Mourinho’s Rashford Hunch Pays Off as United Outfox Liverpool
For all the money spent on big-name, superstar signings it was a homegrown talent that secured North West derby bragging rights for Manchester United.
Record signing Paul Pogba was out injured, and not especially missed, and January recruit Alexis Sanchez is still acclimatising to life at Old Trafford. So in the biggest game of the season against bitter rivals Liverpool, Jose Mourinho turned to Marcus Rashford for the first time since Boxing Day.
While Mourinho’s tactics in the reverse fixture at Anfield were derided, the decision to turn to Rashford and set out his side to play on the counter attack at great pace was a touch of genius.
Stifling Liverpool’s attack is not easy, but Mourinho’s side did it by absorbing pressure and then turning the game at great pace. With Rashford and Alexis supporting the giant presence of Romelu Lukaku, who had one of his best games in United colours, it worked a treat.
Great tactical plans still need to be executed, and Rashford did that to perfection. The opening goal arrived on 14 minutes, with the England international latching onto a flick-on from Lukaku, burning past Trent Alexander-Arnold, cutting inside to craft some space and curling an exquisite finish into the far corner.
On 24 minutes, Rashford was at it again with an expert finish after a loose ball had run his way in the box. Two excellent finishes, which drew praise from his manager who felt the time had come to unleash the 20-year-old once again.
“He scored two goals in a big game against top-class opponents,” said Mourinho, per the club’s official website. “Of course, he was fundamental. It’s a good thing the first chance he had, he got it and he scored because I think, in the last two months, that was not happening with him.
“He was feeling that a little bit in terms of his self confidence. Today, he probably came in unexpected but we trusted him. We felt the game could be adapted to his qualities.
“His self confidence, mood and the feeling with him was he was really improving a lot in the past few weeks.
“I thought Marcus’s speed would be important. Also, with Anthony Martial injured, it was not even a doubt between one or another. It was a straight choice.”
Liverpool’s attacking stars were largely kept under wraps, although it was a tense finish for the Old Trafford faithful following Eric Bailly’s own goal. Reds boss Klopp felt his side should have been awarded a penalty for a challenge by Marouane Fellaini on Sadio Mane, but protests fell on deaf ears as United opened up a five-point gap between the two sides.
Second place is now United’s to lose, and it’s thanks to a homegrown talent who was given the chance to make his mark on the biggest stage.
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