Marcus Rashford has put two years of frustration behind him as the Manchester United star’s blistering form has inspired his club’s return to relevance in the Premier League.
Rashford will spearhead United’s attack in Saturday’s crucial derby against Manchester City after recovering from a difficult period that threatened to squander his vast potential.
Before the start of this season, it was increasingly hard to imagine Rashford would be the focal point of any big game, let alone such a pivotal showdown as fourth-placed United’s clash with second-placed City.
But Rashford is flourishing again after committing to a career reset.
The 25-year-old’s double in United’s League Cup quarter-final win against Charlton on Tuesday extended his scoring run to a career-best six successive games.
Rashford has hit seven goals in that period and 15 in total this term for United after managing just five last season.
It is a welcome sight for United fans, who feared Rashford may never recapture the form that made him a teenage sensation when he burst onto the Old Trafford stage in 2016 after graduating from the youth academy.
Rashford’s decline reached its lowest ebb when he suffered racist abuse on social media after missing a spot-kick in England’s penalty shoot-out defeat against Italy in the European Championship final in 2021.
Struggling to deal with a long-term shoulder injury, Rashford’s United form was woeful both in the months before the Euros and in the aftermath of the tournament.
Manchester-born Rashford had been awarded an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) medal after playing a key role in forcing two government U-turns over free meals for school children.
But, concerned he was no longer putting his day job first, then United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer warned Rashford to “prioritise his football” in late 2021.
Solskjaer’s message did not have the desired effect and Rashford was linked with a move to Paris Saint-Germain amid reports United were losing patience with his slump.
By the time he was left out of England’s squad for their Nations League fixtures last June, it was clear Rashford’s career was at a crossroads.
But, resolving to get back on track, Rashford flew to the United States, where he embarked on a transformative training regime, that included work on his sprinting style and peripheral vision to improve his link-up play, ahead of Erik ten Hag’s first pre-season as United manager.
A cathartic goal in United’s win against Liverpool in August, quickly followed by a double in their victory over Arsenal, announced Rashford’s return to prominence.
Rashford was back in favour with England as well, and goals against Iran and Wales at the World Cup underlined his resurgence.
With Cristiano Ronaldo leaving in acrimonious circumstances in November, Rashford has re-established himself as United’s number one striker.
Becoming the first United player since Wayne Rooney in 2010 to score in eight consecutive home appearances, Rashford has helped his side climb the Premier League table as they target a return to the Champions League after last season’s dismal sixth-place finish.
Heading into the Manchester derby, Ten Hag’s team have won eight successive matches in all competitions for the first time since 2019.
Even being dropped at Wolves on New Year’s Eve -- after missing a team meeting because he overslept -- could not rattle Rashford, who got the winner after coming on as a substitute and maturely took the blame for his error.
“It’s a mistake that can happen. I think we can draw a line under it and move on,” Rashford said.
Ten Hag’s firm but fair approach appears to be exactly what Rashford needs to maintain his revival.
“A player like Marcus, when they stay in the game, mentally and are focused, with 100 percent concentration, they have the skills and only need one moment to change the game in a positive way,” Ten Hag said.