The Manchester derby has historically been a titanic fixture. A city divided- heroes and villains created, a clash where any telling contribution will indelibly ingratiate you into folklore, well unless your surname goes by Rooney.
One man, the centre of this piece, has already achieved celebrity status in the grandest of occasions and has certainly done all that is possible to potentially make history repeat itself. The boy wonder Marcus Rashford, unfazed by the grandeur and magnitude of an away day derby (his first for the club), endeared himself to the United fans even further, after a scintillating fairytale start to his United career by settling the fixture at the Etihad Stadium last season.
Juan Mata’s intricate pass found Rashford on the left side deep in enemy territory. The fearless teen breezed past a bewildered Martin Demichelis before bearing down on the onrushing Joe Hart. Did the boy freeze? Did the occasion get to him? Nothing of the sort. Rashford finished like a derby veteran, with composure belying his fledgling status. Heroes are forged on moments like that.
Rashford has enjoyed a purple patch of late, with his late goal on Humberside kickstarting a golden spell for the striker: His lack of minutes in August resulted in being overlooked for Sam Allardyce’s first England squad, despite being one of a minority to come out of England’s abject Euros with reputation unscathed. He was subsequently afforded the chance for valuable minutes with the Under 21’s. A hat-trick against his Norwegian counterparts was another example of Rashford seizing opportunities with both hands.
Rashford has seen his burgeoning reputation enhanced further by his happy knack of taking every opportunity by storm: Scoring twice in his full European and domestic debuts; scoring on his full England debut, his first Manchester derby and a hat-trick on his first Under-21 start. Who would bet against him causing serious damage to City on Saturday once more?
Some players buckle under the pressure of delivering for a club the magnitude of Manchester United. Contrastingly, Rashford appears to thrive under the increased spotlight, the big stage simply does not fluster him. He will be living the dream, under the tutelage of Zlatan there can be few role models who can eclipse the Swede, not to mention Rashford is donning the strip of the club of his dreams. Fans are always prepared to give one of their own more time than those acquired, with Rashford that bedding in period has not been required. An academy product destined for the very top, it doesn’t get any better than that.
One detrimental aspect, of many, in Van Gaal’s tenure was the lack of competition for places due to players continually knocking on the door because of their performances. Now Anthony Martial, Juan Mata et Al cannot rest on their laurels, with the likes of Rashford, the outstanding Henrikh Mkhitaryan and ever improving Jesse Lingard vying for the attacking berths, oh and maybe Memphis…
This weekend Mourinho has the Holy Grail of a selection headache of debilitating migraine proportions: Martial has had a mini revival in the blue of France, after a relatively indifferent August for United. Miki’s incisive cameo at Hull, if he has overcome his International duty injury, will put him in the frame for his first competitive start.
Can you deny someone who is enjoying the most golden of spells though? Some of you out there will correctly point out that United have had an unblemished start to the campaign and found the winning formula without Rashford and Miki from the outset. With the derby meaning that bit extra to the local lad, Mourinho will be darn tempted to unleash Rashford on Guardiola’s men.
Rashford will doubtless be experiencing the ultimate sensation for a striker- stepping out onto the pitch knowing if you get a chance you are going to take it. Confidence must be oozing out of the guy’s veins currently. He would get a hero’s welcome should he start at the weekend, my feeling is it is too good an opportunity to spurn, even if that means meddling with the flawless eleven to date.
Players often revel in showering praise on their colleagues, but deep down the attacking three behind Zlatan will be looking at Rashford’s exploits with trepidation. Their places are vulnerable this weekend and they know it.
Marcus Rashford has stamped his mark on a Manchester derby already in his fledgling United career, he deserves the chance for history to re-write itself.