Rashford could complete comeback by ending Man Utd’s trophy wait

Marcus Rashford’s last shot at Wembley Stadium was a missed penalty playing for England against Italy in the European Championship final in July 2021. He returns this weekend with the chance to help Manchester United win their first cup in almost six years.

Lifting the Carabao Cup would be tangible evidence of United’s progress under manager Erik ten Hag, but also an opportunity for Rashford to continue his own resurgence. In the 18 months since his penalty hit Gianluigi Donnarumma’s right post, the striker has endured his worst period as a professional and has been released by England.

On Sunday, however, he will face Newcastle United at the national stadium (10:30 am ET, live streamed on ESPN+) in the form of a lifetime and earning (deserved) comparisons with some of the best players in the world. He has bigger ambitions than the Carabao Cup but, as with Ten Hag’s United, it will be further proof that things are finally looking good.

“Winning trophies gives you that sense of victory and the belief that you can go on and win more trophies,” Rashford told ESPN during an interview at United’s training base in Carrington. “I think now, at the moment, we have that and it’s a good position as a player because you feel your goals and objectives are achievable.”

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Just 12 months ago, that might have seemed beyond him.

A year ago this weekend, Rashford was left on the bench as United, managed by caretaker manager Ralf Rangnick, drew 0-0 with Watford, who would be relegated shortly afterwards. In total last season, Rashford scored five goals, and the 16 minutes he played against Watford was one of 15 matches between January and April in which he did not score once.

It couldn’t be more different now. In the 18 matches he has played since returning from the World Cup, he has scored 16 times. He is 24 years old this season, two more than he has managed in a single campaign since making his debut as a relatively unknown teenager in February 2016.

In his seven years as a first-team regular, Rashford, now 25, has won FA Cup, EFL Cup and Europa League medals, but there is a feeling in Manchester that now, with Ten Hag at the helm and Rashford delivering all that potential, prizes bigger ones in the Premier League and the Champions League are not that far away.

“We definitely could have won more, but I would have given the same answer if we had won a lot of trophies,” said Rashford. “I feel like every opportunity to step onto the pitch is an opportunity to win and at this club you don’t settle for anything less. When we lose games or draw games it’s not good enough. A draw feels like a defeat anyway. we are on the field, you are trying to win.

“I haven’t really had a period to stop and look back over the last seven years because it’s so non-stop. We’re playing all the time so the most important game is always the next game, it’s not a game six years ago or seven years ago .It’s about the next one and keeping the momentum going.

“I can’t go back (last season), but one thing I can do is learn from it and try to do everything I can to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Sunday’s final against Newcastle will be Rashford’s sixth final for United – provided he is fit after suffering a knock to his ankle against Barcelona – after the 2016 FA Cup Final under Louis van Gaal, the 2017 EFL Cup and 2017 Europa League Final. and the 2018 FA Cup Final under José Mourinho and the 2021 Europa League Final under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Rashford didn’t score in any of them, but he never reached one in this kind of form.

Asked about the turnaround, he is quick to thank Ten Hag and his team, and particularly former South African international striker Benni McCarthy. The technical aspects of his game, such as heading, improved, but according to Rashford, the biggest change came in his mind.

“Football is probably 95% about your mindset,” he said. “For me that’s everything, it gives you the foundation to go and play. Without that side you’re just playing with skill. There are a lot of players who have skill, that’s why they play at the highest level, but what What sets them apart is the mentality I’ve been on both sides.

“I understand the strength and value of that. I’m just focusing a lot more on staying in that head space and I think that’s necessary to win games and trophies.”

The way back to this point was difficult.

He did not play a completely injury-free game for most of the two years between 2019 and 2021. He played through a lot of pain to be available for England at Euro 2020, postponed by a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and almost immediately after his missed penalty in the final he underwent surgery to fix a torn muscle in his left shoulder.

Dropped off by England for last summer’s Nations League games, he spent time training at Nike’s Oregon training base, waking up at 5am each morning to train in an attempt to make a good first impression on Ten Hag.

“I don’t think anyone – apart from people at the club – knows how long I’ve been dealing with these issues and they probably won’t until I say so,” added Rashford. “But it wasn’t just one season, it was a period of time where every day was tough and you had to sacrifice and I always tried to be on the field as much as possible. And for me, that’s where I get happiness.

“If I’m out injured I’m not happy, I’m dealing with the pain and I’m not happy. So I’d rather try to deal with the pain while I can play and still help the team, I would always choose to do that.”

Finally injury-free and scoring regularly, this season has yet to be completely trouble-free. In December, Rashford was dropped by Ten Hag for a game at Wolverhampton Wanderers after he overslept and missed a team meeting.

Looking back on the incident, he admitted: “If I were a manager I would have done the same”, but it was typical of the new and improved Rashford that, when he finally came off the mischievous stride and was introduced as a substitute half-timer, he ended up scoring the victory.

It was a quick comeback at Molineux in Rashford’s comeback season. The next chapter in their redemptive story will be played out at Wembley on Sunday.

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