Manchester United’s topsy-turvy season is finally beginning to take shape. A Premier League winning streak, Europa League progression and the avoidance of a potential bannana skin at Shrewsbury Town have all seen the Red Devils find a bit of form in recent weeks, and it’s made all the difference on the sidelines.
The pressure on manager Louis Van Gaal has subsided for once, and it’s been pleasant to see the Dutchman back to his comical best. His squad are playing with freedom and excitement, whilst being able to grind out nitty-gritty results like the one against Watford on Wednesday night.
But the biggest talking point of the past month or so has been the emergence of some of the most exciting youngsters we’ve seen at Old Trafford in years. When Van Gaal named his starting eleven against Arsenal last Saturday, some could have mistake it for a pre-season team-sheet, littered with youngsters to give them their first matchday experience.
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But no, this was a crunch game against one of their biggest rivals as they continue to push for Europe. And the Gunners were massive favourites thanks to their senior starting eleven and continued need for points in their fight for the Premier League crown.
United were lurching from one disaster to the next, with injuries ravaging the spine of their squad. But enter Marcus Rashford, Tim Fosu-Mensah and Guilermo Varela, who have shone.
With the former at just 18-years-old, their average squad age against Watford on Wednesday was just 23 – which proves just how much faith Van Gaal is placing in his young guns.
Cameron Borthwick-Jackson has also impressed in the side, but has picked up a knock in recent weeks. He came in as cover for Marcus Rojo and Luke Shaw, and looked extremely comfortable in big games like the 1-1 draw against Chelsea.
But it was 18-year-old Marcus Rashford that is grabbing the headlines at the moment. The young academy striker began the week with two goals in United’s 5-1 over FC Midtjylland and followed that up with two goals in their huge win over Arsenal. For an unkown player to get into the first team and perform at such high levels right away is extremely impressive, and it changes the whole dynamics of the squad.
It’s how Wayne Rooney was given his chance and he hasn’t stopped since that day, and in Marcus Rashford you can see that too. He is dynamic, passionate and above all, knows where the goal is – that’s why he’s in the side.
He’s not in the team to make up the numbers and whilst Louis Van Gaal was taking a risk playing him in such big games, youngsters need these sorts of opportunities to help kick-start their careers. You don’t grab the headlines in friendly matches anymore – its when you’re thrown into the limelight when things work best, and Rashford proved that last week.
And fair play to van Gaal for taking the risk. People have given him plenty of stick during his United stint but he is finally beginning to prove some of the doubters wrong.