Bend it like Jesse, Marcus
|(Rudy Gestede 77)||(Marouane Fellaini 30, Jesse Lingard 62, Antonio Valencia 90+3)|
Marcus Rashford has the makings of a complete centre-forward.
He's tall, fast, physical and ferocious in the tackle. He's like a bull in a china shop, but a bit of a blindfolded one.
When Rashford learns to bend it like Jesse Lingard, he'll become the natural successor to Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Until then, the teenager can only admire the unerring footwork of his teammate and wonder what might have been.
Lingard's stupendous strike killed Middlesbrough's brave resistance as a patched-up Manchester United prevailed 3-1 last night.
But the build-up possibly betrayed Lingard's frustration.
Moments earlier, Lingard had played Rashford through once again. Lingard's pass matched Rashford's pace in its perfection, the pair in-sync and primed to punish their opponents.
But Rashford dithered. Too many missed opportunities through the game had clearly taken its toll. The teenager's uncertainty defeated him.
He didn't know whether to stick or twist and ended up doing neither. He folded.
Lingard had learned a lesson.
Seven minutes later, he broke free on the counter-attack, with Rashford well-placed on his right. Lingard cut inside and accelerated towards his team-mate.
But he kept going, shouldering the striking responsibility himself and unleashing a swerving drive from 22m that flew past Victor Valdes.
Rashford will improve in time, but United's inconsistency in front of goal remains a concern for Jose Mourinho.
Rashford had enough clear-cut chances to confirm victory by half-time, but they were all spurned, which made for a jittery conclusion to the contest.
Perhaps that's why Mourinho spent much of the build-up focusing on Middlesbrough, rather than United.
First, he claimed to know the alleged Boro mutineers who'd engineered Aitor Karanka's sacking. And then he suggested the EPL strugglers would beat United.
Even by Mourinho's patchy standards, the mind games were bizarre, as there seemed little to gain from provoking opponents with a point to prove.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, caretaker coach Steve Agnew opted for an adventurous 4-3-3 and Boro impressed in the opening 30 minutes.
United reverted to a back four, but the gap between Eric Bailly and Antonio Valencia was initially considerable.
Gaston Ramirex exploited the space, but Boro's season-long weakness soon revealed itself. There's no end product.
Alvaro Negredo's bushy beard impressed more than anything he did around the box.
Compared to the nifty Rashford, it was tortoise and the hare stuff. If United's teenager learns to finish as well as he runs, he'll rival Harry Kane's goal stats.
There's a reason he hasn't scored in the EPL since September.
On three occasions in the first half, he skinned Bernardo Espinosa only to display the composure of a teenager on a first date.
He made the right moves and then panicked.
It proved a similar storyline in the second half.
So it was left to the kind of Manchester United player that wins these games, but never used to be a Manchester United kind of player.
Valencia delivered a deep, precise cross on the half-hour mark towards three Boro defenders and one, lonely United player.
But the player was Marouane Fellaini. It wasn't even a fair fight.
He brushed off Ben Gibson and Fabio Da Silva as if removing dandruff from a blazer before nodding past Victor Valdes.
The contest then threatened to drift away until Lingard worked his wonder goal in the 62nd minute.
But Boro refused to yield before their caretaker coach.
In the 77th minute, a long cross pinballed around United's box, was half-cleared and then not cleared at all by Chris Smalling, allowing the ball to reach Rudy Gestede.
The substitute couldn't miss from five metres.
But United wrapped up the points when Valdes prepared to clear a back-pass in the 93rd minute, but slipped over and handed Valencia an easy tap-in.
United deserved victory after a tiring trip in Europe, but Mourinho knows that Rashford is not quite ready to lead the line.
The Red Devils are up to fifth, but there's still a need for the Swede.