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'You can't play for Man Utd if you don't have mental strength' - Rashford opens up on setbacks & Solskjaer

14:26 GMT 05/02/2021
Marcus Rashford Man Utd 2020-21
The England forward talks to Goal about reinstating a winning mentality at Old Trafford, his preferred position and his manager's advice

Marcus Rashford believes an improved mentality at Manchester United could give them an advantage in the Premier League title race.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side sit three points behind leaders Manchester City, having played one game more, but there is a growing confidence within the squad that they can push Pep Guardiola's men all the way to the end of the season.

While Jurgen Klopp claimed his Liverpool side were "mentally fatigued" after their shock loss to Brighton at Anfield on Wednesday night, United's players are brimming with belief after bouncing back from two disappointing results against Sheffield United and Arsenal with a record-equalling 9-0 demolition of Southampton the night before.

"You can’t play for United if you don’t have mental strength," Rashford told Goal. "If you can't cope with the pressure of playing for a club like this, then you just can’t perform at a team of this size.

"The players have shown on many different occasions that we can do it, so it's just about achieving that consistency of doing it every game.

"This year has been better and we can still improve on it, and have a strong finish to the season. It starts from individuals always just wanting more and when it goes into a collective, you get that winning mentality.

"Whatever it takes to win the game, the players and the staff are willing to do that. That is something that has to stay with us going forward if we want to be successful for a long time."

The England international, who has scored 16 goals across all competitions this season, also believes that the players are being pushed forward by the pain of past defeats.

United have lost four semi-finals during Solskjaer’s tenure and falling at the final hurdle on each of those occasions is an added motivation for the players during what has been a strange Premier League season.

“The disappointment of losing big games, it makes you tougher mentally and, physically, you know you can always give more and keep pushing yourself for the 90 minutes,” Rashford said.

“When you lose a big game, a semi-final or a final, it’s so disheartening when you’ve been training hard all week for it. If you’ve been in a tournament the whole season, and you get to the final and you lose, it’s like all that hard work you’ve put in was for nothing.

“When that happens to you, you’re either going to go one way or the other. But the team and the staff have stuck together and I think we’ve shown by the way that we’re playing now that those experiences have helped us in a sense. We’ve progressed since those defeats and hopefully we can continue to do that.”

Rashford says that he has learned a lot playing under Solskjaer, which is hardly a surprise, given the Norwegian is a former striker, a United legend renowned for his lethal finishing during his playing days at Old Trafford.

However, the 23-year-old says that Solskjaer's guidance extends beyond tips on shooting, positioning and movement. 

“He is just so positive as a manager," Rashford enthused. "I think it helps when you have a manager that was a forward. But he's also just so positive, encouraging you to go out and try things, and express yourself in the right areas.

“Also, as long as we work hard, he’s happy with us."

Working hard is something that Rashford is prepared to do whatever position he is selected in.

Solskjaer has rotated his forward line constantly this season, with Rashford, Anthony Martial, Mason Greenwood and Edinson Cavani all moving between the front three positions as the United boss works out the best formula to break down opponents.

While Rashford has seemed more effective on the left cutting inside on to his preferred right foot, he admits he enjoys the versatility of being able to play anywhere in attack.

“Throughout my academy days, I always tried to train myself to play in all three of those positions up front, just to give myself a better chance of getting into the first team,” Rashford explained.

“If you have a player who can play in more than one position, then you’re more likely to be involved. It’s something I always dreamed of doing and now the manager is giving me an opportunity to do that.

“I still think I can improve and do better but I’m pleased that I’ve managed to influence games in different positions and help the team win games.”

And in an age where statistics are scrutinised more than ever before, Rashford knows where those improvements need to come.  

“For me, it’s about output," he admitted. "I’ve realised that football has changed a lot. People hardly watch games anymore; it’s all just about goals and assists now.

“I think the position this team is in at the moment, it’s about continuing to win games, getting that momentum going and moving in the right direction. If we’re positive going into the games, as a forward you want to score goals and help other forwards score goals too.

“If we all have that mentality and mindset, then it doesn’t really matter who ends up scoring the goals as long as the ball goes in the back of the net. That’s what’s important.”

Marcus Rashford was speaking at an event for United We Play, a joint initiative by Apollo Tyres and Manchester United