Manchester United’s first competitive match in the post-Cristiano Ronaldo era was ultimately decided by a moment of genius from Marcus Rashford.
The Premier League side secured a 2-0 win over Burnley in the last 16 of the Carabao Cup, Christian Eriksen opening the scoring before an excellent solo effort from Rashford gave them the cushion they needed.
Rashford collected the ball from a good 15 yards inside his own half, drove at pace towards the Burnley box, before jinking inside two defenders and slamming at Bailey Peacock-Farrell’s far post from the right.
On Rashford’s performance, Man United boss Erik ten Hag said: “Yeah great. I think he was a constant threat playing on their back four and he’s so dangerous when he dribbles, with his pace and movement without the ball, passing the ball. He runs so much.”
That was Rashford’s ninth goal for his club in what’s proving to be a very productive season for him.
Ten Hag appears to be making good progress at Old Trafford but goals have been hard to come by for his team, who have netted just 20 times in 14 Premier League matches this season.
Terminating the contract of last season’s top scorer in Ronaldo was a risk, even if his explosive comments to Piers Morgan made his future at the club untenable.
And despite the widespread anger at their legend, Man United fans can’t simply turn off their love for Ronaldo, but talkSPORT’s Micky Gray suggested the Old Trafford faithful can now have a different hero to look to these days.
“It’s like watching a new player at Manchester United seeing Marcus Rashford back to his best,” Gray said on commentary.
“When he picks that ball up in his own half, he’s got 60 yards to drive. His pace is unbelievable, he gets a little bit of good fortune inside the two defenders and then he slots it with his laces into the bottom corner.
“It’s brilliant from Rashford, the man in form. He’s had a great World Cup and brought that form back home.”
“There’s nothing better when you’re watching a game of football seeing somebody you know is great at running with the ball,” Gray added.
“He runs from his own half, has shown that desire to go and get on the end of things and make something happen for his team.
“He’s no.1 at Man United this season, we did a little bit in the build-up about Cristiano Ronaldo, they [Man United fans] will sure forget about him if Marcus Rashford keeps coming up with the goods like that.”
Rashford’s exploits are a sign of positive things to come at Man United but Gray argues that the goal was a nice throwback to the days when the forward was terrifying defences as a skinny 18-year-old.
“Left him out of the team after he’d scored two goals in the World Cup… Gareth Southgate didn’t get too much wrong but he did get that wrong,” Gray said.
“Because Marcus Rashford is having the season of his life. He might walk away from his contract, we don’t know, but what we’re seeing from Marcus Rashford right now is the Marcus Rashford that burst onto the scene many years ago.
“He’s electric when he picks up that ball and starts running. He’s actually quicker with the ball than he is without the ball. He scored an outstanding goal tonight.”
As for Ronaldo, the club bid farewell with an 81-word note in the match programme.
It read: “Cristiano Ronaldo left the club by mutual agreement last month.
“The Portuguese superstar scored 145 goals across two spells and 436 appearances, and helped us win three Premier League titles, one FA Cup, two League Cups, the Champions League and the FIFA Club World Cup. Ronaldo was also crowned Ballon d’Or winner in 2008.
“In a statement on November 22, the club put on record its gratitude for Cristiano’s immense contribution and wished him and his family well for the future.”
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