Martial and Rashford reward Solskjær’s Manchester United rejig | Jamie Jackson

The hosts struggled to hold their lead until telling interventions by Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford that bode well for their campaign

Across two breathtaking minutes Manchester United shot an electric bolt through Old Trafford.

Until then Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side clung to a lead against a Chelsea side who surely wondered how they still trailed.

Then, in a flash, the home team were transformed. First, on 63 minutes, Anthony Martial did something rarely seen for United in recent times: he scored an old‑fashioned “sniffer’s” goal. Andrea Pereira smacked a cross in and there was the Frenchman to bundle home from close range.

Then came a sweet United sequence in which Aaron Wan‑Bissaka, Jesse Lingard and Paul Pogba were all involved before the latter struck a superb 70-yard pass on to Marcus Rashford’s toes and he beat Kepa Arrizabalaga.

United’s fans were in party mode and this reconfigured Solskjær side were cruising. Twelve months ago Martial had been close to persona non grata here due to serious differences with José Mourinho, the previous manager. Now, in the season opener against Chelsea, he was handed the centre‑forward berth by Solskjær after being handed the No 9 jersey in a return to the shirt first occupied under Louis van Gaal when signing from Monaco in September 2015. In that season he registered a personal best for the club of 17 before Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s arrival the following year. If that demotion in status contributed to Martial’s demeanour becoming a kind of quasi-sulk as he was shifted to the margins under Mourinho, how Rashford reacted to his own move wide for Martial was one of the subplots here.

Rashford’s preferred position is at centre-forward too, yet after starting on the left he produced a sparkling display that suggested he harboured no dudgeon, his penalty separating the teams at the break.

If Martial remains a spring chicken at 23, then Rashford, 21 and Wythenshawe-born, is the poster boy for the proud United tradition of home-reared talent. Each are emblems of Solskjær’s move to a trust in youth for this nascent campaign. In the 21-year-olds Scott McTominay and Wan-Bissaka, who made his debut, Pereira and Luke Shaw (each 23), the manager had six players who brought the average outfield age of the XI down to 23 years and seven months.

Harry Maguire
Harry Maguire sees his shot blocked by Chelsea’s Emerson Palmieri during a mixed debut for Manchester United. Photograph: Phil Noble/Reuters

If there are partly practicalities at play here following a net spend of only £72m this summer, Solskjær’s hopes of a bright start to 2019-20 began to be realised when Rashford smashed in his 17th-minute penalty. This came after Chelsea had dominated the contest’s opening (and would continue to do so until the interval, at least) but in the run of Pereira, then Rashford’s burst into the area before being brought down, there was encouragement for the home faithful.

For a period it also injected an urgency previously lacking. Suddenly Martial, Rashford and company were a muscular proposition, pinning back their visitors as Wan-Bissaka rampaged along his right-back corridor and Harry Maguire threatened to swoop in behind Chelsea for a goal on debut.

Rashford’s finishes were a 28th and 29th in the league in his 112th appearance, the first 27 coming at one every 248 minutes. If the ratio is inferior to Martial’s, whose previous 34 have arrived every 217 minutes, there was a promising fluency between the two here. Positions were interchanged and, as part of Solskjær’s plan is to press from the front, the sight of Martial, in particular, doing so was a further plus. Less convincing was United’s tendency to be overrun. This may have been a function of Maguire and Wan-Bissaka being new to the rearguard but with Emerson and Tammy Abraham each seeing shots ping back off David de Gea’s goal frame and the latter making a save with his legs from a Ross Barkley effort the defence was vulnerable.

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Maguire’s opening contribution of the second half was to allow Chelsea to glide past him and he could be thankful for Victor Lindelöf’s smart covering back. The former Leicester man did far better with an interception and, later, a surge along the left that launched a United attack.

Ahead of him Martial, for a passage, became a peripheral figure though he did still drift into space to pose Chelsea questions. The issue for the Frenchman was a lack of service as Lampard’s team looked the likelier to score the next goal and maybe go on to claim three points. At this stage Pogba was anonymous while Pereira continued to be prone to ceding possession. Yet it was his flick that led to Martial winning a rare corner and though United were toothless from this now came the grandstand closing passage from Solskjær’s men.

In this there was even a memorable late goal from Daniel James, making his debut as a replacement and, by the close, the stadium was close to delirium at a 4-0 win that surely augurs well for United’s fortunes this season.

Contributor

Jamie Jackson at Old Trafford

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