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Rashford taking up the challenge as Man Utd's main man in push for Champions League place

23:23 BST 16/07/2020
Marcus Rashford Manchester United 2019-20
Solskjaer's side are now unbeaten in 12 matches since defeat to Burnley in January and their academy hero has weighed in with his fair share of goals

Marcus Rashford feinted past two Crystal Palace defenders, calmly finished past Vicente Guaita from 10 yards out and the Manchester United directors at Selhurst Park punched the air.

It was huge moment in the club’s bid to finish in the top four and further evidence of Rashford’s progress this season towards becoming the main man up front.

His 46th-minute finish - which put United ahead just before the break after a slow start in South London - was his 17th Premier League goal of the season; that tally equals his total for for the last two league campaigns combined.

With Leicester beating Sheffield United in the early kick-off, United knew they needed a win to keep up the pressure in the race for the Champions League with just three games to play. But Crystal Palace, a team who hadn’t won in five league games prior to Thursday night’s encounter, caused them problems through Wilfried Zaha.

The ex-Man Utd man was unlucky not to have won a penalty when caught by a clumsy Victor Lindelof challenge and the visitors needed no second invitation to capitalise. 

It was down to Rashford to give them the breathing space they needed. Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has spoken before about how he wanted the academy graduate to improve.

When asked to compare Rashford with Cristiano Ronaldo in the past, the Norweigan had pointed to a developed maturity in the multiple Ballon d’Or winner’s game that was perhaps lacking in Rashford. But the Man Utd boss can have no complaints with the composure, ability and skill displayed by the 22-year-old for United’s opener.

His footwork and trickery took out Joel Ward and Patrick van Aanholt and he showed his calm as he side-footed past Guaita.

Rashford has found himself at the centre of a media spotlight after his selfless campaigning during lockdown. He helped ensure children would not go hungry and that the school meal vouchers scheme would be extended.

This week he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Manchester for his efforts. And while the focus may have been on his fundraising, he has also been displaying a similar maturity on the pitch.

His performances at the beginning of the restart weren't as effective as Mason Greenwood's but he showed his apprentice exactly how it is done with a fine all-round display as United beat Palace 2-0.

The England forward has openly spoken about how Solskjaer has helped improve his game and the manager had been screaming on the touchline on the night for him to get inside more often. That instruction found him in the perfect position to score his 21st goal of the season.

Those chances that he might have missed before are now going in. "I am trying to be clever inside the box and find half a yard to get a shot off,” Rashford told BT Sport after the game.

His output has improved vastly under Solskjaer’s tutelage and he has the confidence to try new things. His development is clear - not just his finishing - but his overall contributions.

He was instrumental too in United’s second goal on the night, which sealed a big victory on a difficult night in their push for a top-four finish. He picked the ball up on the halfway line and beat two players before playing a nice one-two with Bruno Fernandes and feeding it back to Anthony Martial, who secured the three points.

Martial is level with Rashford on 21 goals for the season and, with the pair blossoming like never before, it’s a strike force to potentially push Man Utd back into Europe’s elite. The equation is simple; win both remaining matches and they are back at the top table.