Manchester, England — When Manchester United has played in the twilight zone of the Europa League in recent seasons, Markus Rashford has made no secret of his frustration at not being able to show off his talent on the biggest stage, the Champions League, but he has quickly made up for lost time. A week after beating Paris Saint-Germain, he pulled out a 16-minute hat-trick on Wednesday to smash RB Leipzig to smithereens.
Rashford can’t stay out of the limelight now. If he doesn’t score a goal for United, he defies the politicians by fighting for free food for underprivileged children, in an attempt to gain recognition from the Queen of England.
He will be a sports icon who can do no harm, and Leipzig will be the last opposition to find out which difficult path we have to take.
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Julian Nagelsman’s side arrived at Old Trafford as Bundesliga leaders and have not been invincible in any league since their defeat by Parisian St Germain in last season’s Champions League semifinal in Lisbon, but United beat them 5-0 and Rashford stole the show as a two-and-a-half substitute. Mason Greenwood, 19, who was in 63rd grade. When 19-year-old Mason Greenwood, who was United’s second biggest goalkeeper before (after Wayne Rooney) and scored 1-0 in the first half, made an incredible performance in the first minute, he scored his first touch with United and sent the team to the top of Group H.
Rashford was always looking at the target. Since scoring 18 goals against Midtjilland on his Europa League debut in February 2016, the English striker looks home in United and all the pressure that comes with it. He has now scored 74 goals in 223 appearances for the club – a good result of about one goal per three matches – but that replacement in the game against Leipzig was only his 20th birthday. He plays in the Champions League and has something to catch up with his contemporaries such as Kilian Mbappe and Erling Haaland.
Both Mbappe and Haaland have made their way into the football stratosphere, partly thanks to their Champions League goals successes. Mbappe now has a World Cup medal to his name, but he made his debut with Monaco in the 2017 Champions League and has been at the top ever since. And while Haaland only announced his presence in the world last season with a hat-trick for Salzburg against Genk in the group stage, the Norwegian international ended the season with Borussia Dortmund, confirming his status as best young striker of the match.
Rashford thinks he deserves to be in the same company, but to prove it, he has to do it in the Champions League. Unfortunately for Rashford, United were not good enough to offer him Champions League football for most of his career at the club.
But now that they’re back in the biggest league, Rashford shows off his destructive talent and does it against top-level competition. Last week in Paris he scored the winning goal for the French champions and the final winners of last season. Against Leipzig he took on the young French defender Daut Upamecano, who is rightly considered one of the best young talents in football. But Upamecano left Old Trafford field after Rashford appeared with his head spinning.
Rashford scored the first goal in the 75th minute. It was two minutes after the striker dropped the ball on a pass from Bruno Fernandez and ran to keeper Peter Gulacci, who beat the former Liverpool goalkeeper from close range. The assistant referee noted an offside offence, but referee Matej South said to leave so the VAR could make the final decision. The Slovenian referee was right and Rashford started playing in his half inch.
Fault! The file name is not specified. After years in the Europa League, Markus Rashford quickly proves his quality in the most important European club competitions. Anthony Devlin/AFP about Getty Images
Three minutes later Rashford scored a second time when he beat Upamecano, then almost scored again when he walked into the maze and finally blocked his shot. But a hat-trick goal was scored from a standstill time after Anthony Martial scored a 4-0 free kick when Rashford blew up the house from close range after Martial pushed him.
He became the first United player to achieve a hat-trick in the Champions League since Robin van Persie played for Olympiacos in 2014. Rashford was also the first replacement in the USA to score three points when Solskjär beat Nottingham Forest 8-1 in 1999.
He came and did well, Solskjaer said with some euphemism about Rashford’s performance. That’s what you expect from representatives.
Rashford was an excellent player for the US, but Solskier had many others playing against the German team. Paul Pogba, David De Gay and Harry Maguire were all impressed and Greenwood’s placement in the first match suggests he wasn’t distracted by Solskier’s recent defeat.
After winning this season at Old Trafford with Crystal Palace and Tottenham Hotspur, United beat Europe’s top two teams in one week. Solskyaer of course has the players and the tactics to succeed in the battle against the summits. But it helps to have an impressive attacker like Rashford.
If he continues to shine in the Champions League, who knows how far United can go this season?