Prior to Manchester United’s 0-0 bore draw against West Ham on Thursday night, Sky Sports showed old footage of a meeting between the sides from almost two years to the day.
The match in question was the final game at Upton Park, where a topsy-turvy encounter saw the Hammers emerge 3-2 victors on a night United didn’t even realistically look like being party-poopers.
Winston Reid grabbed the headlines with his late winner but one other aspect of the match was striking; Marcus Rashford was fielded at the sole centre-forward for Louis van Gaal’s side.
Not out wide, on the left or the right. Through the middle. Like Harry Kane, he was a young man being trusted to carry the brunt of a major side’s attacking thrust.
Rashford has played so intermittently through the centre under Jose Mourinho that it has been easy to forget that is his position, that’s where he came through as a boy.
There aren’t many Premier League strikers who would flourish out wide and it would appear that Rashford’s speed is the main reason he has been sent out there as Mourinho has preferred to spend on high-earning centre-forwards Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Romelu Lukaku.
So Rashford is an England international who doesn’t play every week, rarely plays consecutive games, out of position when he does play and still delivers on the big occasion.
A goal in the home derby against City, a double at home to Liverpool, a brace against champions-elect Chelsea last season as well. But his attitude is first rate and he has never agitated for a move – permanent or temporary – away from his boyhood club.
That has not proved enough to spare him from the ire of Jose Mourinho, but it should be. There isn’t a single player at the club Manchester United fans would rather see succeed at the club than Rashford but he has yet to earn the manager’s total trust.
Another who deserves better is Anthony Martial. The Frenchman was a panic buy from van Gaal; an overpriced swoop in the transfer window’s final throws after a 2-1 defeat against Swansea in the early days of the 2015/16 season underlined United’s desperate need for speed in attack.
Martial dealt with the pressure instantly, following up that debut goal against Liverpool by being United’s only consistent source of rapidity and style en route to winning the FA Cup.
Throughout Mourinho’s reign, he has struggled for gametime but he is always going to be unlikely to flourish when United are so stuttering, so cautious and he is not given a spurt of games to try to affect that.
His calmness is mistaken for surliness – in a similar way to a young Nicolas Anelka – and that has made it easier for Mourinho to criticise his attitude.
He is only closer to the exit door than Rashford because he lacks the same childhood affinity with the Old Trafford club; Mourinho’s treatment of both players is harsher than they deserve.