The 25th of February 2021 marks five years since Marcus Rashford made his debut for Manchester United. Everybody knows the story of how the boy wonder came to make his debut on that Thursday night.
The then United boss Louis Van Gaal’s hand was forced to play Rashford. In bizarre fashion, Rashford had only known he’d make his debut five minutes before kick-off. Will Keane was out and current teammate Anthony Martial had pulled up in the warm-up, so the stars were aligned for the Wythenshawe born Red to take to the hallowed turf of Old Trafford for the first time.
Just as we’ve seen from United’s current number 10 in his short career is a cool and composed aura. It was no different from that night in 2016 as Rashford recalled he “wasn’t nervous” talking to the United podcast in December.
“Mentally I felt like I belonged there [in the first-team] and I wanted to show people I belonged there. That was just my mindset going into the game.” Rashford explained.
While Rashford’s debut brace stole the headlines, there was a number of top performances all over the pitch. United turned around an embarrassing first leg defeat to FC Midtjylland, beating the Danish side 5-1 and 6-3 on aggregate to progress into the last 16.
Here’s the team that LVG set out that day and where they are now…
Goalkeeper – Sergio RomeroEmbed from Getty Images
An outcast in United’s current squad but a fixture in some of the cup competitions for Van Gaal. Romero started in goal and conceded quite early on in the first half. United’s dominance on the night meant that the Argentine had very little to do. Romero now finds himself in the final year of his current contract, likely to depart on a free this summer. Romero has been an excellent professional during his time as United’s number two.
Right Back – Guillermo VarelaEmbed from Getty Images
Varela is probably the forgotten man from the game but he played as vital a role as anyone. The Uruguayan was very much a legacy of Sir Alex Ferguson’s final year at the club as the Uruguayan joined the club as the first player to join under David Moyes. Following a loan to Real Madrid’s Castilla side, Varela made his United debut a few months prior to the Midtjylland game. There were high hopes for Varela at Old Trafford and his assist for Rashford’s second goal added to the positive appraisal of the full-back’s potential.
However, in the long term it wasn’t meant to be. Following Van Gaal’s dismissal in 2016 and Jose Mourinho’s appointment, Varela found himself on loan in the Bundesliga. His spell at Eintracht Frankfurt is remembered for his ignorance of advice not to get a tattoo, getting a tattoo and it getting infected so he could not play in their crucial cup final. Varela was fined and sent back to United where he had no future under Mourinho.
Varela met his former club as United took on FC Copenhagen in the Europa League quarterfinal in Germany last season. The full-back now plys his trade on loan at Dynamo Moscow.
Centre Back – Michael CarrickEmbed from Getty Images
Van Gaal took an instant liking to Michael Carrick as he was made second-in-command to Wayne Roney’s captaincy. Carrick was perfect for LVG’s philosophy which is why the Dutchman could deploy him in many positions. The legendary figure at United was deployed as a centre-back against Midtjylland as he was on a number of occasions prior. His composure and ball playing ability made him perfect for this role in Van Gaal’s system.
Carrick is still a familiar face around Old Tafford after being named part of Solskjaer’ coaching team in 2018 after spending six months alongside Mourinho following his retirement. Known for his intelligence and understanding of the game, Carrick is a point of call for United’s current midfielders.
Centre Back – Daley BlindEmbed from Getty Images
Blind is another technical master underappreciated during his time in Manchester. Against Midtjylland he played at centre-back but the Dutchman was capable of doing a job at left-back or in midfield.
Blind left United in 2018 to return to his boyhood Ajax. A year later he starred in that famous Ajax side that reached the Champions League semi final playing at centre-back. Despite health complications the versatile Dutchman is still going strong, oozing class with every touch.
Left Back – Joe RileyEmbed from Getty Images
Joe Riley played at left-back on the night and was another of Van Gaal’s youth academy promotions. Riley made his debut against Shrewsbury in the FA Cup and was seen as someone who could potentially pin down the left-back spot in Luke Shaw’s unfortunate absence. Dubbed by many as Wayne Rooney’s long lost son because of his rugged manly look at a tender age, Riley only made two first-team appearances.
Following Riley’s loan to Sheffield United in 2017, he left United to join Bradford before moving once again to Carlisle United where he plays alogside fellow United academy grduate George Tanner.
Central Midfield – Ander HerreraEmbed from Getty Images
The heart on his sleeve Spaniard that played like an Englishman. Herrera was a Manchester United fan favourite. The midfielder played a big role against Midtjylland, winning a penalty as well as scoring from the spot later on in the game.
The way Herrera won the penalty summed him up, a real nuisance for the opposition ready to do anything for his team to win. You could argue that United felt the full brunt of that as his theatrics in this seasons Champions League saw Fred sent off at Old Trafford. Herrera was an outstanding professional and his departure was a sad one as he left for free. Now PSG benefit from the mdfielders overwhelming passion.
Central Midfield – Morgan SchneiderlinEmbed from Getty Images
Schneiderlin partnered Herrera in a midfield pivot and had a decent game also. The Frenchman for many will go down as one of many transfer disappointments post-fergie. Following a couple of successful seasons as part of Pochettino’s Southampton side, Schneiderlin traded the south-coast for the north-west. The reported fee was around £40m and nobody batted an eyelid – he was worth it.
Schneiderlin even found himself in the French squad that got to the Euros final following that season. But like many of that seasons’ United squad, Schneiderlin could be considered a casualty of LVG’s sacking. The midfielder featured very little for Jose Mourinho and found himself sold to Everton after six months. His time with the Toffees was also extremely underwhelming. The Frenchman moved to Nice for £2m in the beginning of the 20/21 season.
Central Attacking Midfield – Juan MataEmbed from Getty Images
Midtjylland at home was one of the few times we saw Juan Mata deployed where he’s best, even though he missed a penalty. Juan Mata is one of the major victims of the ‘number 10’ role demanding more physical ability. Mata in 2016 was still in his pomp just drifting through lines and picking up assists like he did for Rashford’s first goal. Over time he’s been forced out wide to save him from the physical demands of central areas.
His compatriot and fellow midfield magician David Silva survived the death of the technical 10 by adapting his game to play deeper. Mata is still yet to find that happy medium of effecting games while doing very little defensively. For that reason El Mago has found himself on the fringes at United. Saying that, Mata has continued to prove that he still has a use in this United team and thats down to his proffessional attitude.
Right Midfield – Jesse LingardEmbed from Getty Images
It’s almost necessary that Marcus Rashford would make his debut alongside his close firend Jesse Lingard. For a while the two were inseprable and joint at the hip. The Lingard we saw in 2016 is different to the one we see now. Not just because of his changed haistyle and iconic gap tooth he sported back then but positionally.
Coming through Lingard was very much a winger, and his FA Cup final winner came from him finding space in theat right channel. Lingard adapted his game to be an efficient midfield player and a tactical gem in big games. His relentless pressing and engine meant winning the ball back quickly was easier with him in the team. Following the signing of Bruno Fernandes and personal issues off the pitch, Lingard’s apperances were few and far between.
Lingard is currently on loan at West Ham playing some of the football we were so used to seeing him play when he had a smile on his face. The ‘Lingardinho’ vibes are very much back.
Left Midfield – Memphis DepayEmbed from Getty Images
Had a certain Rashford not stolen the show, Memphis Depay would have been on his own as the man of the match. Midtjylland at Old Trafford saw Depay perform at his very best during his time in red. The Midtjylland right back still has nightmares about how he was torn apart by his skills and directness. The Dutch international scored and assisted in that game.
Memphis wasn’t given a real shot by Mourinho, and like Schneiderlin found himself tossed away at the earliest window. The Dutch winger has managed to build a decent career for himself whether on the mic or on the pitch with his Lyon side reaching the semifinal of the Champions League last season. Depay has also played a huge role in getting his national team into the Euros after they missed out on the World Cup three years ago.
Many United fans wouldn’t be opposed to the 27-year-old returning to Old Trafford. It was perhaps a case of ‘right place wrong time’ for Depay at United but there’s no doubting his talent.
Striker – Marcus RashfordEmbed from Getty Images
The man himself. Those two goals against Midtjylland were the beginnings of what still is a promising career. Not only has Rashford made moves on the pitch but has proven to be influential off it. In five years he’s achieved so much but there’s still more to come. This season for United alongside Bruno Fernandes, the forward has been vital to Manchester United, highlighed by the fact he hasn’t missed a game.
Who would’ve thought that baby faced number 39 in 2016 would go on to earn doctorates and honours from the Queen all while performing on the pitch. He’s truly an example for many, a real inspiration.
Marcos Rojo – Recently transferred to Boca Juniors.
Andreas Pereira – Still a Manchester United player, currently on loan at Lazio.
Regan Poole – Lincoln City in League 1