Marcus Rashford rediscovers the joy of football after tough times | World Cup 2022

At half-time on Tuesday night, England had a problem. They were in control of their World Cup Group B fixture against Wales but had not scored. For momentum, for the fans, for keeping critics in the media and online at bay, something needed to change. And so, five minutes after the restart, Marcus Rashford stepped up and smashed a free-kick into the top corner from 25 yards.

The Manchester United forward followed up with the final goal in the 3-0 victory. Taking a long pass on the run, he chopped inside the Welsh left-back Connor Roberts, beat him definitively with a stepover, then drove the ball between the legs of the goalkeeper Danny Ward. It was an exhilarating, exuberant moment and, as he turned towards the crowd and his teammates, Rashford flashed his famous smile. England now face Senegal in the last 16 on Sunday.

Rashford is a problem solver, just ask Boris Johnson. But he has had more to work out over the past year than at any time in his meteoric career. In the summer of 2021 and struggling with injury, he put off dealing with a shoulder problem so he could take part in the European Championship. That tournament was a great success for the country, but intensely challenging for Rashford. Used exclusively as a substitute, he failed to make an impact on the field and when he was brought on during the final against Italy for the express purposes of taking a penalty, he missed and England lost.

What followed was a shameful moment for the country. Rashford, and fellow England internationals Bukayo Saka and Jadon Sancho, became the targets of racist abuse. A mural of Rashford in Withington, Greater Manchester, was defaced. Some more coded criticism also came his way: the suggestion that Rashford should concentrate on football and forget social justice and his campaigning for free school meals and childhood literacy.

No one knows the toll that period took on Rashford the person, and it was not the first time he had had to deal with racist abuse, but the worst season of his career as a player then followed. At club level for Manchester United he struggled. Taking time to recover from that shoulder injury he also languished in the shadow of the legend and legendary ego, Cristiano Ronaldo. Six months ago Rashford was dropped from the England squad. At the time, Gareth Southgate described the decision as “straightforward”.

Marcus Rashford celebrates after scoring in England’s 3-0 victory against Wales.
Marcus Rashford celebrates after scoring in England’s 3-0 victory against Wales. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

Today, fans need only use the evidence of their eyes to see how much has changed. Rashford has no doubt benefited from a change of coach at Old Trafford, the Dutchman Eric ten Hag having assured the player of his belief in him and his ability. Goals have returned to Rashford’s game, 10 so far in all competitions this season, but, crucially, so has the flair. On top of all his myriad personal qualities, Rashford is an exceptionally gifted footballer and has the ability to do things with the ball, at pace, that few others can, even in the Premier League.

This has been manifest in Qatar, where Rashford has three goals, up there with Kylian Mbappé and Lionel Messi in the battle for the Golden Boot. His first goal in the tournament, against Iran, came just 49 seconds after he had come on as a substitute – he sent a defender to the floor with a clever feint before passing under the keeper.

After the Wales match Southgate spoke frankly about the recovery of a player he has always supported, even when choosing to leave him out of his team. “It’s been a challenge for him,” Southgate said. “I went and saw him in the summer, had a long chat with him, and he had some clear ideas he felt he needed to think about and do.

“You can see with his club there has been happiness in his performances this year, and that has shown itself on the training ground with us. We have a different version completely to the player we had in the Euros last summer. It’s great for him, and because it’s great for him it’s great for us.”

Rashford dedicated his free-kick goal to the memory of his friend, Garfield Hayward, who had died just days before. “He’s had quite a long battle with cancer, so I’m pleased I managed to score for him”, he said. “He’s always been a big supporter of mine. He was just a great person and I’m pleased he came into my life, really.”

The way Rashford articulated publicly news he had kept private from the England squad was another reminder of his ability to confront positively the difficult moments in his life. From growing up in Wythenshawe on free school meals, the child of a single mother with three jobs, to confronting the UK government and, now, rediscovering the joy of playing the game that has transformed his life in ways he might not always have asked for, Rashford has always been faced by problems. But he has also remained dedicated to working out the answers.

Marcus Rashford revitalised to offer England hope of another World Cup run | World Cup 2022

Moments after England eased into the last 16 of this World Cup with a painlessly efficient 3-0 victory against Wales, Marcus Rashford jogged over to supporters and began to frenetically pump his fists. It was a moment of release – and sweet resurrection.

Having slayed the Welsh dragon, Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions will next take on the Lions of Teranga, as Senegal’s national team is called, on Sunday evening. Yet as England’s players celebrated the focus inevitably gravitated towards Rashford.

For much of last season the Manchester United player was hopelessly out of form. Some suggested that he had become distracted by campaigning for free school meals. Others that he should focus more on taking on football opponents instead of the government. Even his biggest fans wondered whether his mojo would ever return.

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Yet on a balmy night in Doha, Rashford not only scored England’s 100th World Cup finals goal, as well as his second and third of the tournament, but completed a remarkable comeback.

His first was a free-kick full of speed and dip and spite. The second was a shot that raced through the unfortunate Welsh keeper Danny Ward’s legs. Afterwards Rashford pointed to the sky in celebration of his goals, as well as a close friend’s life.

“I lost one of my friends a couple of days ago,” he said. “He had quite a long battle with cancer. I’m pleased I scored for him, he was a big supporter and good friend of mine. He was someone who came into my life.”

The win was also aided and abetted by Phil Foden, who scored England’s second on the night, and justified his return to the side. Afterwards Southgate gave an upbeat assessment of both men.

“It’s great for Marcus,” he said. “He’s trained really well, and he could have had a hat-trick. His free-kick was an incredible strike; that’s what he’s capable of. At moments I thought both [Rashford and Foden] were a bit quiet in the first half. We decided to switch them at half-time and they responded really well.”

Afterwards England fans celebrated by taunting the Welsh supporters with “You’re going home in the morning”. That much is true, although their tournament was over long before the USA’s 1-0 victory against Iran sent the Americans into a knockout game against the Netherlands on Saturday.

Phil Foden celebrates after scoring England’s second goal in their 3-0 win over Wales.
Phil Foden celebrates after scoring England’s second goal in their 3-0 win over Wales. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

Yet despite England topping Group B with seven points, the strange truth is observers are no nearer to getting an accurate gauge of their likely departure date.

The England team that bored the nation with a disarming display of dross against the USA, and again in the first half here, will surely be significant underdogs against Brazil, Spain or France.

Yet against Iran, and in flashes against Wales, they have shown enough to suggest that a quicker style of play, along with a dollop of luck, could give them a puncher’s chance.

We do know one thing, however: England’s potential road to the World Cup final is now less murky. On Sunday they face Senegal. Then, if a tournament rich in surprises behaves itself, France lie in wait in the quarter-finals. After that, Portugal or Germany may loom in the final four.

There are lots of pitfalls ahead, of course. And no one should get carried away. But the bookmakers make them fifth favourites, which feels about right.

Earlier all eyes had been on both sets of supporters, especially after England and Wales fans had slugged it out on the beaches of Tenerife. But their behaviour here could have carried a PG certificate.

They queued politely for complimentary St George and dragon flags, which they draped over their shoulders like superhero capes. They also mingled nicely on the concourse of the Ahmad bin Ali stadium. And when the anthems rang out – a spine-tingling Land of My Fathers and a full-blooded God Save The King – they were observed impeccably.

True, Wales fans later booed the anthem. And there were also familiar chants of “No surrender” from the England end, as if a small pocket of fans were determined to prove that dinosaurs still wander the earth. But still.

Early on, it wasn’t just the crowd that lacked an edge. The football did too. The quality was summed up by defender Harry Maguire, who slalomed into the box before hitting a shot that shanked off his boot … and went for a throw in.

However, the momentum all changed on 50 minutes when Rashford hit his howitzer of a free-kick. From then on an ageing Wales side meekly surrendered.

Watching on were England fans Rebecca Knight and her husband Peter, from Ipswich, who have spent the last fortnight on the cruise ship World Europa. “We’ve seen 11 games,” said Rebecca. “I think we’ll get knocked out in the quarter-finals. We’ll beat Senegal but lose to France. Kylian Mbappé is very clinical.”

Meanwhile long after the final whistle, Wales’ fans were still proudly serenading their players. They included Tom Paley from Cardiff, who tried to put his country’s performance in their first World Cup since 1958 into words. “This signifies the end of an era,” he said with a grimace. “Obviously it’s been a bit of a disappointment but it’s been great to have seen Wales in a World Cup.”

His friend James Cattle focused on the camaraderie among both sets of fans. “It’s different when you are far from home,” he said. “But there is still a sense that you are British and looking after each other.”

Perhaps in the stands. On the pitch England had other ideas.

Marcus Rashford ‘different player’ after return to form, says Gareth Southgate | World Cup 2022

Gareth Southgate paid tribute to Marcus Rashford for his comeback after goals from the forward and Phil Foden helped England set up a last‑16 tie with Senegal and sent Wales tumbling out of the World Cup.

Rashford struggled for fitness and confidence after missing his spot‑kick when England lost the Euro 2020 final on penalties to Italy, but he looks rejuvenated after winning back his place in the squad for this tournament.

The Manchester United striker is joint top in the race for the Golden Boot – he is level with France’s Kylian Mbappé, Ecuador’s Enner Valencia and the Netherlands’ Cody Gakpo on three goals – and his double in the second half against Wales put Southgate’s side on the way to winning Group B.

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Qatar: beyond the football


This is a World Cup like no other. For the last 12 years the Guardian has been reporting on the issues surrounding Qatar 2022, from corruption and human rights abuses to the treatment of migrant workers and discriminatory laws. The best of our journalism is gathered on our dedicated Qatar: Beyond the Football home page for those who want to go deeper into the issues beyond the pitch.

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“It’s been a challenge for him [Rashford],” Southgate said. “I went and saw him in the summer and had a long chat with him. He had some clear ideas on things he felt he needed to think about and to do. You can see at his club there’s been happiness in his performances this year. That’s shown itself on the training ground all the time with us.

“We’ve got a different version completely to the player we had in the Euros last summer. He’s managed to produce those moments tonight. He could have had a hat-trick with the chance in the first half and the one at the near post towards the end. But it’s great for him and it’s great for us.”

Rashford, who opened the scoring with a thumping free-kick, will hope to keep Raheem Sterling out of the side when England meet Senegal on Sunday. He started on the left against Wales but Southgate decided to tweak his attack after a flat first half. Rashford swapped flanks with Foden, who made his first start of the tournament after coming in for Bukayo Saka, and Southgate now has a selection conundrum before the tie with Senegal.

“You want those sorts of decisions,” England’s head coach said. “We need strength in depth. It was also important for us tonight that Kyle Walker got minutes and Kalvin Phillips got minutes. You just never know when we’re going to need that depth.

“It’s tough because you’ve got players who didn’t get on to the field and players who will be slightly disappointed. But the spirit in the dressing room at the end was fantastic. They’ve got a day off their feet. They don’t have to train tomorrow – that’s important. Especially the players who haven’t started as many games, they’ve been training every single day. They don’t have to look at our faces, which I’m sure they’ll be delighted with.”

England have won their World Cup group for the first time since 2006 and Southgate believes his players are more confident than they were in Russia four years ago. “There is a different mentality about the whole group. There’s more belief. Our objectives are different. In Russia, we were just thinking about ‘Could we win a knockout game?’ There’s more expectation now, but more confidence and more experience of big matches.”

Rob Page stayed optimistic after Wales, who had not qualified for a World Cup finals tournament since 1958, finished bottom of the group with one point. “We look back with frustration but it is an amazing achievement for that group of players to get here in the first place,” the Wales manager said. “We build on that. There’s a bigger picture here.

“We’re disappointed because we know in a couple of the games we haven’t shown our true colours. That is probably the most frustrating thing for me and the group of players.”

Page said Gareth Bale, who went off at half-time with a hamstring injury, has not played his last game for Wales. “I don’t think it will be the last time you see him in a Welsh jersey. There are games starting again in March for the Euros and we want to get off to a flying start.”

Marcus Rashford keen to take another penalty for England despite Euros miss | World Cup 2022

Marcus Rashford says he would volunteer to take a kick in a penalty shootout at the World Cup and is actively hoping the scenario arises, as he reflected on his remarkable comeback story.

The England forward missed in the shootout defeat against Italy in the Euro 2020 final and endured racist abuse on social media. He then laboured sorely at Manchester United last season, also losing his place in the England squad.

Injuries were a factor; he underwent shoulder surgery in August of last year. But after a reset over the summer, when he pushed himself through a punishing fitness regime, he has recovered his form, scoring vital Premier League goals to earn the recall from Gareth Southgate.

Rashford scored within seconds of coming on as a substitute in England’s 6-2 win against Iran in their World Cup opener – his first involvement since the penalty miss against Italy – and he is champing at the bit to feature in their final group-phase tie against Wales on Tuesday.

Rashford’s confidence is back, as evidenced by his reply to the question about whether he would have any doubts over stepping up again in a shootout.

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Qatar: beyond the football


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“No, not at all,” he said. “They are big moments and, as an individual, I’ve always been comfortable with them. I enjoy being in big moments so I’m hoping that we get to take another penalty in the tournament. I’m looking forward to it.”

Southgate introduced Rashford, 25, from the bench in England’s second game – the 0-0 draw against the USA last Friday – playing him off the right, as he had done against Iran. Rashford prefers to play off the flanks but he would jump at the chance to start at centre-forward against Wales if Southgate chose to rest Harry Kane. England need only to avoid a four-goal defeat in order to qualify and Kane has had a knock to the top of his foot.

“Everyone’s ready and I’m raring to go,” Rashford said. “We are on the biggest stage in the world and it’s an opportunity for all of us to go and take. I’ve been on the bench but you’re waiting for your opportunity.

“We are not disjointed as a collective and, in tournament football, that is needed because it’s going to be the squad that wins. It’s impossible for us to win the tournament just off our starting players. There is a huge sense of togetherness and belief that we can go a long way.”

‘One of my idols’: Marcus Rashford pays tribute to Cristiano Ronaldo – video

England were booed off by some fans after the USA game when the performance was flat. But Rashford offered a reminder that results had to be the priority.

“As players, we always want to play our best football but it’s not possible,” he said. “You have to learn to win games when you’re not playing well because it’s unrealistic to think you’re going to play your best every single game.

“It’s not a nice feeling [to be booed] but you don’t need fans to boo us to know we’ve not played as well as we could have. It was a feeling that was mutual and it’s not just the players that started, it’s the full group.

“You do sometimes question whether you would have changed things in the lead-up to a game but that’s natural because as players you want to win as many games as you can. We can’t be so negative about it. We are in a good position and we just need to win against Wales. It’s not often teams win all three group games.”

Rashford won the first of his 48 caps under Roy Hodgson in May 2016 and he was involved at Euro 2016, which ended in the humiliating defeat against Iceland. Hodgson departed thereafter. Rashford said that Southgate had greatly improved the setup – beginning with the work on the training pitch.

“Training’s been good here for the lads who haven’t been getting as many minutes,” he said. “But I feel for this squad it’s never been an issue, especially since Gareth’s been managing. Maybe before it was a bit of an issue in terms of quality of training and people’s dedication to training.

“I was only there for a short period of time before [Southgate] but the standard of training wasn’t as high. For players it’s black and white. If you aren’t training well you can’t expect to play well or go into games and win just because you think you are better players. You have to put the work in and earn the right to win matches. For me it’s two different sides of a coin.

“I don’t think it takes a genius to see how we’ve improved since 2016. You cannot really compare the two situations and you cannot compare the feeling around the camp. We’re a really strong team. We don’t fear anybody. It’s up to us to prove we have what it takes to win the World Cup. Do I believe we have? Yes.”

England World Cup squad: Maddison makes cut with Wilson and Rashford | England

Gareth Southgate has taken the shock decision to include James Maddison in his England squad for the World Cup in Qatar. The Leicester playmaker, who has been in outstanding form in 2022, had feared he would be overlooked by a manager who has previously used him only once – as a substitute in the European Championship qualifying win over Montenegro in November 2019.

Southgate also recalled Marcus Rashford, rewarding the Manchester United striker for his return to form, and found room for Ben White, Callum Wilson and Conor Gallagher. White will offer an option at right-back, with Reece James ruled out because of a knee injury, and will also provide depth in central defence, where Fikayo Tomori and Marc Guéhi have been excluded.

Gallagher’s inclusion is something of a surprise, given he has started only seven games in all competitions for Chelsea, where he returned over the summer after a successful loan at Crystal Palace. Southgate has capped him four times, most recently last June in the dismal 4-0 home loss to Hungary in the Nations League, and said he was impressed at how Gallagher had reacted to being left out in September, including showing an excellent attitude with the Under-21s.

Maddison had been called up in October 2018 and September 2019 without playing and was included by Southgate in October 2019 for the qualifying ties against the Czech Republic and Bulgaria only to withdraw, citing illness. He was then photographed at a casino while his teammates lost in Prague, leading to uncomfortable questions for Southgate, who nonetheless selected him for his next squad and gave Maddison made his debut against Montengro before naming him as an unused substitute against Kosovo.

“That was unfortunate from his perspective,” Southgate said of the casino incident. “It was a bigger issue [for him] than it was for me. It wasn’t the drama that it seemed to be for everyone else.”

Maddison has had 22 Premier League goal involvements in this calendar year, a figure bettered only by Harry Kane, Kevin De Bruyne and Son Heung-min. “He’s playing really well,” Southgate said of Maddison. “He’s a good player; we’ve always said he’s a good player – he’s earned the right. We think he can give us something slightly different from the other attacking players we have got.”

Quick Guide

England’s World Cup squad


Goalkeepers: Jordan Pickford (Everton) Nick Pope (Newcastle), Aaron Ramsdale (Arsenal). 

Defenders: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Conor Coady (on loan at Everton from Wolves), Eric Dier (Tottenham), Harry Maguire (Manchester United), Luke Shaw (Manchester United), John Stones (Manchester City), Kieran Trippier (Newcastle), Kyle Walker (Manchester City), Ben White (Arsenal). 

 Midfielders: Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund), Mason Mount (Chelsea), Kalvin Phillips (Manchester City), Declan Rice (West Ham), Conor Gallagher (Chelsea), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool).

Forwards: Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Phil Foden (Manchester City), Jack Grealish (Manchester City), Harry Kane (Tottenham), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), James Maddison (Leicester), Raheem Sterling (Chelsea), Callum Wilson (Newcastle).

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Southgate said of breaking the news to Maddison: “He was delighted. I had some very difficult calls that were emotionally at the other end of the spectrum.” The manager said he had spoken only to Maddison, Kyle Walker, Kalvin Phillips and the players he left out and that he had told those omitted: “Things can still change over the weekend.”

Wilson, like Rashford, has been out of the picture. The Newcastle striker won the last of his four caps in October 2019 but has been in goalscoring touch this season and has been preferred to Tammy Abraham and Ivan Toney. “Tammy’s had a poor run of scoring form at the wrong time really,” Southgate said. There is no place for the West Ham winger Jarrod Bowen, who has failed to hit his stride this season.

Southgate has selected the Manchester City pair Walker and Phillips in his 26-man squad for Qatar even though the former is recovering from groin surgery on 4 October. Phillips has barely played this season, mainly because of a shoulder operation towards the end of September, although he made his return as a second-half substitute in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday.

Southgate said Walker was not back in full training but would be available before the end of the group stage and that to have picked James would have been “deemed arrogant in some circles” when the Chelsea player would not have been ready until the latter stages if everything went perfectly. Walker, he said, was “a long way ahead of that”.

There was further England devastation for James Ward-Prowse as he was omitted, having also been cut at the very last before the Euros in the summer of last year. “James is competing with [Jude] Bellingham and [Jordan] Henderson and to a lesser degree Conor Gallagher and he is just behind those guys,” Southgate said.

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Rashford’s previous England appearance came in the Euro 2020 penalty shootout defeat against Italy, when he missed his kick. Southgate had previously counted on him at the 2018 World Cup in Russia and the player’s experience helped to press his case. As expected, Trent Alexander-Arnold has been included.

Tottenham’s manager, Antonio Conte, said on Wednesday that Harry Kane was “really tired”, prompting Southgate to respond: “I’m sure he is!”

Marcus Rashford and Ben White poised for England World Cup call-ups | England

Gareth Southgate is ready to hand Marcus Rashford an England recall and is poised to replace the injured Reece James with the Arsenal defender Ben White when he names his 26-man squad for the World Cup on Thursday.

Southgate has been finalising his plans for Qatar and, along with taking gambles on the fitness of Manchester City’s Kyle Walker and Kalvin Phillips, is expected to bring Rashford out of the international wilderness.

The Manchester United forward has not played for England since the Euro 2020 final defeat by Italy, when he missed a penalty during the shootout, but he has shaken off his injury problems and has been in encouraging form this season. The 25-year-old’s goalscoring threat is an obvious part of his appeal to Southgate, who has bemoaned the lack of reliable finishers in his squad, and he is on the verge of being welcomed back into the fold.

Quick Guide

Expected England squad


Goalkeepers: Jordan Pickford (Everton) Nick Pope (Newcastle), Aaron Ramsdale (Arsenal). 

Defenders: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Conor Coady (on loan at Everton from Wolves), Eric Dier (Tottenham), Harry Maguire (Manchester United), Luke Shaw (Manchester United), John Stones (Manchester City), Fikayo Tomori (Milan), Kieran Trippier (Newcastle), Kyle Walker (Manchester City), Ben White (Arsenal). 

 Midfielders: Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund), Mason Mount (Chelsea), Kalvin Phillips (Manchester City), Declan Rice (West Ham), James Ward-Prowse (Southampton), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool).

Forwards: Marcus Rashford (Man United), Phil Foden (Manchester City), Jack Grealish (Manchester City), Harry Kane (Tottenham), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), Raheem Sterling (Chelsea), Callum Wilson (Newcastle).

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Southgate has never closed the door on Rashford, who boasts plenty of tournament experience, but he is set to deliver disappointing news to other England hopefuls. The manager has left James devastated after deciding that he could not risk taking the Chelsea right-back, who has been out since last month with damaged knee ligaments, and he is giving serious consideration to picking the Newcastle striker Callum Wilson as Harry Kane’s deputy. Roma’s Tammy Abraham and Brentford’s Ivan Toney are in danger of missing out to Wilson, whose excellent form has brought him six goals this season.

There is a sense that Southgate, who could have Luke Shaw as the only recognised left-back in his squad, is prepared to go with Kane, Wilson and Rashford as his central strikers. Rashford can also play off the left, meaning that there could be no room for the West Ham winger Jarrod Bowen, who has been involved in England’s past two squads. The United winger Jadon Sancho, who went to the Euros, and the Leicester playmaker James Maddison are also unlikely to make the cut. Maddison has six goals this season.

Callum Wilson scores a penalty for Newcastle against Aston Villa.
The in-form Callum Wilson scores a penalty for Newcastle against Aston Villa. Photograph: Richard Callis/MB Media/Getty Images

Despite the possible inclusion of Wilson, whose history of fitness problems means that the last of his four caps came in October 2019, Southgate tends to favour continuity. However his defensive options have been complicated by injury concerns.

The biggest blow is the absence of James, who has not played since limping off during Chelsea’s victory over Milan last month. England’s opening game is against Iran on 21 November and although the 22-year-old was confident of being fit for the knockout stages Southgate has decided that he cannot afford to risk him.

England will have to adjust without James, who was expected to start at right wing-back. His place is likely to be taken by Newcastle’s Kieran Trippier and there is expected to be good news for White. The Arsenal centre-back has excelled as a converted right-back this season. The Liverpool right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold is also expected to be involved.

Southgate is expected to pick Walker. The City right-back has not played since undergoing groin surgery last month, but England depend on him for his speed and experience.

The unknown is whether Walker, who usually starts at right centre-back in England’s back three, will stand up to the physicality of a major tournament. Central defence is a worry, not least because Harry Maguire has started one league game for United since August. That could compel Southgate to be more conservative and pick extra cover at centre-back. Milan’s Fikayo Tomori is thought to have the edge over Crystal Palace’s Marc Guéhi and Liverpool’s Joe Gomez. John Stones, Eric Dier and Conor Coady are expected to be selected.

Another complication is the situation on the left. England have lost Chelsea’s Ben Chilwell to a torn hamstring, leaving them short of competition for Shaw, but Southgate could decide to overlook options such as Palace’s Tyrick Mitchell and Tottenham’s Ryan Sessegnon. With Leicester’s James Justin and Southampton’s Kyle Walker-Peters injured, the solution to Chilwell’s absence could simply be to use the versatile Trippier on the left. Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka has played at left wing-back for England.

Further forward, there are signs that Southgate is convinced that Phillips is fit. The City midfielder underwent shoulder surgery in September and is short of match sharpness but has been a key player for England.

Nonetheless Southgate will need to plan for the possibility of Phillips suffering a setback. He cannot simply rely on Declan Rice, Jude Bellingham and Jordan Henderson as his other options in central midfield. Southampton’s James Ward-Prowse is believed to have the edge over the Chelsea duo of Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Conor Gallagher.

Ten Hag praises ‘elite’ Rashford after Manchester United win over West Ham | Manchester United

Erik ten Hag lauded “elite” Marcus Rashford after the forward’s 100th Manchester United goal – but the manager warned that his side’s lack of control in the second half made the victory “a tennis match”.

Rashford’s 38th-minute winner was his seventh of the season, and Ten Hag was asked if he can become an elite forward.

“He already is,” Ten Hag said. “If you score 100 for Manchester United before you are 25. But it’s about trophies to win with your club, and I think he can develop even more.

“Two headers [in consecutive games]: we’ve worked a lot on that, we had to improve, and you see what’s happening. He is much more consistent and resilient – already a great player but still room for improvement. Where it will end [his career] who knows, but I am sure it will be great.”

Rashford’s goal came on the 85th anniversary of United’s youth system providing a player for every matchday squad. “The header was a hammer from Marcus,” Ten Hag said.

“It’s so great as a player out of the academy, a striker gets his 100th goal on the 85th anniversary so he is really representing Man United. Tomorrow [Monday] is his 25th birthday, a great present I would say.”

The manager was less enthused regarding United’s second-half performance. “It turned into, I call it a tennis match, one end to the other – but we have great defenders, and a great keeper,” he said.

Towards the end David de Gea made two standout saves and Harry Maguire, returning to the league starting XI for the first time since August, made a late block from Jarrod Bowen.

Rashford’s goal came in front of the England manager, Gareth Southgate. “I am pleased that I have managed to score and it’s always good to score regardless of whether Gareth is watching or not,” the forward said.

Marcus Rashford the best striking solution for Ten Hag in short term | Marcus Rashford

When Marcus Rashford made his Manchester United debut under Louis van Gaal in 2016 he was seen as a striking stopgap, thrust into the limelight due to a lack of options. He quickly solved the problem. The England international is back in the No 9 position as a short-term fix for another Dutchman, as United and Rashford look to reap the rewards of a carefree footballer.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s penchant for melodrama has helped take the focus away from the man impressing in the position the Portuguese thinks he is entitled to. Rashford’s self-assurance has returned: he looks like a man confident in his own ability once again and West Ham’s defence will be fearful of facing him on Sunday.

Last season Rashford failed to score between January and the end of the campaign. Five goals in his first eight appearances this season have reinvigorated him. There is a vibrancy to what he is offering after a year of being unable to make an impact in a struggling team.

With all the positivity Rashford is once again bringing to United, helped by Erik ten Hag backing him over a club legend, he will still need to justify his position by scoring on a more consistent basis. To be seen as the better short- and long-term option for a new head coach trying to instil his strategy on a squad that has spent far too long underwhelming fans at Old Trafford, will have boosted Rashford after, arguably, failing to recover for the entirety of last season from his penalty miss in the Euro 2020 final.

Key goals against Arsenal and Liverpool ensure he has the fans back onside after a frustrating spell where his nervousness and lack of conviction on the pitch reduced his popularity. Against Tottenham, however, he was unable to convert good chances to finish the match as a contest, something that could prove costly on another day, but his overall output was impressive.

There have been dips: Rashford struggled in the defeat at Manchester City, but he was not alone on that front that day and at Stamford Bridge he was unable to trouble Chelsea.

It is easy to forget Rashford turns 25 on Monday because he made his debut six and a half years ago. This was a help and hindrance to the teenage striker. The two goals against Midtjylland brought immediate fame and expectation but he was never allowed to grow into the role of a No 9, hindered by changes in managers and style. Stability is a great help for progressing footballers because it takes time to work out where and why they flourish, even if they have come through playing in a different position.

Various coaches have wanted different things from Rashford – for club and country – forcing him to adapt and change his game on an almost season-by-season basis. He claims his best position is on the left because running in behind and dribbling are two of his most effective attributes. However, he should be aiming to be the main man down the middle, taking on the responsibility for the team, leading the line and making the difference in big matches.

Rashford celebrates scoring against Sheriff.
Rashford celebrates scoring against Sheriff. Photograph: Craig Brough/Reuters

At his best, Rashford has the qualities to be a regular scorer, shown by his 2019-20 record of 17 goals in 31 Premier League games, admittedly starting most on the left side of the attack. He was liberated that season under Ole Gunnar Solskjær, who believed Rashford was at his best when playing with freedom, returning to the player who burst on to the scene without the burden of everything that comes with being a Manchester United player. Rather than overthinking every run, pass and finish, Rashford is playing on instinct again.

Ten Hag arrived with the aim of putting the smile back on Rashford’s face, to alleviate the pressure he felt and make football fun again. The Dutchman has faith in the striker, which was not the impression Ralf Rangnick gave off, as he regularly left Rashford out of the side.

In the Europa League, Ten Hag has called on him at half-time against Omonia and Sheriff Tiraspol to re-energise his side. On Thursday, he ended his five-game drought with a precise and powerful header, showing a different type of finish for his 99th goal for United. His 100th will move him joint 20th in their all-time goalscoring list. Not bad for someone who forgot where the net was last season.

Rashford may not be the permanent solution to United’s striking problem but he is certainly the best in the short-term, allowing United to avoid a panic buy. And if he really wants it, Rashford could be the long-term answer, too.

Erik ten Hag delaying contract decisions on Marcus Rashford and David de Gea | Manchester United

Erik ten Hag is yet to decide whether David de Gea and Marcus Rashford will be offered new contracts, with Manchester United’s manager choosing to focus on performance.

De Gea, who made his 500th appearance for the club in Sunday’s draw with Newcastle, and Rashford each have deals that expire in June, though the club have an option of a further year for both. Rashford is 25 on 31 October.

Asked about De Gea, who will be 32 in early November, Ten Hag said: “We didn’t make a decision on him but what I can say is that I am really happy with David de Gea as a keeper. His first two performances of the season were not his best but after you see he brings us a lot for the defence department, gives stability and as a person I like him – I can cooperate with him really well. But first we go to the winter and then we will talk about how to deal with this.”

Ten Hag was asked whether the same applied for Rashford, Fred and Diogo Dalot who, like Luke Shaw and Cristiano Ronaldo, are also out of contract in June.

“In this moment we only think about performing,” he said. “We have a lot of games to go, so I don’t want to get that interfered by talks.”

He denied the players’ futures were unresolved in order to motivate them. “Some players get motivated when they play for a contract,” he said. “But it is not why we handle it like this. We just want to restore Man United, develop the squad, bring everything to a better level.

“We work on a way of play and also on the culture and we need quality players who are highly motivated. Such players we are looking for and luckily we have them in the squad so I am happy with the squad and the motivation they all have. The cooperation is quite good.”

Cristiano Ronaldo is out of contract in June 2023
Cristiano Ronaldo, out of contract in June 2023, has struggled for game time this season. Photograph: Matthew Ashton/AMA/Getty Images

United host third-placed Tottenham on Wednesday after taking 16 points from nine matches. Ten Hag was asked whether he was happy with the team so far, considering the rebuild required.

“That is a good question,” he said. “There are obviously many problems and we had to integrate many players, deal with problems offensively from the start: Cristiano Ronaldo was unavailable [in pre-season], Anthony Martial was not on the pitch and [then] didn’t play a full game until now. I’m sure with two No 9s present and fit in a good combative shape, the results will improve.”