Manchester United look like a completely different team under new interim boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer than they did under former gaffer Jose Mourinho – in fact are these even the same players we seen suffer humiliating derby defeats to Liverpool and Manchester City and a 3-1 loss to West Ham.
Since the former Red Devils ‘super sub’ replaced the sacked Mourinho last month, United have breezed past their last four opponents – scoring 14 goals in the process whilst conceding just three at the other end. Albeit against Newcastle, Bournemouth, Huddersfield and Cardiff, teams they should be beating on paper. Although, other teams they were expected to beat earlier in the season under the former Chelsea boss didn’t go to plan – such as, draws with Wolves, Southampton and Crystal Palace, while losing to the Hammers.
England youngster Marcus Rashford is one of a few Man United players who have showed improvement since the Portuguese was sacked, along with Paul Pogba, and that could be down to the fact Solskjaer is starting him in his preferred position. Under Mourinho, Rashford was often started on the wing and he quite clearly struggled to adjust to the new position, scoring just four times in 17 games across all competitions, while he also seemed to struggle with confidence missing some great chances for both Manchester United and England.
However, since the Norwegian took over at Old Trafford he has moved the 21-year-old back to centre-forward and started him ahead of Belgian counterpart Romelu Lukaku – who has also been slated for his form this season. Rashford has bagged three goals in his last four outings, finding the net against Cardiff City, Bournemouth and Newcastle United. Under the former Chelsea boss in the Premier League the youngster made 14 appearances, had 11 shots on target and found the back of the net three times, compared to four caps under Solskjaer, 10 shots on target and three goals – so his improvement is undeniable.
Goalscoring isn’t just the only thing that Rashford has improved recently, he looks like an all-round new player and is brimming with confidence is every aspect not just goal-scoring. He has used his lightening quick pace to run at the weak defences the Red Devils have faced in recent weeks and having World Cup winner Pogba – who has scored four and assist a few more - in a more advanced role behind him has definitely helped the youngster too.
The positional freedom Rashford now has under Solskjaer has clearly had an affect on his brilliant performances as well, under Mourinho the English international was stuck on the wing and often had to track back and carryout defensive duties. However, with the new front-three system now in place, we have seen them roam and switch it about in attack – as we have seen against the Cherries when Rashford beat two defenders on the right-hand side and crossed in low, setting up Pogba.
Finally, with Solskjaer being a former striker himself and knowing what it takes to score goals at Old Trafford, it’s obvious he has stuck to his word and has worked directly with Rashford on the training pitch to help improve his finishing and composure.
When the 45-year-old took over earlier last month he made it clear on several occasions he wanted to help the youngster improve and develop into one of the best strikers, he said: “When you’re young, you want to rush finishes off and it will be great to work with such a potentially top, top striker, just on his calmness in front of goal. It’s all in his head. Know what to do, that’s key of everything. Know what to do, and then be able to do it.”
This is something Rashford has previously admitted he has struggled with, especially against former Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois – who the 21-year-old admits has got the better of him on a couple of occasions making him panic in one-on-one situations.
And that work off the pitch showed last night as Rashford took a touch, composed himself and as cool as you’d like slotted it past the on-coming Newcastle keeper Martin Dubravka into the bottom corner to make it 2-0.
“I can talk about loads of individuals but when you’re a striker like he is, scores such a great goal like today, calm, composed, just passed it past the goalkeeper,” Solskjaer said about Rashford’s goal. However, despite his recent form the caretaker United boss did admit that with Lukaku also finding the net recently, the 21-year-old might not always be played down the middle.
“Tough test (playing up front on his own). He gets kicked, and he gets tackled, he goes for headers, he wins, he challenges, he runs. He is going to be a top, top number nine, definitely.
“But then we’ve got Rom, so sometimes he’ll play on the right, sometimes on the left, sometimes through the middle, he’ll get enough games,” Solskjaer added.