Marcus Rashford is back - and Manchester United need him more than ever

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Marcus Rashford is back - and Manchester United need him more than ever - REUTERS
Marcus Rashford is back - and Manchester United need him more than ever - REUTERS

Marcus Rashford spent the majority of the Euros with England on the outside looking in and there must have been times over the past few months when he feared he might face a similar situation with Manchester United once fit again.

Plenty, after all, were wondering if Rashford would struggle to win his place back following the summer arrivals of Jadon Sancho and Cristiano Ronaldo and the sudden surfeit of attacking options at Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s disposal.

It did not help, either, that Rashford had struggled during the second half of last season, admittedly in large part due to the shoulder and ankle injuries that not only compromised his fitness but ultimately left him questioning his decision to go to the Euros with his country.

He ended up playing the third fewest minutes of those England players who got on the pitch and appeared short of confidence and in the wrong frame of mind by the time he was introduced at the end of extra-time in the final against Italy and inexplicably asked to take a penalty in the subsequent shoot-out defeat.

Coming less than seven weeks after he had looked patently unfit in United’s Europa League final defeat to Villarreal, when merely getting his left boot on was a minor feat in itself after his body was pushed to breaking point, it was not the end to the season Rashford had hoped for or envisaged, to put it mildly.

Time is a great healer, though, and after three months out following shoulder surgery, which also afforded his ankle the rest it needed, Rashford is due to make his eagerly awaited return to action against Leicester on Saturday, pain free for the first time in two years, and with United in great need of his services.

Solskjaer’s hopes of a strong start to the season imploded before the international break, when United dropped five points from six against Aston Villa and Everton and were most fortunate to escape with a 2-1 win against Villarreal in the Champions League after their European campaign got off to miserable beginnings with defeat away to Young Boys.

Having scored five goals in his first five outings back at United, Ronaldo was unhappy about being on the bench in the 1-1 draw against Everton, just as he did not look amused about being overlooked for penalty taking duties when Bruno Fernandes blazed over from 12 yards as Solskjaer’s men slumped to defeat to Villa the previous weekend.

Sancho’s Old Trafford career has yet to get going, Edinson Cavani has seldom been fit and United, with just three goals in their past four games, have been leaning heavily on the 20-year-old Mason Greenwood for inspiration when Ronaldo has not got them out of jail.

The trip to Leicester precedes league games against Liverpool, Tottenham, Manchester City, Watford, Chelsea and Arsenal and Solskjaer will have to make do without his first choice centre-half pairing of Harry Maguire and Raphael Varane this weekend due to injury.

Rashford alone will not solve some of the systematic issues that Solskjaer seems no nearer to fixing and which make it hard to look beyond one of City, Liverpool or Chelsea for the title but he should bring a fresh dimension to United’s attack which, the opening day 5-1 win against Leeds aside, has yet to really click.

It may be a couple of games, at least, before we see Rashford starting but his rehabilitation has gone well and he scored twice in a 3-0 win over Blackburn during a 60-minute behind closed doors friendly at Old Trafford last week that was arranged purely to hasten his recovery process.

There has been no glaring discomfort since he resumed contact training and his determination to return in peak condition has been reflected during the long days he has spent at Carrington, both training out on the field and working in the gym. It has, for example, not been uncommon to see him arriving at 8am and sometimes not leaving the training ground until 6pm.

A naturally lean individual, he has been using resistance bands to help improve his upper body strength, having added 4kg of muscle to his legs through an assortment of weights sessions while he gave his shoulder time to recover.

There have only been small windows during the past two seasons when Rashford has been fully fit. Whereas last season was marred by shoulder problems from late September onwards and later ankle ligament issues, the 2019/20 campaign was undermined by a stress fracture in his back that was not adequately managed by Solskjaer. It led to the player being out of action for five months, even if the coronavirus crisis and lockdown meant he did not miss too much football.

That litany of problems convinced Rashford that his body needed to rest and that shoulder surgery was the right move and there is optimism at United that they will now see a fully energised and revitalised player, both physically and mentally, going forward. Given the games to come, Solskjaer will hope his return is ideally timed.

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