When Marcus Rashford broke into the Manchester United first team last season, he did so as a centre-forward.
Ending the 2015-16 campaign with eight goals in 18 appearances, Rashford was expected to receive plenty of football in his favourite position this season despite Jose Mourinho’s previous reluctance to blood youngsters.
The 19-year-old has been a regular for the Red Devils this season, but Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s presence at Old Trafford means that Rashford has had to operate in a wide position for the majority of the campaign.
Ibrahimovic was rested for Sunday’s Premier League clash at home to Chelsea, however, with Rashford given the role through the middle. It was up to the teenager to take his chance against the Blues, and he scored Man United’s first in their 2-0 win.
There is no doubting what Ibrahimovic has brought to Man United this season, but Rashford’s pace and movement scared the life out of Chelsea’s back three, and he used both of those attributes, in addition to a calm head, to sweep the home side ahead.
In total, he had four shots against the Premier League leaders – firing an early warning before out-pacing David Luiz and sending Man United ahead in the seventh minute of the clash at Old Trafford.
Rashford was not afraid to move into a wide position in a bid to find space, however, and as the statistics show, he registered six crosses and seven take ons as he pulled Chelsea’s back three all over the pitch.
He was also prepared to work back into midfield when the energetic Jesse Lingard stayed high up the pitch, and Rashford did not commit one foul despite making a number of important challenges in the second period when the visitors looked to strike back.
A pass success of 87% also demonstrates how the England forward brought his teammates into play – vital for a striker – which was key in a formation that relied on fast-tempo football and unsettling a Chelsea defence that has shown cracks in recent weeks.
Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann has been strongly linked with a move to Man United this summer, but against Chelsea, Rashford showed that he should be given the chance to stake a claim as the club’s first-choice striker for the 2017-18 campaign.
Young players are often criticised for their attitude and application once they break into the first team, but Rashford’s willingness to continually seek improvement has made him one of the most exciting youngsters in the world of football.