England striker Rashford set to resume life on the margins
With goals in each of England's two games over the international break, Marcus Rashford might have nailed down a starting place for his country.
Doing the same at his club won't be quite so easy.
Rashford was back at Manchester United on Wednesday, likely resuming life on the margins of English soccer's biggest team. First, there's a three-match suspension to serve after getting a red card in United's last Premier League game for aiming a headbutt at an opponent soon after coming on as a substitute.
When he's available again after his ban, expect to see the 20-year-old Rashford mostly sitting on the bench and making frequent second-half cameos out on one of the wings. That's currently his role at United, which could start to get frustrating for the country's brightest young player.
"A prodigious talent," former England striker Gary Lineker tweeted after Rashford scored England's goal with a cushioned volley in the 1-0 win over Switzerland in a friendly on Tuesday.
That goal came after Rashford scored the opener in England's 2-1 loss to Spain in a UEFA Nations League game on Saturday.
Rashford started both international matches in his favored position as a central striker, benefiting from attacker Raheem Sterling's withdrawal because of injury. Both of his goals were clinical strikes from inside the penalty area, where England coach Gareth Southgate has said he wants to see Rashford rather than stuck out wide.
With his pace, movement and fearlessness, Rashford can be a nightmare for opponents when he plays on the shoulder of the last defender.
"We know how exciting he is," Southgate said after the game against Switzerland. "He will be a top player."
The problem for Rashford, and Southgate, is that he is not getting to play in his best position at United. Starts on the wing might be scarce, too.
With the 25-year-old Romelu Lukaku the first-choice striker and Alexis Sanchez — signed from Arsenal in January — the first-choice left winger, Rashford has to make do with bit-part roles under United manager Jose Mourinho in competition with another overlooked young forward, Anthony Martial. He doesn't look at home on the right wing.
Rashford made more appearances than any other outfield player at United last season, as Mourinho likes to point out, but they were mostly from the bench.
This season, he has started one game for United this season — the Premier League opener against Leicester, when he only played up front because Lukaku wasn't deemed ready to start after returning late to preseason training following the World Cup.
Rashford was a second-half substitute against Brighton, didn't come off the bench in the 3-0 home loss to Tottenham, and entered as a 61st-minute substitute against Burnley only to be red-carded 10 minutes later.
Mourinho only plays one up front so Rashford isn't going to be paired with Lukaku. Sanchez is United's marquee player along with Paul Pogba. So where does Rashford actually fit in? There's no outward sign of any resentment from Rashford, but will he continue to be content being a so-called "super-sub"?
It's no surprise that some pundits are questioning if United is going to be the right place for Rashford to develop into the world-class player his country hopes he'll be. At this stage in his career, he needs to be starting games.
One stat highlights just how precocious Rashford is: He has scored in his senior United debut (as a late call-up for a Europa League match in February 2016), his Premier League debut, his England debut, his Champions League debut and also his first Manchester derby.
Rashford is still raw — his final ball can be poor and his finishing sometimes lets him down — and he makes mistakes, but he is clearly a player for the big occasion.
Going forward, those occasions might be for England more than United.
Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80