'Rashford's form means he's starting for England'

‘Rashford’s form means he’s starting for England’

Over the past few weeks, I had already gone from thinking Marcus Rashford shouldn’t be at the World Cup to believing he should be on the plane to Qatar.

Instead, after seeing him at Old Trafford on Sunday, England boss Gareth Southgate will think Rashford may need to start his first game in Group B, against Iran on November 21, on the left of his attack.

We know how good Rashford is when he’s fit, but that wasn’t the case last season. His confidence was so shaken that he looked like a shell of himself, but he seems to have come back with a new lease of life since the start of this campaign.

Part of the credit goes to new United boss Erik ten Hag as he brought a smile back to Rashford and his confidence back. It’s a big boost for United, and the timing is also perfect for England.

Marcus Rashford scores Manchester United winner against West Ham
Rashford’s win over West Ham was his seventh in 15 games for United in all competitions this season

What stood out to Rashford early on against West Ham was how he looked so eager to score goals – it was probably the best I’ve seen him play all year, with and without a ball.

When he found the net it was with a powerful header – his 100th goal for United but the kind of goal I don’t think I’ve ever seen him score before.

But he put in a lot of other effort and constantly wanted and wanted to get in the box and shake things up, which is something I want to see him do all the time for club and country.

“Rashford’s best role is to cut from the left”

I don’t see Rashford as a replacement for Harry Kane as England’s main striker – I’d take Callum Wilson and Ivan Toney to do so.

Wilson is a risk because of his injury record, but he’s the most natural poacher of all the other candidates to lead England’s attack, and I think Ivan Toney is ahead of Tammy Abraham because, like Kane , he is able to descend deeper and bind. play, better than Abraham does.

I never really saw Rashford as a complete centre-forward who would play that role. For me, his best position is to arrive on the left flank as a wide striker – like he did against West Ham.

Graphic showing Manchester United's starting XI against West Ham: De Gea, Dalot, Maguire, Martinez, Shaw, Casemiro, Eriksen, Elanga, Fernandes, Rashford, Ronaldo

Every time he’s there, he looks comfortable. His pace hurts teams and he can run towards defenders – if he’s on the ball he likes to cut inside and have the option to pass or go on goal. Apart from that, he can arrive at the right time at the far post to get things done.

If you’ve watched Raheem Sterling play for Manchester City over the past few seasons, you’ll know he scored so many of his goals doing just that, having come from the left side.

Sterling’s form for Chelsea has been irrelevant, but in his defense he has had to play in a number of different formations for Thomas Tuchel and now Graham Potter after moving to Stamford Bridge last summer.

He’s not reaching the heights he reached when he was at City, but under the circumstances that’s no surprise.

For England, however, Sterling has always done the trick. Southgate knows that, so I think he’ll probably stick with him on the left.

Rashford’s form has given him plenty to think about though, not least because he has a natural partnership on that flank with Luke Shaw for United that could also work for England. They know each other’s game perfectly.

“Maguire reminded people that he was one of the best centre-backs”

The other bonus for Southgate on Sunday was seeing Harry Maguire make his first Premier League start since August 13, when United lost 4-0 at Brentford.

Maguire was always going to come under scrutiny whenever he returned to the United squad and there were moments against West Ham, especially early on when he seemed unsure of the ball.

But he pulled through and there were plenty of positives about his display, for Ten Hag as well as Southgate.

Defensively, Maguire was perfectly tuned and produced some monster headers, tackles and blocks towards the end of the game as United clung to their 1-0 lead. He did all the things you want your centre-half to do.

I was really happy for him. Maguire is probably playing with around 50% of his usual confidence right now, but he’s been able to handle the pressure and remind people that he’s one of the best centre-backs, even though he’s going through a tough time.

“Bowen is in the frame, not Sancho”

Manchester United defender Harry Maguire blocks Jarrod Bowen's shot
Diogo Dalot clears the danger after Harry Maguire blocked Jarrod Bowen’s shot in the dying minutes of United’s win over West Ham

While Rashford and Maguire have both seized their chance to impress Southgate, one of their United team-mates is running out of time to show he should join them in Qatar.

Jadon Sancho was left on the bench against the Hammers, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to argue for him to be in the England squad when he is announced on November 10.

As a player, you always know what levels you can reach and where your current form compares to that, and Sancho will know that he is well below his current best.

Whether it’s just because of him or because the system he plays in at United doesn’t suit him, that’s just not happening for him at the moment.

Sancho has to look at Rashford and the other players who went through that tunnel and found a way to play well again, and find out for himself.

Unfortunately for Sancho, the timing of his dip in form is not good for his World Cup hopes when there are so many players in his position who are playing regularly and playing well too.

West Ham’s Jarrod Bowen is one of them, and although West Ham ended up being beaten at Old Trafford, Bowen showed Southgate that he is still a threat.

When Bowen played for England last summer the results weren’t great but I don’t think he did badly. He’s still in the Qatar frame but, at the moment, Sancho really isn’t.

Jermaine Jenas was talking to BBC Sport’s Chris Bevan.

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