal entry into the derby.

In the meantime, United were on the better side, creating the best two (only?) chances of the first half and limiting City to just one attempt, which was blocked anyway.

Luke Shaw’s central choice looked interesting, but he was once again impressive, even against Haaland, and Fred’s midfield tenacity helped dampen Kevin De Bruyne’s influence.

United found joy in the left inner lane with Rashford forcing Manuel Akanji into the goal line gap for the first time after passing the stranded Ederson. The England striker then went beyond Rodri, but saw his close effort choked by the goalkeeper.

The hosts were generally comfortable.

Rashford

Rashford

Anthony Martial didn’t look stern as he drew the crowd’s disappointment several times, including his reluctance to put pressure on Ederson when he received an awkward pass – which doesn’t bode well for the Frenchman. The so-called “press monster” in Wout Weghorst.

Rashford then stood up with a kick to the hip just before halftime. Despite continuing, United were missing something in the attack because they seemed to be holding back and Martial was pulled back, possibly due to his own conditioning issues.

City stepped things up. Their trademark ball domination was back and United struggled to come out of the defensive third.

The ball to Rashford was gone and United and Ten Hag’s new focus seemed to be prudence.

But that had to go out the window with Jack Grealish’s head opener. City turned the screw and eventually brought the breakthrough when De Bruyne managed to break free of his Fred and Casemiro-shaped shackles to deliver the perfectly sculpted cross.

From there, most would have assumed that City would continue to score the three points, assisting in their quest to chase Arsenal – but this United is made of tough stuff.

Bringing in Alejandro Garnacho for Christian Eriksen was crucial as United suddenly had more presence on the forward line and occupied the City defence.

And Rashford, who was barely kicked after the break, came back to life. The awareness of putting the ball to Bruno Fernandes when the offside was outstanding allowed the Portuguese midfielder to come home in cool blood just outside the penalty area.

Then came Rashford’s moment.

Garnacho curled up and turned left, clearing just enough room to squeeze a low midrange past Nathan Ake, and Rashford was there to poke Ederson’s legs.

This made him the first United player to score in seven consecutive games since Cristiano Ronaldo in April 2008, making it the 27th winning goal of his Premier League career.

For many, that winner, this win, the mindset to turn things around in the derby against the champions, will confirm United as real championship contenders.

The fact that Rashford is the actor spearheading their revival makes it a truly gripping tale of redemption.

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