CHRIS WHEELER: Marcus Rashford has got his Manchester United mojo back... with the 25-year old's stunning return to form under Erik ten Hag a nice problem for Gareth Southgate to have ahead of the World Cup 

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When Marcus Rashford scored the only goal of Manchester United’s win over West Ham at Old Trafford in January, it wasn’t long before the euphoria subsided and misery returned.

Rashford was in the throes of the toughest season of his career. Haunted by a penalty miss at the final of Euro 2020, and dragged under by an unrelenting crisis at United, he did not score again in the remaining three months of the campaign.

After repeating his heroics in the same fixture on Sunday – Rashford’s winner against West Ham brought up a century of goals for his club – the future looked significantly brighter as he woke up on his 25th birthday on Monday.

Marcus Rashford has rediscovered his mojo at boyhood club Manchester United this season

Marcus Rashford has rediscovered his mojo at boyhood club Manchester United this season

Marcus Rashford has rediscovered his mojo at boyhood club Manchester United this season

Rashford's bullet header earned Man United a deserved 1-0 win over West Ham on Sunday

Rashford's bullet header earned Man United a deserved 1-0 win over West Ham on Sunday

The lost soul who sleepwalked through most of last season looks rejuvenated under Erik ten Hag. The misfiring striker who finished that campaign with just five goals is now United’s top scorer with seven by the end of October.

If Rashford’s resurgence is good news for United, then what about England? Gareth Southgate, who was at Old Trafford to see him head the winner on Sunday, has not picked Rashford in more than 15 months.

With injuries and loss of form promising to give Southgate sleepless nights less than three weeks until England kick off their World Cup campaign against Iran, Rashford’s late bid for a place on the plane to Qatar is a nice problem to have.

Rashford has bounced back from a torrid previous season

Rashford has bounced back from a torrid previous season

So how has the likeable Mancunian got his mojo back?

There is little doubt that Rashford is reaping the rewards of the extra work he put in last summer to make sure he was ready for the physical demands of Ten Hag’s arrival.

While many players were still on the beach, Rashford headed to America and Nike’s state-of-the-art headquarters in Oregon to be ready for pre-season.

During six days in Portland, he was put through a scientifically designed gym programme, punishing runs with a 50kg weight on his back, and 200metre sprints up a running track elevated to 15.6 degrees, clocking a personal best of 25 seconds.

He also trained in Los Angeles and New Jersey where he spent his mornings in the gym and afternoons practising his finishing skills.

While Rashford is stronger physically this season, at Old Trafford on Sunday he talked about being in a ‘better head space’ and that has probably been an even more important factor.

After missing in the shootout against Italy at the Euros, Rashford didn’t get out of bed for days and sought the help of a psychologist. He had split from his childhood sweetheart Lucia Loi.

England manager Gareth Southgate will be delighted to have the attacker back in form

England manager Gareth Southgate will be delighted to have the attacker back in form

Rasford has starred for Man United this season, scoring seven goals in just 15 matches

Rasford has starred for Man United this season, scoring seven goals in just 15 matches

When he returned to action for United after shoulder surgery in the summer, he discovered a divided dressing-room on the point of implosion, and that is something Ten Hag has worked hard to improve.

‘When you’re playing in a team sport, you want the players to be together,’ said Rashford.

‘I just think the energy is a lot different, that’s the biggest thing. The energy is more positive within the whole team and at the training ground. It’s stuff that he (Ten Hag) mentioned as soon as he came in.’

The other problem for Rashford was that, quite simply, he felt unloved. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Michael Carrick and Ralf Rangnick may dispute that, but none of United’s three managers last season were able to get the best out of him in a variety of positions.

Rasford hit a low point in his career after missing a penalty in the Euro final against Italy

Rasford hit a low point in his career after missing a penalty in the Euro final against Italy

Disillusionment set in which may explain why his agent and brother, Dwaine Maynard, flew to France in August to speak with Paris Saint-Germain.

Ten Hag’s response to that meeting gave a valuable insight into how he has made Rashford feel valued again.

‘He knows I love him, he knows I want him to be here so I will tell him that again,’ gushed the Dutchman. ‘I’m really happy with him, I don’t want to lose him, he’s definitely in our plans.’

New United boss Erik ten Hag has got Rashford feeling loved again

New United boss Erik ten Hag has got Rashford feeling loved again

Ten Hag has been good to his word. Out of the 15 games Rashford has been available after suffering a hamstring injury against Arsenal in September, he has played in 14 and started 12.

Although wide left is generally accepted to be his best position, Ten Hag has used Rashford through the middle on occasions and encouraged him to be more direct on goal – a change of approach that led to his thumping header against West Ham.

‘He just wants me to be in the right areas, scoring goals, pressing high up the pitch – little things I’m chipping away at,’ added Rashford.

‘Getting into the areas is one thing, but the technique and the desire to get your head on the end of it, that’s what I’ve been working on. It’s nice to get a couple of goals out of that.’

Away from the pitch, too, Rashford is more settled. He and Lucia got together again over Christmas and announced their engagement in May.

At 25, the boy from Wythenshawe is now a man entering his prime. United are feeling the benefit, and Southgate must decide if England will too.

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