Marcus Rashford went into the last international break having spearheaded the Manchester United attack in the 1-0 away defeat against Newcastle.
He looked tired and struggling for fitness having been tasked with leading the line at Old Trafford since Anthony Martial’s injury in August.
The Rashford who came back from England duty looked a man transformed and it has proved to be the catalyst for change in a season which was getting away from him in October.
Now he can use the final international break of 2019 to keep his hot streak going, buoyed by the fortunes of a city rival.
What happened last time around?
Rashford was left on the bench for England’s trip to the Czech Republic, where they lost 2-1 on a night on which they could have clinched qualification for next summer’s European Championship – introduced in place of Jadon Sancho on 73 minutes.
Perhaps surprisingly given the respective form of the players at the time, he came in for Sancho against Bulgaria three days later, starting on the left wing.
Far from looking bereft of confidence and fitness, Rashford relished not being solely responsible for his side’s attacking impetus and smashed in the opening goal after just seven minutes.
Rashford brought that confidence back to Old Trafford, scoring six goals in six starts across all competitions since that 6-0 October thumping in Sofia.
Now he has the opportunity to maintain his form as he links up with England once more, with one win needed to guarantee qualification as top seeds.
Rashford’s hopes of a start boosted
After such a resounding win last time out and the aforementioned strong form that led to, Rashford was likely to be in pole position for a start against Montenegro on Thursday anyway.
But after Raheem Sterling, who would have occupied one of the wide berths, was dropped for the Wembley clash after an altercation with Joe Gomez, Rashford’s hopes of a start were boosted yet further.
It would be a surprise if Gareth Southgate went with anything other than Rashford on the left and Sancho on the right.
Before this season, there has always been a suspicion that Rashford would end up as a central striker and had just been shunted wide under Jose Mourinho.
But given how the campaign has played out, it’s clear he prefers playing from wide, attacking the goal rather than holding the ball up and with Harry Kane nailed on to start up front for England and Tammy Abraham challenging him, Rashford should play on the flanks every time.
The last international break transformed Rashford’s season. The next one provides an opportunity to continue his outstanding form and book his country’s spot at Euro 2020.
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