If a song currently represented Marcus Rashford it would be Don’t You Forget About Me by Simple Minds. Rashford would doubtless prefer their unofficial Premier League anthem, Alive and Kicking.
Rashford is on schedule to return from shoulder surgery after the October internationals and it was confirmed on his Twitter account he was due for a consultation with the United club doctor, Steve McNally, on Friday.
Should Rashford emerge onto the pitch at Leicester on October 16, it would have been three months and five days since he pulled his penalty a few millimeters too far to the left in the European Championship final. Rashford admitted he entered the tournament low on confidence and sources say he considered withdrawing from the England squad.
Rashford’s last Manchester United appearance represented the nadir of his club career, although he overcame a dreadful two hours to convert his penalty in Gdansk. He was fortunate to start against Villarreal, given the form of Mason Greenwood and Edinson Cavani, and United now have Jadon Sancho, a would-be number seven, and Cristiano Ronaldo, the number seven.
Yet Rashford’s rest has been beneficial and his return is well-timed. Sancho, now at a club where there is pressure and scrutiny, has not started his United career as well as previous sevens Memphis Depay and Michael Owen did. Goals have dried up for Greenwood in September, Cavani is no longer the first choice and Anthony Martial is an irrelevance.
Sancho has already been dropped and Paul Pogba has started on the left in five of his seven starts for United this term. That experiment has to end, more so because of United’s central midfield limitations when Pogba is not there.
United play Leicester, Liverpool, Tottenham, and Manchester City between the October and November internationals, with Champions League ties against Atalanta and Chelsea away scheduled for late November. Some have already identified it as a potentially defining period for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after three defeats in the last four.
Whenever Solskjaer is under the cosh, he tends to avoid it as it comes down on him. Rashford has been an ally in such scenarios – the equaliser against Liverpool in October 2019 and three goals in the back-to-back wins over Tottenham and Manchester City two months later.
Rashford was in career-best form during that spell, sparked by Gareth Southgate doing what Solskjaer has failed to do – taking him out of the firing line. Rashford’s demotion for England’s inconsequential European Championship qualifying defeat to the Czech Republic elicited an emphatic response: 19 goals in 23 games for club and country.
Back then, Rashford was indispensable for United and his back injury in January of last year exacerbated the crisis at the club, only eased by the signing of Bruno Fernandes. Rashford retained that status following the Premier League’s restart and in the first half of last season, but he went cold in the winter.
Rashford played in all but one of United’s Premier League fixtures last season and he was still on the bench on the final day at Wolves – the only occasion Rashford was an unused substitute. He was absent for just two matches (both through injury) out of 61 in 2020-21.
Skipping a major international tournament would have gnawed at Rashford for years, even if his role was peripheral during the Euros. United also have a top-heavy squad managed by a manager with a suspect substitution strategy, but Rashford is the common denominator in almost all of Solskjaer’s highlights: Cardiff, Tottenham at Wembley, Paris Saint-Germain (twice), the Etihad (twice), RB Leipzig, the 9-0.
Rashford has a big-game prowess to rival Ronaldo. Liverpool and Chelsea are the opponents he is the most prolific against with five goals and he has already tallied four in derbies, with three against Tottenham and PSG. He’s more of a totem to Solskjaer than Fernandes.
And Rashford’s alive and kicking again.