How Good Is Man United? It’s Hard To Say, But Marcus Rashford Is Very Good

Rashford's free kick created the first, and he finished the second for his third goal in four games under Solskjaer.

Manchester United defeated Newcastle United 2-0 at St James’ Park on Wednesday evening, and that’s all anyone will remember on the night. But the ramifications of victory are again rosy for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer — the win moves them within three points of Arsenal in fifth; Romelu Lukaku scored for the second-straight game; the maligned Alexis Sanchez came off the bench and got an assist on Marcus Rashford’s strike (the Englishman’s third in four games). 

With all the column inches devoted to Jose Mourinho’s struggles and the malaise of Man United, it’s only right and just that the club and interim coach are now praised for four wins on the trot, but Newcastle can definitely take its place alongside Cardiff, Huddersfield and Bournemouth as being accommodating opposition. 

That’s not to say Newcastle didn’t try, the Magpies simply are what they are — a team that’s destined to fight tooth and nail against relegation with limited quality throughout the side (a truth dictated by the fact that Mike Ashley is looking to profit rather than spend during transfer windows).   

Newcastle set out to frustrate Man United and achieved that. Paul Pogba was kept quiet — expertly marshaled by journeyman Mohamed Diame and the rarely used Isaac Hayden — and United’s wide attackers, Anthony Martial and Juan Mata, did nothing before being replaced by Lukaku and Sanchez.

At the other end, Newcastle’s attack — the second-worst in the division with only 15 goals — asked questions of the suspect Victor Lindelof-Phil Jones pairing. Jones almost gifted Newcastle a goal in the first half, and Lindelof’s reoccurring naivety is perhaps his most consistent attribute.   

While it’s this season’s play of Pogba, Sanchez and Lukaku that’s driven the clicks, the more disconcerting statistic is certainly that a Jose Mourinho-led defense surrendered 32 goals — more than the likes of Watford, Brighton and Crystal Palace.  

But United’s opener was also good for the headline writers — Solskjaer’s masterful substitution leading to a goal for the rejuvenated Lukaku, or something like that. 

In reality, the 64th minute strike was a fortunate tap-in for the Belgian after a rare mistake from Newcastle keeper Martin Dúbravka. The Slovakian had already struggled with one knuckling free kick from Rashford earlier in the game, and he made a complete mess of the second one. 

With Newcastle needing to push bodies forward for an equalizer, a counter orchestrated by Lukaku, Sanchez and finished by Rashford helped compliment the feel-good factor surrounding the Red Devils.  

Perhaps the one thing we know for certain about Man United under its new manager is that Rashford is — at the tender age of 21 — ready to lead the attack. He’s been consistently brilliant in all four matches under the Norwegian, and his every touch illuminated the dour proceedings tonight. 

Next up for Man United is an FA Cup Third Round fixture at Old Trafford against Reading. From there, it’s the first real test of Solskjaer’s reign: an away match against Tottenham.  

Newcastle hosts Blackburn in the FA Cup Third Round and then travel to play Chelsea on Jan. 12.