Already 3-0 up and coasting after Bruno Fernandes had tucked home a 73rd-minute penalty, Rashford, after his initial shot was saved, scored his 30th and easiest goal of the season from a couple of yards out to net United&aposs fourth of the evening. It was a moment for the academy graduate to saviour, becoming the first United player since Robin van Persie in 2012/13 to score 30 goals in a single season.
Rashford was one of the stars of United&aposs resurrection under Erik ten Hag last season, producing a series of eye-catching performances in addition to his tally of 30 goals. Ten Hag was confident that it was just the beginning for the 26-year-old.
“There&aposs a lot of room for improvement in his game,” said Ten Hag, speaking immediately after the win over Chelsea in May. “I&aposm convinced he can score even more.
“When you take, for instance, the last 10 games, he didn&apost score many goals. I think only two or three, so yes he can improve. I am happy from what he did last season to now that he brings himself back.
“We supported him where we could, with the way we play but also in his mental mindset. We are happy with that, but we must push him more. I think he&aposs capable of to score 40 goals in a season. So for him that&aposs the next step.”
If Rashford is to hit 40 goals this season, he needs to score another 38 between now and the end of May. He has plundered just two goals so far this season, one of which was a penalty in the 3-0 win over Everton at the end of last month.
Only Arsenal have conceded a goal in open play from the England international this season, and his recent performances have suggested that it will be a while before anyone else does. He has, like United have as a collective, regressed at an alarming rate, so much so that his performance in Saturday night&aposs 1-0 defeat to Newcastle United at St James&apos Park left United&aposs supporters seething.
Recalled to the starting line-up after missing the midweek draw with Galatasaray through suspension, Rashford, once again, started on the right flank, with Alejandro Garnacho, who has been United&aposs best attacker by a country mile in recent weeks, justifiably continuing on the left. Being truthful, you&aposd have been forgiven for not realising he was even on the pitch.
Hooked after 61 minutes, Rashford offered nothing to United&aposs attack and even less in support to Aaron Wan-Bissaka at right-back. He downed tools when he was required to sprint back and provide defensive support, failing to perform in a way you would expect a boyhood United supporter living the dream of millions to do so.
As a result of his lacklustre and lethargic showing on Tyneside, he will be able to consider himself incredibly fortunate if he keeps his place against Chelsea Wednesday night. No player, regardless of what club they play for, should keep their place in the starting XI if they are not prepared to pull their weight.
Rashford, though United&aposs other wingers have hardly covered themselves in glory so far this season, should have been dropped weeks ago. Instead, Ten Hag, perhaps praying that the England forward can rediscover just a hint of the form he found last season, has stuck by him, handing him 13 Premier League starts so far this season, meaning he has started every league game he has been available for.
Last season, just as Rashford was going up through the gears after returning from the World Cup, Ten Hag made the bold decision to drop him against Wolves at Molineux on December 31, punishing him for being late to a team meeting. Rashford climbed off the bench to score the winner.
There is nothing to say that dropping him again will have the same impact, but Ten Hag has now reached a juncture where he needs to consider axing him from his first-choice starting XI. Any other player would have been dropped by now, meaning Rashford ought to count himself fortunate.