For most of this season, the only Manchester striker who has been spoken of with respect has been a Norwegian, wearing City’s blue kit.
Marcus Rashford extended his scoring streak to a career-high six in a row his double against Charlton in the EFL Cup on Tuesday.
The 25-year-old’s achievements this season are 15 – three times more than last season.
He has already surpassed his return for all but two campaigns in a career where he performed well enough to win 51 caps for England. From this position, few would be surprised if Rashford surpassed his highest score of 22 from the 2019-20 season.
Manager Erik ten Hag certainly wouldn’t do that, provided Rashford stayed focused.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re in the game or not, you have to keep focusing on scoring goals,” the Dutchman said last week when asked by BBC Sport if Rashford could continue to improve.
“A player like Marcus, but others in our squad – Anthony Martial is the same – when they stay in the game, mentally and focused, with 100% concentration, they have the skill and only need one moment to turn the game into a positive path.
If he develops this skill, he will score more goals and contribute to a successful season.
It is worth noting that Ten Witch has returned home twice in the week since he said those words.
While United are undergoing a tough test in what appears to be a significant and lasting improvement since they were humiliated at the Etihad Stadium on October 2, Rashford’s name is mentioned in the same breath as Haaland’s goal scorer.
That Rashford should have gotten to this position at all is cause for quiet satisfaction.
In June, Rashford’s career appeared to be at a crossroads.
He was left out of the England squad for four Nations League matches over a campaign that began with shoulder surgery, which he delayed to enable him to play at Euro 2020 – a tournament that ended in mental anguish after failing a penalty shoot-out for which he was specifically assigned .
The man who captured the nation’s attention and hearts during lockdown with his relentless campaign to end child poverty regarded his day job as a struggle.
Needed a reset.
It wasn’t as left field as his escape from the trauma of the Euro when he showed up at the local – and now closed – Power League center in the shadow of the Trafford Center with, among others, former United prospect Ravel Morrison for a relaxed kickaround.
But on an extended summer trip to the United States, Rashford had gone through a thorough “season preparation”, so when he started working under Ten Hag, he was ready to go.
Rashford’s work has expanded to two sites. Nike HQ in Portland and the University Field in New Jersey.
It is safe to say that the former focused on marginal profits.
Rashford spent a week in Portland. He posted pictures of exhausting training sessions on social media.
But the detail was the key.
His performance has been subjected to data capture and analysis of some aspects of his game. One of them was the starting speed of the sprint. It was determined that Rashford lost a tenth of a second while resting on his back foot.
Then there was maximizing Rashford’s peripheral vision, something Sir Alex Ferguson embraced when in power.
Worked on how Rashford turned away from the opponent or the direction of the ball. Changes can save anything from 0.1 seconds.
It’s not much, but in the Premier League football arena, where the best compete against each other, the difference compared to making changes can be huge.
As Rashford’s videos showed, he ran a lot, working closely with strength and conditioning coaches both in Portland and the East Coast, where he worked with the local university team on specific drills and set pieces.
Rashford understood the importance of these sessions.
After a disappointing 12 months, with a new boss who could impress, he had to put in his first “proper” pre-season since 2019.
No outfield player was involved for more than 313 minutes for Rashford in United’s six-match tour of Thailand, Australia, Norway and Manchester. He scored twice, both at the iconic MCG, against Melbourne Victory and Crystal Palace.
“Priceless,” was how Rashford himself described it at the time.
As with United as a whole, Rashford’s summer job took some time to pay its dividends.
Defeats to Brighton and Brentford in August extended his goalless streak to 17 matches, equaling the worst club performance of his career.
But a win over Liverpool on August 22 turned the season around for Rashford and United. Since the defeat at Brentford, United have failed to win just five of their 25 matches in all competitions. Rashford scored in 12 of those matches. All 12 have been won.
He regained England’s coveted World Cup spot and became his country’s top scorer with Bukayo Saka.
This time, Rashford’s post-tournament debate focused on why Gareth Southgate did not play more than five minutes with him in the quarter-final defeat to France.
He has scored in every game since his return.
He wasn’t perfect. He was benched by Ten Hag for a trip to Wolves on December 31 after missing the start of the team’s game because he overslept.
The fact that he got the winner that day helped, but the player’s response – “It’s a mistake that can happen. I was disappointed not to play, but I understand. I think we can draw the line and move on.” She was professional and respectful. . Rashford and Ten Hag have indeed gone further.
Now City – and Haaland – stand in their way. Despite their position behind Arsenal in the table, this is the game United have been looking forward to.
For Rashford, it’s the perfect stage to show there’s more than one striker in Manchester.