All eyes were on big Belgian Romelu Lukaku, but it was explosive teenager Marcus Rashford who made a considerable impact with a brace in Manchester United’s first outing of pre-season.
With Zlatan Ibrahimovic released (although manager Jose Mourinho has hinted he may still have a future at Old Trafford) and record club goalscorer Wayne Rooney returning to boyhood club Everton, Lukaku was brought in from the Toffees for big money last week to be United’s new attacking spearhead.
On this showing the £75million man will have to get a lot sharper to become the weapon which caused so much damage with 25 Premier League goals last season.
But given United’s impressive 5-2 victory against the LA Galaxy in California was the first outing for the players, it’s important not to read too much into Lukaku’s debut, who it should be said enjoyed a solid first outing in a red jersey, although the 24-year-old should have opened his United account minutes after coming on at half-time.
Homegrown hero Rashford, though, lent weight to the belief he can be United’s great new striking hope with a brace in an eye-catching 45-minute display.
The 19-year-old’s all-round performance should excite United fans. This wasn’t a typical pre-season opener, with United fast and flowing from the first whistle. The Galaxy are in the midst of the MLS season yet United were on a different planet to them in the first half.
And Rashford was at the heart of their ferocious start, anticipating passes, making adroit runs into space, as well as holding his line so as to not stray offside – something he’s been guilty of in the past.
If you follow Rashford on social media, you’ll know he’s been busy in the gym during the off-season and it was noticeable that he’s beefed up. In one passage of play he dropped deep to the halfway line to receive a pass, holding the ball up in coverage before cleverly turning defender Hugo Arellano, who was forced to haul him down.
It’s no secret that the youngster wants to play as a central striker and he seems to be taking steps to make that happen. He impressively featured in 53 games last season but mainly from the right channel in a three-pronged attack or as one of the three in the 4-2-3-1 formation.
He was criticised for his lack of goals (11, compared to eight in 11 games in a barnstorming breakout 2015/16 campaign) but his detractors didn’t pay much attention to what he did do – making decoy runs, opening up defences by making space for Ibrahimovic and tracking back. Basically learning his trade.
What you saw against the Galaxy was a sharper, focused, hungrier Rashford. His pace often presents him with chances but whereas everything he hit seemed to hit the back of the net in his fledgling season, last term he passed up a lot of opportunities.
He was alert to race onto Jesse Lingard’s pass to calmly stroke home the opening goal after just 115 seconds. He was lethal 18 minutes later too, sweeping past LA ‘keeper Jon Kempin after being teed up by Juan Mata.
The only blot on his outing was a failure to secure the match ball by the break. Rashford beat the offside trap to latch onto Michael Carrick’s lofted pass but with his easiest chance in a one-on-one with Kempin, the stopper smothered his effort.
It is only one game of course, but he seems to have honed his shooting. The spurning of his hat-trick aside, he showed ruthless precision. He was clinical, accurate, deadly. His finishing reminded you of Rooney at his devastating best.
Marcus Rashford and former United captain Wayne Rooney
Mourinho said earlier this year he felt Rashford could surpass Rooney’s United record of 253 goals – which he only set last season after surpassing Sir Bobby Charlton’s previous record of 249 against Stoke in January – if he stays at United for his entire career.
Chris Smalling went further and suggested the teen is the only player who can do it.
That’s a monumental target to set the kid, who despite his bright start to pre-season, faces a tall task to force his way into a central striking role ahead of Lukaku.
But the early indications are that United’s new golden boy has taken his game to a new level. With Rooney and Ibrahimovic now out of the picture, Rashford’s display against Galaxy will have left Mourinho believing the local lad from Wythenshawe can take over the world.