Rashford’s biggest stage There was a time last season when Marcus Rashford didn’t look ready to perform on his most regular stage, never mind gracing the biggest venues on tour. He was a timid presence at Old Trafford last season and he was sarcastically cheered on at least one occasion when he was substituted. He was deemed good enough to start just nine of the final 25 games of the season. Now, it’s difficult to believe this is the same player. Xavi called him one of the best in Europe on Wednesday, but there can’t be many better at the moment. The academy graduate has gone from being devoid of confidence to playing with the strut that belongs to the greats. READ MORE: United player ratings vs Barcelona There have been 14 goals in 16 games since the World Cup and he’s failed to score in only two games he’s started in that period. It’s also worth considering the magnitude of those goals. Vital late winners against Wolves, Manchester City and Leeds and now an equaliser in the Nou Camp. Rashford’s hard and low finish was too much for the impenetrable Marc-Andre ter Stegen, who has conceded six goals in 21 games in La Liga this season. He created the goal that put United ahead with a dazzling piece of skill to cruise by Raphinha as well. All night Rashford looked like this was where he belonged. He could have scored earlier but for a brilliant save from ter Stegen. At the moment he is bordering on the unplayable. He’s gone from unselectable to the man for the big occasion in less than 12 months. Soft goals could be costly If the second leg of this Europa League play-off tie is anywhere near as good as the first then Old Trafford is in for a treat next Thursday. This was as good a game as this competition could ever produce and Manchester United more than played their part. In fact, they were the better team, but the goals they conceded at the Nou Camp could prove costly next week. United went behind to a goal from a corner. Marcos Alonso had a free header in the six-yard box when Fred failed to do anything to stop his run and then never got off the ground when it came to challenging him. The turnaround was impressive, but just as it looked like they would take a stranglehold on the tie, they let Barcelona back in. Casemiro was the man responsible, unusually. He gave the ball away in his own half and then couldn’t out Raphinha’s cross, which crept past David de Gea as Robert Lewandowski tried to get a touch. Tactical surprise On the face of it, it looked like United were happy to bank the points and get out of Elland Road as quickly as they could on Sunday. It was a game they were second best in for long periods, but two late goals produced an unexpected and undeserved three points. But it seems Ten Hag saw something he liked in what looked like a forgettable fixture to the rest of us. United’s two goals in that game came after Wout Weghorst had dropped into an attacking midfield role and Rashford had gone in as a striker. That coincided with United’s best spell of the game and Ten Hag liked it so much he used it against Barcelona. Imagine being told Wout Weghorst would play for United as a midfielder in the Nou Camp at the start of January. At times the 6ft 6ins striker was forced so deep he was tracking runs and making interceptions on the edge of his own penalty area. The move did at least allow Rashford to play as a striker and at the moment that feels pretty essential for United. It’s something Ten Hag clearly likes at the moment. Wan-Bissaka’s revival It had been 10 months since Aaron Wan-Bissaka had been picked ahead of Diogo Dalot when both United right-backs were match fit and available. A start in the Nou Camp was the peak of his remarkable resurgence in the last couple of months. He played just five minutes of football before the World Cup but has now started 12 times since December 21 and is laying down a challenge to Dalot, who didn’t convince against Leeds. This was an interesting display from Wan-Bissaka. His improvements in the final third were on show with one excellent first-half run to the byline, before picking out Jadon Sancho for an excellent change. There was also one moment late in the half that summed up the best and worst of him. He let a ball run across him on the edge of his own area without the awareness of what was around him. Jordi Alba pounced and had gone past Wan-Bissaka, until the right-back chucked in a last-ditch slide tackle to get a block in on the shot. Four years of change United were back at the Nou Camp a couple of months short of four years after losing in the Champions League quarter-finals under Ole Gunnar Solskjar, but the change has been overwhelming. There were three starters back in the side on Thursday in David de Gea, Fred and Marcus Rashford. Had Ten Hag been able to field his strongest XI then Fred wouldn’t have made it, although maybe Anthony Martial, who started in that game would. There are others still involved. Diogo Dalot came off the bench that night, although the other six substitutes have all left the club. Victor Lindelof and Scott McTominay both started but are now squad players at best. That game was in the last eight of the Champions League, this was (technically) the last-32 of the Europa League, but it’s pretty clear this is a much stronger and much deeper squad. 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Man United forward Marcus Rashford has started doing what world-class players do
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