Rashford’s winner, made in Manchester with help from around the world

Non-stop action. Great goals. Controversies galore. Sensational passes. Unreal drama. European football rarely lacks for talking points after any given weekend of football, but with so much happening it can often be hard to focus on the biggest moments. ESPN India attempts to single out one moment from all the action across Europe’s top 5 leagues (league action only) that lit up the weekend.

This weekend, we pick a moment from the Manchester derby… the winner scored by Marcus Rashford

It started, as it almost always does for Manchester United, with Bruno Fernandes. The score read 1-1. The time, 81:33. Running on to a slightly forceful pass from Fred, he shaped to feed Antony down the right (the simple ball) before changing direction at the last second to ping it, first time, across his body and out to Alejandro Garnacho on the left .

That switch took the City defense out of the equation for at that moment. It was 3 v 2 for United – Garnacho in acres down the left, Nathan Ake torn between covering him and Marcus Rashford in the centre, and Rodri attempting to cover the space between Rashford and Antony in the inside right channel.

Which is when Garnacho took his first touch of the ball on the move. His second took him immediately inside, and into the box – the near-insulting directness of his playing style on full display. He squared Ake up and lifted a ball into the center where it smashed into a rapidly backtracking Manuel Akanji’s face and rolled out back to him.

In the first instance when Garnacho had cut in, Rashford had made a clever run to the near post, screaming for the ball. Having been ignored that time, he took a couple of steps back, waiting for the play to reset. Except it didn’t, because Garnacho doesn’t do pausing. A quick drop of the shoulder, and he had a yard on Ake, enough to whip a ball across the face of goal… where Rashford was alive to it. A stretch of his right leg from him and it was 2-1 Manchester United. The boy from down the road in Wythenshawe had decided the Manchester derby once again.

As moments go, this is right up there in the modern history of the club.

City remain a point above United, but there was an overwhelming feeling of significance to the winner. Not least because of the characters involved in it:

  • Fernandes, often accused of going missing in big games (rather unfairly), doing what he has done since he first put on a United shirt: dictating play, making things happen.

  • Garnacho, the star of United’s FA Youth Cup success last season, stepping up from the Academy in the time-honored tradition of Busby and Ferguson, seizing a big game by the collar, affecting the game (and perhaps the season) materially.

  • Rashford, written off and ridiculed by many of his own last season, playing the role of the goal-hanging poacher to perfection; a role so many (hello, Jose) thought was beyond his abilities. He has now scored in nine straight games at Old Trafford, matching a record set by the legendary Dennis Viollet in 1959. Oh, and how’s this for a stat: 27 of Rashford’s 67 Premier League goals have been the game’s winners, the highest percentage of any player with 50+ goals in the competition’s history (40.3%)

  • Eric Ten Hag, orchestrating all this from the touchline and behind the scenes. He had seen his side di lui crumble to a humiliating 6-3 loss in the derby earlier in the season but made sure there was no repeat this time. He had instructed United to constantly probe down the City right flank, exploiting the space Kyle Walker leaves behind as he roamed forward, and it’s from that channel that the winner came.

Ten Hag’s stamp was all over the victory on Saturday. He had abandoned his go-to philosophy of ball-control to adopt an almost big-game-Solskjaer-ian sit-back-and-counter approach and it had worked to perfection stifling City, restricting them to just one shot on target (Jack Grealish’s goal).

There might have been debate over the equalizer (for good reason), but it had come at a point when United were on the ascendancy, Ten Hag reverting (out of necessity) from pragmatism to all-out-attack, in the way Old Trafford lives for.

There was no debate over the winner, though. For the gravity of it, for the protagonists involved, for the impact it could have on the season: this was our moment of the weekend.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *