Rashford keeps Man United in title race with another goal

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LEEDS, England — Marcus Rashford and Alejandro Garnacho scored a goal each in the final ten minutes of the clash between Manchester United and Leeds United at Elland Road on Sunday to secure a 2-0 win that keeps the team’s Premier League title hopes alive.

Prior to Rashford opening the scoring on 80 minutes, Leeds had threatened to extend United’s poor run of form to one win in five games, but his stunning header and Garnacho’s solo goal snatched a late win for Erik ten Hag’s team to keep their hosts in relegation trouble at the wrong end of the table.

Rapid reaction

1. Rashford strikes again to keep Man United in title race

It’s debatable as to whether Manchester United are still in the Premier League title race, but they would almost certainly be out of it without Rashford’s winning goal against Leeds.

Rashford’s 80th-minute header, after Luke Shaw had crossed Marcel Sabitzer’s long pass into the penalty area, broke the deadlock in a hard-fought game at Elland Road. Garnacho’s individual strike five minutes later made the game safe, but it was Rashford’s goal — his 13th in 15 games since the post-World Cup restart — that was the matchwinner.

The win means that United are now five points behind leaders Arsenal, albeit having played two more games than the Gunners, but with Mikel Arteta’s team set to meet champions Manchester City for the first time in the league this season on Wednesday. At this stage, United are clearly outsiders in the race for the title, but Rashford’s goal has kept their hopes alive.

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Prior to this game, Ten Hag’s side had won just one of their past four Premier League outings, so it looked as though momentum was running out at Old Trafford. They conceded a last-minute equaliser at Crystal Palace and last-minute winner to Arsenal in a 3-2 loss at the Emirates before having to fight back from 2-0 down to draw against Leeds at home last Wednesday.

If not for those dropped points, United would be right at the heart of the title race rather than now being in third, hoping for Arsenal and City to slip up. With Arsenal and City still face each other twice — United have played both sides home and away — they will take points off each other, so United can still dream thanks to their late win at Elland Road.

2. Adams and McKennie can inspire Leeds to beat the drop

Any team looking to avoid relegation must have fighting qualities in their side and, at times this season, Leeds have been too much of a soft touch. But with United States duo Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie now anchoring their midfield, Leeds have the perfect bedrock from which to build their survival bid.

When Adams floored United’s Jadon Sancho with a heavy first-minute challenge — it was tough, but fair — it not only sparked the Leeds crowd, but it also served as a message for his teammates that this was a game in which every 50-50 tackle had to be won. Moments later, McKennie made a similar challenge on Tyrell Malacia that resulted in the United left-back undergoing treatment on the pitch.

Neither tackle was pretty, but Adams and McKennie both displayed the fighting spirit that Leeds will have to repeat from now until the end of the season. The Leeds crowd is one of the most vociferous and demanding in the Premier League and it their support can make Elland Road an intimidating atmosphere for opponents. In a relegation battle, the players and crowd need to feed off each other, but Adams and McKennie already seem to have got the message.

3. Key absences expose United’s lack of creativity

This was one of Manchester United’s least impressive performances of the season, and much of that can be attributed to the absence of both Casemiro and Christian Eriksen.

Eriksen is a long-term absentee due to the ankle ligament injury sustained against Reading in the FA Cup last month, and the Denmark international is expected to be out until late-April at the earliest. Casemiro, meanwhile, was serving the second match of a three-game domestic suspension following a red card for violent conduct against Crystal Palace last week.

United could probably cope without one of Casemiro or Eriksen in their midfield against most opponents, but they are finding it tough without both of them. Casemiro has been United’s best player this season and their driving force, while Eriksen has quietly impressed with his creativity and ability to control the tempo of a game.

While Sabitzer, on loan from Bayern Munich, has added athleticism and tenacity, his partnership with Fred at Elland Road offered none of the drive or flair that Casemiro and Eriksen have brought to United.

And with two such experienced, top-quality midfielders not in the team, Bruno Fernandes struggled to get into the game against Leeds. Fernandes is a talent, but he needs better players around him and this game seemed like a return to last season, when the midfield was lacking in too many areas.

The good news for United is that Casemiro will be able to play in the Europa League playoff first leg against Barcelona on Thursday, but there is no good news when it comes to Eriksen’s absence.

Best and worst performers

BEST: Tyler Adams, Leeds. The Leeds midfielder set the tone for his team with a crunching tackle on Sancho in the first minute, but he is more than a destroyer, and he showed that in this game.

BEST: Luke Ayling, Leeds. The Leeds captain is an old-fashioned defender, but that is exactly what his team needed, and he stuck rigidly to the task of marking Rashford.

BEST: Fred, Manchester United. United were in danger of being overrun in midfield without the suspended Casemiro, but Fred did the job of two players at times to keep a grip of the middle of the pitch.

WORST: Wout Weghorst, Manchester United. United needed an extra forward following Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure, but this was Weghorst’s ninth game since arriving on loan last month and he once again looked completely out of his depth.

WORST: Harry Maguire, Manchester United. A rare start for the United captain, but he was shaky and unconvincing, never more so than when he was caught out by Jack Harrison when making a careless back-pass.

WORST: Jadon Sancho, Manchester United. The England winger is still feeling his way back into action following his two-month spell out of the team, and he was ineffective against Leeds and unsurprisingly substituted.

Highlights and notable moments

It’s always Rashford.

After the match: What the players/managers said

Statement from both Leeds and Man United following fan chanting regarding clubs’ historic tragedies: “Both clubs strongly condemn chanting from both sets of fans regarding historic tragedies at today’s game. Such behaviour is completely unacceptable and we will continue to work together with our respective fan groups and the Premier League and other authorities on eradicating it from football.”

Maguire on his selection: “There’s lots of players in the squad who aren’t playing at the moment. There’s four comfortable international centre-backs at this club and there’s always going to be two unhappy. I’ll keep fighting and working hard to be ready when called upon.”

Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information research)

– Rashford’s 13 goals in 15 games in all competitions since the World Cup is tied for the most among players in Europe’s big five leagues, along with Wissam Ben Yedder of AS Monaco.

– David de Gea played his 400th career Premier League with Man United, tying Gary Neville for third most all-time. Only Ryan Giggs (632) and Paul Scholes (499) have more Premier League appearances for the Red Devils.

Up next

Leeds United: Leeds return to action on Saturday with a trip to Goodison Park, where a date with relegation rivals Everton will have enormous implications on the bottom of the table.

Manchester United: It may be in the Europa League, but United’s next match is a mouthwatering continental encounter with Barcelona on Thursday at Camp Nou.

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