Marcus Rashford has consistently delivered impressive performances for England this season, overshadowing his lackluster displays for Manchester United. However, his recent outing against Malta revealed a dip in confidence, likely stemming from his goal drought at Old Trafford.
Throughout the match, the 26-year-old forward seemed inhibited, hinting at the immense challenge he faces to secure a starting position for the Euros. Serving as a representative of the attacking traditions of United on the night Wembley honored Sir Bobby Charlton, it was disappointing to witness a pale imitation of Rashford lacking the pace, quick feet, and clinical finishing that define his best performances.
Although Rashford has displayed his prowess while playing for his country, notably against Scotland and Italy, Gareth Southgate's loyalty towards him after a red card in United's Champions League clash against Copenhagen was evident. For the Malta game, Rashford received instructions to operate on the left flank, hugging the touchline, but struggling to gain momentum when things aren't going well can be incredibly challenging.
In comparison, Rashford's rival for a place in the team, Phil Foden, enjoyed freedom on the opposite flank, enabling him to deliver an eighth-minute cross that resulted in an own goal by Pepe. Rashford found himself consigned to celebrating Foden's success rather than receiving accolades himself.
Rashford undoubtedly longs for his carefree days on the field, as evidenced by the bursts of excitement when he managed to exploit space in the Maltese defense. Unfortunately, his endeavors lacked the desired end product, partly due to the close marking and harassment by Joseph Mbong, his marker who plays for Hamrun Spartans in Malta.
England's first-half struggles to register a shot on target, despite leading, encompassed Rashford's participation in the overall lackluster performance. A potential game-changing moment arrived in the 41st minute when Harry Kane delivered an exquisite pass to a free Rashford. However, this version of Rashford hesitated, allowing Mbong to intercept, squandering the opportunity.
While Southgate made two changes at halftime, Rashford retained his place, seemingly buoyed by the manager's support. As the game progressed, he managed to elude Mbong, demonstrating glimpses of his talent with an impressive nutmeg on Steve Borg within the box. However, this fleeting moment of brilliance represented the pinnacle of Rashford's contribution.
The management substitution signaled Rashford's exit from the field after being inadvertently tripped by his own teammate, Trent Alexander-Arnold. As Rashford departed, Cole Palmer received a warm ovation for his England debut, serving as a poignant reminder of Rashford's own promising emergence in English football.
Now, it is crucial for Rashford to regain his former spark, as his place in the Euro 2024 squad is far from guaranteed, let alone securing a spot in the starting XI. The Manchester United star must buckle down, rediscovering his form and confidence to solidify his position on the international stage.