"Rashford's form means he starts for England"

“Rashford’s form means he starts for England”

In the last few weeks I had already gone from thinking Marcus Rashford shouldn’t be in the World Cup to thinking he should be on the plane to Qatar.

Instead, after watching him at Old Trafford on Sunday, England boss Gareth Southgate will think Rashford may have to start his first Group B game, 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 knocked so hard that he looked like a shell of himself, but he seems to have come back with a new life since the start of this campaign.

Some credit for that must go to new United boss Erik ten Hag as he has made Rashford smile again and restored his confidence. It’s a huge boost for United, and the timing is perfect for England too.

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

What stood out about Rashford from the start against West Ham was how eager he looked to score some goals – it was probably the best I’ve seen him play all year, with and without the 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 had plenty of other contributions and always had the hunger and desire to get into the box and make things happen, which is what I want to see him do all the time for club and country.

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

I don’t see Rashford as a back-up to Harry Kane as England’s main striker – I’d take Callum Wilson and Ivan Toney to do that.

Wilson is a risk because of his injury record, but he is the most natural poacher of any of the other candidates to lead England’s attack, and I think Ivan Toney takes Tammy Abraham out of the way because, like Kane, he can drop deeper and link up play, better than Abraham does.

I’ve never really seen Rashford as an out-and-out centre-forward who would fulfill that role. For me, his best position is to come in from the left as a wide forward – as 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

When he’s out there, he looks comfortable. His pace hurts teams and he can run at defenders – if he’s on the ball he likes to cut inside and have the option to pass or go for goal. Outside of that, he can arrive at the right time at the back post to get on the end.

If you’ve watched Raheem Sterling play for Manchester City in recent seasons, you’ll know that he scored so many of his goals by doing just that, coming in from the left.

Sterling’s form for Chelsea has been indifferent, but in his defense he has had to play in several different formations for Thomas Tuchel and now Graham Potter after moving to Stamford Bridge this summer.

He’s not hitting the heights he did at City, but in the circumstances that’s hardly a surprise.

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

However, Rashford’s form has given him plenty to think about, especially as he has a natural partnership down that flank with Luke Shaw for United that could also work for England. They know each other’s games inside and out.

“Maguire reminded people he is a central centre-back”

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 intense scrutiny on his return to the United team and there were times against West Ham, particularly early on, when he looked unsure on the ball.

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

Defensively, Maguire was on full display and made some monster headers, tackles and blocks towards the end of the game as United held onto their 1-0 lead. He did everything you want your centre-back to do.

I was really happy for him. Maguire is probably playing with around 50% of his usual confidence at the moment, but he was able to handle the pressure and remind people that he is a central centre-back, even if he is going through a difficult time.

“Bowen is in the frame, Sancho is not”

Manchester United defender Harry Maguire blocks Jarrod Bowen's shot
Diogo Dalot clears the danger after Harry Maguire blocks Jarrod Bowen’s goal-bound shot in the closing minutes of United’s win against West Ham

While Rashford and Maguire both took the 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’s getting harder and harder to make a case for him being in the England squad when it’s 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 best at the moment.

Whether it’s down to him alone, or because the system he plays at United doesn’t suit him, it’s just not happening for him at the moment.

Sancho has to look at Rashford and other players who have come through that tunnel and found a way to come back and 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 were beaten at Old Trafford, Bowen showed Southgate that he is always 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 frame for Qatar, but right now Sancho certainly isn’t.

Jermaine Jenas spoke to BBC Sport’s Chris Bevan.

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