BACK WITH A BANG MAYBE that need to fill Cristiano Ronaldo’s goalscoring boots isn’t quite as desperate as they all thought.
And maybe if Gareth Southgate had given him more than five minutes against France, England’s World Cup would have been oh-so-different.
Christian Eriksen opened the scoring in the first half
Marcus Rashford scored an incredible solo goal
Anyone who witnessed Marcus Rashford’s magical performance certainly wouldn’t have been in a rush to disagree with either sentiment.
Yes, fair enough, they will point out it was “only” Burnley, how one swallow doesn’t make a summer – or winter – and all that.
But equally relevant is the old you can only beat what’s in front of you line. And Rashford didn’t just beat the Clarets, he thrashed them within an inch of their lives.
Tireless, terrific and a non-stop bundle of energy. So much for the suggestion those returning from Qatar duty would need a few weeks to get back up to speed.
Rashford hit the ground running, picked up pace as the evening went on and capped his wonderful display with arguably the finest goal of his life.
Never mind that it was against a Championship side, albeit one which is threatening to run away with that league.
It was a truly special, unforgettable moment of skill from a young man who has been transformed since Erik ten Hag arrived at Old Trafford. And then some.
United were already a goal to the good, yet in anything but the comfort zone when the ball fell to Rashford midway inside his own half 12 minutes after the break.
There was really nothing on, no danger whatsoever. Probably more to United than Burnley, if he lost the ball in home territory.
So he set off. And on he went. And on, and on and on. Jinking and weaving, the ball never more than a few inches from his foot.
Burnley backed off, rocked on their heels, with the backtracking Jordan Beyer not knowing whether to stick or twist.
In the end he did neither as Rashford’s stepover left him looking as groggy as a drunk at chucking out time, before the forward fired coolly, clinically and classically into the bottom corner.
For a split second it seemed Old Trafford was struck by silence. It was such a wondrous piece of skill it certainly should have been.
Then the whole ground rose as one – Heavens, there were even a few grudging Burnley claps in there – to salute a goal as fine as this stadium has seen in years.
The ninth of an increasingly impressive season for the England forward, and far, far away the best of the lot.
Three Lions boss Southgate must have had some damned fine strikers on his hands if he could leave him on the bench for all but the final, frantic few minutes of that quarter-final against France.
Or maybe he’s just a nice-guy kind of manager who’s never made a game-changing decision as national boss and only kept the job because there are no suitable alternatives. Hmmmm?
You can be pretty certain that even Southgate will find it hard not to make Rashford the first name on his next England teamsheet if he carries on in this vein.
The first game PC – Post Cristiano – and the only time Ronaldo’s name got a mention was the fact Rashford scored a goal even the magnificently six-packed one would have been proud of.
It was a goal fitting of winning a Champions League, never mind killing off a Championship side.
Although for United fans, the fact it is a side managed by Manchester City legend Vincent Kompany did make it that little bit extra special.
There is every chance they would have booked a place in the last eight even without Rashford’s sensational 70-yard solo, as well, because they were already a goal to the good.
That came courtesy of Christian Eriksen’s second strike for the club, with an opener that had something of the Christmas miracle ring to it as well.
The miracle in question being that the creator was Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who came up with one of the first decent crosses in his four seasons at Old Trafford.
Quite whether it has much impact on saving his United career is both highly debatable and doubtful, given this was only the full-back’s second appearance of the campaign.
It was only the seventh time Wan-Bissaka has even made the United squad. At least he could celebrate with an assist for the opener.
What an assist it was, as well, with a stretched volley to turn Bruno Fernandes’ admittedly over-hit pass into the box, where Eriksen smashed into the roof of the net.
We even had a couple of corny Christmas jokes thrown in, too, in the form of stand-in stopper Martin Dubravka’s comedy goalkeeping.
First he nearly punched the ball into his own net – after totally missing Manuel Benson’s cross – and needed Casemiro’s acrobatic heroics to hook it to safety.
And then he let a simple backpass from the Brazilian slip under his foot and had to dash back to hack it to safety.
It was just about the only thing that came close to wiping a smile off United faces all night.