After being knocked out of the Champions’ League Group Stage, Manchester United was 2-1 down after the first leg against FC Midtjylland and in danger of humiliatingly getting knocked out of the first round of the knockout stage of the Europa League. Going into the second leg at home on February 25, 2016, United immediately faced an uphill battle, as Anthony Martial, its young new striker, was injured during warm-up. With no other options for forwards, Louis van Gaal was forced to play Marcus Rashford, an 18-year old who had yet to make a debut for the senior team.
Within the first half hour, Manchester United found itself down 3-1 on aggregate courtesy of a goal from Pione Sisto, after some fancy footwork created space inside the box for a shot towards the far post. While United managed to pick up one goal later in the half, a missed penalty by Juan Mata did nothing to alleviate fears going into the second half.
However, midway into the second half, United’s untested striker was able to get on the end of a pull-back from Mata and score from inside the Midtjylland box. Suddenly, United was level on aggregate, and the momentum saw a shift. Twelve minutes later, Rashford bagged a second goal, connecting with Guillermo Varela’s cross from the right. In just over an hour, Manchester United’s previously unknown striker had become the club’s youngest scorer in a European competition, beating George Best’s previous record. Ultimately, United convincingly won the game 5-1 (6-3 on aggregate).
On the domestic front, Manchester United were also struggling, having lost 2-1 against relegation candidates Sunderland on February 13, and they were to face title-candidates Arsenal on February 28, who had thrashed them 3-0 back in October. Once again, Rashford shined, scoring two first half goals before setting up a third in an eventual 3-2 win.
While Marcus Rashford has played exceptionally well for Manchester United so far, it is important not to overhype him. Not only has he only played two games so far, history is fraught with players with strong debuts who later saw their careers stall, be it through injury or through the pressures of being seen as the next superstar. Nonetheless, Rashford has shown significant potential, especially in his pace, positioning, and anticipation. With United’s current injury problems, Rashford will likely have several more opportunities to impress in the near future.