Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford made another stunning debut on Tuesday evening, this time by scoring a hat-trick for England Under-21s.
The 18-year-old netted in the 29th, 66th and 72nd minutes, completing his triple by earning and converting a penalty, as Gareth Southgate’s side trounced Norway 6-1 at Colchester Community Stadium.
Rashford’s achievement means he has scored goals on four debuts in the last seven months – his maiden appearances for United’s first team, in the Premier League, for England’s senior side and now their Under-21s. He told FA TV after the game: “I thought the whole team worked hard for the whole 90 minutes. We got what we deserved for an end result so I’m happy.”
Also on target at Colchester were Chelsea youngsters Nathaniel Chalobah, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and finally Lewis Baker, who wrapped up the scoring just after Rashford was rested for the final four minutes. The result means England need just one win from their remaining two qualifiers to book a place in next year’s European Under-21 Championship.
COACH’S VERDICT ON RASHFORD
A delighted Gareth Southgate told BBC Radio Five Live: “What we saw tonight was exactly what we’ve seen from Marcus all week. Not just in the quality but in the way he’s gone about his work. He’s joined the group [from the senior England squad] with real humility. You hope that will be the case with a young player but that’s never a given. So he’s impressed all of us with the way that he’s fitted in.
“I have to give credit to all of the other boys and all of the staff as well because I think we create an environment that allows boys to feel they can express themselves. If that didn’t exist then maybe you wouldn’t get the same performances. But Marcus has performed like that in training all week and we’re not entirely surprised at what happened tonight.
“People question the validity of coming down [from the senior squad to the Under-21s] but anybody who was at the game will have seen the quality of the game and the challenge within it. Sometimes it’s good to travel with the senior team and be on the bench and be part of the squad but also sometimes it’s more important to play, get minutes under your belt and gain confidence from that.
“There were tactical challenges in tonight’s game that Marcus also had a part to play in solving. To me it’s been a very important week in his personal development.”
Rashford started the match in a wider role than normal as Southgate initially deployed a diamond formation. When asked whether he sees the United forward cutting in from the left or playing through the middle in the future, the England Under-21s coach replied: “I think both scenarios are possible for him. He’s played a lot in his youth as a wider player.
“I knew that the system that we played all summer when we won the Toulon Tournament would suit him because he does make those runs from inside forward on the back of centre-backs. I knew that would work. But again I think a player of that quality will be able to adapt and adjust to playing as a [number] nine or even as a 10. I think [long-term] he’ll play as a 9 or as a wide player that comes in and is a goal threat from wide areas as well.”
RASHFORD’S FOUR SCORING DEBUTS
Manchester United first-team debut – 25 February 2016, United 5-1 Midtjylland, Europa League, Old Trafford (two goals)
Premier League – 28 February 2016, United 3-2 Arsenal, Old Trafford (two goals)
England senior team – 27 May 2016, England 2-1 Australia, Stadium of Light (one goal)
England Under-21s – 6 September 2016, England 6-1 Norway, Colchester Community Stadium (hat-trick)