Manchester United's 1-1 draw with Tottenham means they are unbeaten in 12 matches in all competitions, scoring 30 and conceding three in that time. 

They have progressed through that run mostly without Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford, two standout stars who returned to action in north London on Friday only because the coronavirus pandemic gave them time to recover from injuries. 

They are still fifth in the Premier League, two points behind Chelsea having played a game more, meaning hopes of a Champions League return are very much alive regardless of their Europa League campaign, which resumes in August. 

By all accounts, those are satisfactory truths about Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side. But an emboldened attack since the January signings of Bruno Fernandes and Odion Ighalo and a stronger defensive unit have glossed over a glaring problem: they can no longer rely on David de Gea. 

Before Friday, the last league goal United had conceded – the only one they had conceded since January 22 – came in the 1-1 draw at Everton in March. With his first meaningful act of the game, De Gea dithered on the ball and let Dominic Calvert-Lewin block his kick into the United net. He was rescued by Fernandes' equaliser. 

When he was United manager, Jose Mourinho hinted De Gea could sometimes lose concentration when the action is far from his goal, and you have to wonder if he had told his Spurs players to test the Spain international – described by Roy Keane as the most overrated goalkeeper he has seen “in a long time” during a half-time tirade – at the earliest opportunity.

The home side took only their second shot on target after 27 minutes of mostly United control, but it was enough to beat De Gea. Steven Bergwijn ran straight towards Harry Maguire and left him for dead – a deeply humbling moment for the world's most expensive centre-back – and shot fiercely but directly at the United goalkeeper. He could not keep it out. 

De Gea would then make a fine one-handed save from Son Heung-min to various social media proclamations that he had "made amends", which is a goalkeeping misconception. A striker can miss a chance at 0-0 and make up for it with a breakthrough goal a minute later, but De Gea's good save did not erase the fact United were behind. Such is life for a keeper. 

Whether or not Mourinho planned for a Dea Gea error, he would certainly have accepted a 1-0 half-time lead. The fact he builds his team around Moussa Sissoko rather than Harry Kane might not enthrall the viewer, but it does make Spurs a troublesome side to break down, something United have struggled to do against deep-lying defences all season. 

That's what makes Pogba such a potentially pivotal player in their final eight matches. He came on for 27 minutes, his first action since last December, and his first act was a sliding tackle to rob Serge Aurier near the Spurs box. Put the questions on his future to one side for now; a World Cup winner who has made only eight league appearances all season just wants to play. 

With Marcus Rashford ineffective and Anthony Martial anonymous, it was Pogba and Fernandes, paired in midfield at last, who carried United's threat. Fittingly, it was their combination that brought about the equaliser, Pogba's quick feet leading Eric Dier into a cumbersome challenge and Fernandes thwacking home the penalty. 

Doubts have persisted about De Gea for the best part of two years and the debate over his future as United's number one will continue. What is certain is United need Pogba's game-changing influence if they are to make sure any future blunders at the other end do not derail their season.

Bruno Fernandes converted a late penalty won by Paul Pogba to secure Manchester United a 1-1 draw away at top-four rivals Tottenham on Friday.

Steve Bergwijn's 26th-minute opener appeared set to give Jose Mourinho a much-needed victory over his former employers as Spurs aim to make a late charge to qualify for next season's Champions League.

However, United were rewarded for an improved second-half display with an equaliser, Pogba - on as a substitute as he returned after a long injury lay-off - producing a burst into the box that tempted a rash challenge from Eric Dier.

Fernandes showed excellent composure to fire home from 12 yards out, sending Hugo Lloris the wrong way, as the visitors extended their unbeaten run in all competitions to 12 games. 

It appeared the Portuguese would have the chance to score again from the spot when referee Jonathan Moss adjudged he had been fouled by Dier, but a VAR check reversed the on-field call.

Roy Keane said he was "sick to death" of David de Gea and "staggered" by Harry Maguire after their part in Steven Bergwijn's first-half goal for Tottenham against Manchester United.

The Red Devils went 1-0 down in north London in their first Premier League match since the coronavirus pandemic forced the competition to be suspended in March.

A simple long ball headed away by Luke Shaw came to Bergwijn, who ran straight past Maguire before firing a shot at De Gea that the United keeper failed to parry away.

Former captain Keane was left furious with the manner of the goal and claimed he would not have allowed them to travel home with the team if he were still playing.

"I'm shocked at that goal," he said at half-time on Sky Sports. "To give away that goal… I'm fuming here watching Manchester United.

"I can't believe Shaw, heading the ball up in the air and then running forward. I'm staggered at Maguire, staggered that an international player can just get done like that.

"And I'm sick to death of this goalkeeper. I would be fighting him at half-time. I would be swinging punches at that guy.

"This is a standard save for an established international goalkeeper. I am flabbergasted.

"Maguire and De Gea – I wouldn't even let them on the bus after the match. Get a taxi back to Manchester. They are established international players. We can analyse this until the cows come home. You just do your job.

"We are trying to get in the top four here, not win leagues. God forbid about winning trophies. I'm disgusted with it. Maguire, De Gea, you should hang your heads in shame."

Keane added of De Gea, who made a fine one-handed save to stop Son Heung-min making it 2-0: "He is the most overrated goalkeeper I have seen in a long time."

Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford start for Tottenham and Manchester United respectively in Friday's pivotal Premier League clash between the two clubs.

Spurs striker Kane has not featured since tearing his hamstring in his side's 1-0 defeat to Southampton at the start of the year.

As for Rashford, a back injury sidelined him prior to the coronavirus-enforced break to the season.

However, with a delayed finish to the 2019-20 campaign due to the pandemic, both England internationals are fit again and available for a fixture between teams with Champions League aspirations.

Spurs sit eighth in the table, four points behind their fifth-placed opponents.

Jose Mourinho is also able to select Moussa Sissoko, Son Heung-min and Steven Bergwijn in an attacking Spurs line-up as the Portuguese goes up against his former employers.

His replacement at Old Trafford, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, has Paul Pogba available again. The Frenchman is among the United substitutes, with Scott McTominay given the nod alongside Bruno Fernandes and Fred in midfield.

But Pogba's compatriot Anthony Martial makes the starting XI, joining Rashford and Daniel James in attack.

Paul Pogba has been urged by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to replicate the leadership qualities he showed with France when he returns for Manchester United.

The 27-year-old midfielder has made just eight appearances in all competitions for United this term and has been out since December, having undergone ankle surgery in the new year.

However, he is ready to return when United resume their Premier League campaign at Tottenham on Friday after the coronavirus-enforced break.

Pogba's form has been indifferent since he returned to Old Trafford for a then-world record fee of £89.3million in 2016, yet his quality and leadership attributes were evident when he played a key role in Les Bleus' triumph at Russia 2018.

"Paul has had his difficult season this year with loads of injuries but I can see his mentality and focus now that he is fit and training and available, that he is ready to play again and to prove," Solskjaer told a news conference.

"He has always had quality, Paul. He is one of the best midfielders in the world so hopefully we can get that going as soon as possible.

"I want the same from Paul as from all the others.

"Paul is one of the best midfielders in the world so we expect him to gradually improve as he gets more and more game time.

"Gradually over these next few months we can work him up back to his best. Paul has had a very good career. He is a World Cup winner and we want to have that leadership on the pitch as well.

"I am very happy with the squad. The five of them [midfielders], any of them would be capable of playing a full season at Man United and being a regular so it's given me, not a problem, but a nice challenge to choose and pick the right ones when they are in the right form when they are against the right opponents.

"Paul getting back fit can only help us because he does have qualities that no one else has."

Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford deserves recognition on the United Kingdom's honours list for his charity work, Kick It Out's Troy Townsend says.

Rashford has been widely praised for his effort to ensure vulnerable young people have access to free meals during the coronavirus pandemic.

The 22-year-old partnered with FareShare and helped to raise £20million to provide three million free meals to those in need before turning his focus onto a similar problem in UK schools.

Thanks to his campaigning on social media and direct appeal to MPs, the government decided to go back on their decision not to extend the scheme for free school meals for underprivileged children into the summer months and committed to spending £120m to ensure those vouchers would stay available.

Townsend, who was a teacher with first-hand experience of the importance of work like Rashford's before he joined anti-discrimination body Kick it Out, is proud of the way footballers have responded during the COVID-19 crisis to raise money and awareness for valuable causes.

He now wants Rashford's efforts to be recognised in the right way.

"What I like is the maturity in the way he talks," Townsend, who is Kick It Out's head of development, told Stats Perform News. "You can put statements out and you can write tweets and you can think, 'Well, someone's done that for him', and that's been labelled at players in the past.

"But when you hear him talking about this issue, his understanding is from what he lived. He's an old head on young shoulders: the innocence is still there because he's a 22-year-old who is developing into his life, but the maturity and the way he talks, because of this experience, has been amazing.

"I've been tweeting for the last three or four days – there's got to be a knighthood coming along here, or whatever it is. We question our sports people, individuals, not just football but predominantly football because of the status it has, we question them, we question them. This man has stepped up to the plate and then some. I don't think he wants the plaudits that maybe he's getting, but the least we can do is recognise that when the honours list comes back around.

"What this period of time has, I hope, really taught the players is that there is a lot of strength and power behind them, not just with what Marcus Rashford is doing but with what a number of players were doing, how they've collectively come together and made sure their money that they have donated is going to the right and relevant people, that they want it to go to. Marcus is the standout story among many stories. At the start of this pandemic, they were instantly painted with a bad brush and it was unfair because they were already working behind the scenes, seeing all the contributions the players make anyway, but wow, what a response."

Rashford was initially met with opposition from the government over his free school meals drive, but his persistence in generating support online eventually forced a policy U-turn.

Townsend thinks the cutthroat nature of professional football is what gives someone like Rashford that sort of determination, especially when fighting for a cause from which he benefitted as a child.

"It's instilled in footballers," he said. "If you make it in this game, somewhere along the line you've been released, you've been rejected, you've been told you're not good enough or you've suffered a long-term injury, and that perseverance to get back up and running and to the levels you were at before – without a doubt, you've either got it or you haven’t, and that determination, that will to win, that desire to better yourself is instilled in all footballers, bar none.

"Some fall by the wayside unfortunately because it's a big industry and it's very harsh and critical at times, and some grow. This has happened as a period of time when Marcus could devote a lot of his attention to it, particularly when the players were not back in training and were doing their little bits, but also a focus that he's driven by because of his experience and because of what he would have had to have gone through as a young lad going through the educational system.

"It's quite easy to say, 'Oh, look what he's done', and I've seen some comments and I can't understand people who talk about, 'Yeah, you've got the financial power to do it'. He's driving things on in his own way."

Jose Mourinho praised Marcus Rashford following his successful free school meals campaign, describing the Manchester United forward he knows well as a "man with principles".

Rashford's lobbying of the United Kingdom government led to a U-turn as the food voucher scheme for vulnerable school children was extended beyond term time, with the subject close to the player's heart due to his own childhood experiences.

The 22-year-old, who has spoken about his own reliance on free school meals and food banks when growing up, had already helped charity FareShare reach a goal of supplying three million meals to the vulnerable by the end of June.

Mourinho worked with Rashford during his time in charge of United and, as he prepares to come up against his former employers on Friday, has championed the England international for his off-field work.

"He did amazingly well, I congratulate him on that," the Spurs boss told the media ahead of the Premier League fixture.

"It's a bit strange for me that one football player can make it happen and, if it happens, it's because the government realises it is the right thing to do. The government shouldn't wait for one player to come out publicly and put some pressure on them for that to happen.

"The 18-year-old kid I met a few years ago to be now a man, and a man with principles.

"To fight for kids very similar too him when he was a young kid is something very nice from Marcus."

Rashford's focus on Friday will be dealing his old boss a serious blow as Spurs attempt to claw back the gap to United in the table.

Mourinho's side – boosted by the return of Harry Kane from injury – have nine games remaining in a Premier League season delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, though they face a battle to finish in the top four again.

United sit in fifth place ahead of the pivotal clash at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, three points behind fourth-placed Chelsea. Spurs, meanwhile, are eighth, leaving them in danger of missing out on qualifying for next season's Champions League.

"The battle for the top four would be amazing if we all started with the same number of points but unfortunately that's not the case," Mourinho said.

"It's a strange battle to fight but it's a street challenge, motivation. I will try not to look to that difference, I honestly cannot tell you the difference in points, we have to look at this incredible challenge in the way we have to do it.

"Every game we have to try and win. At the end of the nine matches, we will see what we did and our opponents did.

"Normally in this fight we don't depend as much as we do on our exact opponents. But let's focus on one match at a time and tomorrow is Manchester United and the points are there to fight for."

Jose Mourinho is frustrated he cannot call on Dele Alli for Tottenham's big clash with Manchester United on Friday.

England midfielder Alli must serve a one-match ban for a racially insensitive social media post he made in February, forcing him to miss Spurs' first game since the Premier League returned.

A video on Snapchat showed Alli in an airport mocking an Asian man in reference to coronavirus, before the lockdown. Alli said he videoed the man because he was coughing, not because of his ethnicity and admitted he made an "extremely poorly judged joke".

According to Mourinho, others have avoided punishment despite committing more serious misconduct during the pandemic.

Mourinho said in a news conference, held by video link on Thursday: "I feel very, very sorry that Dele is not playing. He is a player that works so, so hard during all this period and he's really frustrated that he cannot play the first match.

"I don't want to say much more than I don't think he deserves a one-match ban compared with wrong behaviours at much bigger dimensions that happened during this period without any consequences.”

The video posted by Alli showed him wearing a protective facemask in an airport and was entitled "Corona whattt, please listen with volume". It cut to the gentleman, who appeared to be unaware he was being filmed, before panning to a bottle of antiseptic handwash.

Underneath, a caption read: "This virus gunna have to be quicker than that to catch me."

The 24-year-old deleted the video and posted an apology to the Chinese social media network Weibo.

Mourinho, who is preparing to face his former club, can recall England captain Harry Kane after a long injury lay-off, and that may allay the blow of losing Alli.

Asked how Tottenham would shape up without Alli, Mourinho said: “How are we going to play? I’m not going to tell you.”

Harry Kane will start for Tottenham against Manchester United in their first Premier League match following the coronavirus-enforced pause after recovering from a torn hamstring, Jose Mourinho has confirmed.

Kane, 26, suffered the injury in the 1-0 defeat at Southampton on New Year's Day, condemning him to a lengthy period on the sidelines.

Initially it was suggested he could potentially miss the rest of the season, but with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing a three-months suspension to the Premier League season, Spurs' chief goal threat will be able to play a major role in their final nine matches of the campaign.

Moussa Sissoko (knee) and Son Heung-min (broken arm) also suffered serious injuries before the lockdown, but they too are ready to return.

When speaking about team news in a virtual news conference on Thursday, Mourinho said: "We have little things [injuries] but we are going to wait until tomorrow [Friday, before ruling them in or out].

"Of course [Japhet] Tanganga has a stress fracture for a few months now and of course he didn't recover during this period, and we have some little problems that we have to analyse before we make a decision.

"But the ones that had the surgeries, Kane, Son and Sissoko, these three they recovered and they are ready to play.

"Kane doesn't play football for more than six months, so again he is working extremely well. I can tell you no problem he is going to start the game.

"Does harry have 90, 80, 70, 60 minutes in him? Only the game will tell us that. Is Harry on his top form? For him, I don't know. It's been around six months without a football match, but he works extremely well. He is an amazing professional and he's going to start tomorrow."

Mourinho was less certain about Giovani Lo Celso's prospects, however, as the Argentina international sustained an injury just before the lockdown, and regulations prevented him getting the treatment he required.

"I consider Gio one of the victims of the rules and one of the victims of the protocols, because he was injured in the end of the period before coronavirus," Mourinho said.

"He was in very bad condition in the last three or four matches. He played for five or 10 minutes against Burnley, he wasn't ready for Leipzig.

"Because of the rules, his injury isn't one in need of surgery, it needed daily treatment and close contacts with physios and fitness coaches, but that was not possible for about two months, he was injured and he couldn't recover from it.

"So, when the training ground opened and he started treatment. It was not enough to have him 100 per cent fit - only in the past days was he training with the team.

"Available for tomorrow? Yes, I think so, but we will test if he is going to play 90 minutes, start the game or not. It was a difficult process for him."

The Friday clash at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium could prove pivotal for both teams' Champions League aspirations.

Spurs, who are eighth, go into the match four points adrift of fifth-placed United, who will be looking to go level with fourth-place Chelsea, at least until Sunday, with a victory.

Marcus Rashford's achievement in persuading the UK government to extend its food voucher scheme is more important than any football match he will ever play, Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said.

United and England striker Rashford wrote a letter to members of the House of Commons on Monday imploring them to continue free school meals for disadvantaged children when the term finishes.

Vouchers were given out over the Easter holidays because of the coronavirus pandemic, but the scheme usually only runs during term time and so was due to end next month.

But the FareShare campaign fronted by Rashford forced the government to rethink its approach, with the widespread support on social media ultimately leading to Downing Street making a U-turn.

Rashford will return to his day job on Friday as United resume their Premier League season at Tottenham, but Solskjaer is well aware that no match the 22-year-old plays will be as impactful as the changes he has helped bring.

"As a club, and me as his manager, of course it's been fantastic to follow Marcus throughout the lockdown period as well," Solskjaer told a video news conference on Thursday.

"It's not only that he got the prime minister to change his mind, it's also what he's done over the last few months.

"Marcus is a top human being, he's brought his own experiences as a kid into this conversation and change the lives of many kids.

"He's already been captain of the club at such a young age and he's proving all the time his human qualities which is a main attribute for a Manchester United player.

"What Marcus has done has been incredible, with his family, with his own personality of course. He's always been a great human being and coming up through the academy I think the club recognised that early, gave him chances.

"Of course, we saw the talent, but you need you need to be a really good human being too. He's changed the lives so many kids this summer, which is more important than any game he'll ever play, so hopefully he can keep both sides going as well as he's going now.

"Me at 22, I wouldn't have been in a position to affect people and change like this. I don't think he's thinking about this politically, in any other way than helping people and kids.

"He knows deep down he's helped children with food and to change their lives. I think that makes him feel good about himself and, using his position as a role model, one of the top players in the country, he can affect people in a good way.

"It's up to every individual of course, and footballers as a group have been criticised a lot, even over lockdown, but I think this lockdown has maybe changed people, maybe made them think about larger issues.

"Marcus has always been a good lad and the changes he's made are unbelievable. Footballers are easy targets at different times, but we can affect people in a good way too. If you can use your face to change something for the better, why not?"

Rashford has also been vocal in his support of the Black Lives Matter movement, which has gained significant traction across the world following the death of George Floyd, an African-American man who died in police custody last month in Minneapolis.

As the Premier League returned on Wednesday, players, coaches and officials copied the demonstration made famous by former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, when he protested against social inequality and police brutality by taking a knee.

Solskjaer is confident this time change will come.

"I feel now that, this time it is finally changing," he said. "It's been on the agenda for many years, this issue of racism and we've had a couple of incidents in the league, and we've talked about it and maybe forgotten, but this time it will hopefully affect more people, leaders and decision makers. I think we all support these actions [the pre-match gestures].

"It's been an event in history that's changed people's views and the movement, I think we know this [racism] shouldn't happen in 2020. Players, Premier League teams, we all make a stand to say enough is enough, and I don't think we'll be any different."

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is hopeful Angel Gomes will agree to a new contract at Manchester United.

The 19-year-old is approaching the end of his deal and United are trying to tie him down to fresh terms.

Talks with the midfielder have been going on for many months and Solskjaer believes a resolution is close, though he did not rule out losing the player.

"Angel is a top kid, we've had him here for so many years," said the United manager. 

"We've offered him a deal and hopefully he'll take that, if not I'll wish him all the best.

"From what I understand it's not too far away. If not, we'll wish him all the best."

Gomes made his United debut back in 2017 and has made two substitute appearances in the Premier League this season.

Solskjaer also offered a team news update ahead of Friday's match at Tottenham, which could have a significant bearing on both clubs' Champions League aspirations.

The Norwegian revealed Marcus Rashford (back) and Paul Pogba (ankle) were available for the club's first game back after the coronavirus-enforced shutdown, with Phil Jones and Axel Tuanzebe the only absentees.

"We have two players – Jones and Axel – who will miss this game and let's see how bad they are, " he said, without disclosing the nature of their injuries.

"Apart from that, the rest of the squad is fit and available. And of course, Marcus and Paul have been out a long period, but they're available. How long they play – let's see."

United sit fifth, three points behind fourth-place Chelsea and four ahead of Spurs in eighth.

"Just look at what we can do when we come together, THIS is England in 2020."

Five days had passed between Marcus Rashford asking Twitter followers for advice and a government U-turn promising £120million of investment in free school meals for disadvantaged children.

Five days to ask for help, lobby support, be told 'no', persevere, and finally, to paraphrase ex-England striker Gary Lineker, score the most important goal of his life.

Five days to change thousands of lives.

This is the England Rashford is shaping. As the Premier League returns to screens across the world after a three-month pause, Manchester United's number 10 is the ambassador it needs.

'HIS STORY RESONATES WITH A LOT OF PEOPLE'

United play Tottenham in north London on Friday, 99 days since their last game, a 5-0 Europa League thrashing of LASK. The wait has been far longer for Rashford, for whom carrying the Red Devils' attack became literally back-breaking labour in an FA Cup third-round replay win over Wolves on January 15.

It was feared the double stress fracture in his back would see him miss the rest of the season and perhaps Euro 2020. The coronavirus pandemic brought the campaign to a halt and gave Rashford the chance to work on his recovery, patiently and attentively, and few would begrudge that being the sole focus of his time in lockdown. It wasn't, of course.

In April, Rashford teamed up with FareShare, a charity providing meals to disadvantaged people. His own donation helped them reach a £100,000 target and started a snowball effect: supermarket chains got involved, and suddenly that target was £20million.

Rashford's considered campaigning kept up the momentum and brought the charity both vital funds and a platform to garner support. In May, he was given a Special Recognition Award by the High Sheriff of Manchester, Dr Eamonn O'Neal, for  "outstanding activity and contribution to the community".

"Marcus was nominated for showing great compassion for the vulnerable people in our community," Dr O'Neal told Stats Perform News. "He has used his name, position and reputation in a selfless manner to ensure that hot meals have been provided to many young people who may otherwise have gone hungry. He has raised a staggering amount of money and consequently, an enormous number of meals have been distributed. He has done this with humility and a deep understanding of the various levels of need experienced across Greater Manchester and beyond."

There were further gestures that flew under the radar: engaging with young fans via social channels, running an exercise session for kids stuck at home, learning sign language to judge a poetry contest for children hard of hearing. Former Manchester United striker Louis Saha thinks Rashford "identified the power he has" to help in a time of unprecedented uncertainty.

"He really structured it in the right way and this is what is needed in the community," Saha told Stats Perform. "It was done locally in a way that they can control how they've done it. It's really good. I'm a big fan and a lot of players should follow that example. Not everyone can do it because Rashford has a very unique platform in Manchester and I would say his story resonates with a lot of people, which is why it's a really good story."

On June 11, Rashford announced "amazing news": the FareShare target was reached, and three million people in the UK would benefit. But there was an addendum: "There is SO much more to do. Trust me when I say, I will keep fighting until no child in the UK has to worry about where their next meal is coming from. This is England in 2020 and families need help."

'I'M NOT SURE HE KNOWS THE ENORMITY OF WHAT HE'S DOING'

Before he joined United's academy at age seven, Rashford was one of a distressingly high number of children in the UK to depend upon free school meals. With schools closing amid the pandemic and a refusal to extend the scheme over the summer months, low-income families were at huge risk. The government stood firm in its decision until Rashford's persistence forced them to change tack and announce "a COVID summer food fund".

"It's unbelievable," Troy Townsend, head of development at anti-discrimination body Kick It Out, told Stats Perform. "He's basically called the government out and that's what it needed because there was going to be no movement on this.

"What this period of time has, I hope, really taught [Premier League] players is that there is a lot of strength and power behind them. Marcus is the standout story among many stories. 

"I'm not even sure he knows the enormity of what he's doing. It's genuine, it's from an experience he had as a youngster. Maybe after today, he'll realise the enormity of what he's done."

Townsend realises it well enough. As a former teacher in Leytonstone in east London when Rashford himself was still a schoolboy in Wythenshawe, he has seen first hand how the simple matter of where a child's next meal will come from can shape a young life.

"I remember once where there was a young girl coming with us for the first time and I told her to get her packed lunch and she just stood and looked at me. I thought, what's wrong? What're you doing? Go and get your packed lunch, we're on our way. And she said, 'Sir, I haven't got packed lunch'. And simple as it was, it broke me. But I had to think really quickly on my feet.

"The question back was probably wrong: 'Why haven't you got a packed lunch?'. And her answer was: 'My mum hasn't got bread.' I can tell you, even now, and this was over 10 years ago, it's breaking my heart. Luckily, you go to the school canteen and you say, 'This young lady needs a lunch', and then you put measures in place.

"It's not easy for any child to walk into a school environment and say: 'I need help because I haven't eaten.' So that's why, when I see what Marcus is doing, most people in the primary school system – particularly in a deprived area – would understand that there are children who would go up until probably six o'clock, unless they've taken a bit of food off a friend, who were embarrassed to speak up about their lack of food, water, and would probably not have come to school with any breakfast anyway, and the one meal they would get is the meal when they finally get home.

"There are times I've had to give children a pound. There's a chicken shop – it's the easiest thing to get for a pound, two bits of chicken and chips, or it was in my day, and you didn't think about, 'Hold on, they've got to go and run in a minute!'. You just wanted them to be fed.

"It's a tough thing to talk about. Those of us who get three, four meals a day and those little bits in between can feel how privileged we are because even in this country of ours, there are children that don't have those meals. That's why what Marcus is doing means so much, particularly to those who get it, but it will also have opened up so many eyes."

A PROPER LEADER

Since that explosive debut against Midtjylland five years ago, Rashford has been at the eye of the storm at Old Trafford.

His boyish, instinctive goalscoring knack endeared him to fans wearied to the point of mutiny by the turgid football in Louis van Gaal's final season. He sometimes looked cowed by the toxic bullishness of Jose Mourinho and there were a few disappointing games too many, such as the FA Cup final defeat to Chelsea in 2017, but there was still a sense of a young star trying to rise through a poisonous atmosphere.

While far from wholly successful, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's time in charge has at least pointed to a longer-term vision – one with Rashford at the forefront.

"There are definitely four or five players who are very important to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer," said Saha. "All those players who made that improvement process were very important, and I think for Rashford, the introduction of [Harry] Maguire was important to give that kind of confidence aspect.

"That's why you give the platform for Rashford to make the difference all the time because he can do it because his work rate is amazing and that thing he maybe missed in one year because maybe he thought 'I've got my position, I'm respected, I've got my status so I don't need to do this or that'. Those things can be a bad sign for those playing behind you. Now you can see he is a proper leader."

Rashford has certainly led by example in 2019-20. Fourteen goals and four assists in 22 league games is by far his best return in a season, but Opta advanced metrics paint a more layered picture.

This season, Rashford has averaged 0.77 open play sequences ending in a goal, his best record by a distance over a full season. He is also shooting more often after an open-play sequence than ever before – 4.78 times per match on average.

He is a finisher, yes, but his involvement in Solskjaer's increasingly fluid set-up is broader than that. On average, he covers 15.24 metres per ball carry, the highest figure he has posted in his career (a carry is a movement of the ball by a player of more than five yards from where they received possession).

This season, Rashford has covered 113.1 metres in progressive carries (ball carries in the opposition half that progress at least five metres towards goal). That's six metres more than in the whole of 2016-17, his previous best season. His average distance per progressive carry is more than two metres above his past best, nearly two thirds of these carries have ended in a shot, and 0.14 in a goal.

These indicate a forward with increasing power and confidence in his own prowess, embracing the responsibilities as United's spearhead. A leader, in name and deeds. At 22 years old.

"He's been relentless, just like the way he plays football," said Townsend. "You've got to applaud not only him but his mother and the people around him for having the foresight and not losing the energy. At the top of it now, we’ve got a 22-year-old man who's still developing not only as a man but as a footballer and a presence in the game who is now affecting so many lives in so many ways."

Rashford could one day become the best forward in the Premier League. He is already one of its greatest ambassadors: talented, inspirational, compassionate. He sums up what England should be – the England he is striving to build.

Marcus Rashford's successful lobbying of the UK government to extend its free school meals provision showed the "big power" of popular footballers, according to UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin.

Manchester United and England forward Rashford wrote to members of parliament urging them to extend food voucher provision for 1.3 million children from low-income families over the forthcoming school holidays.

The scheme typically only runs during term time but Rashford ultimately persuaded prime minister Boris Johnson to take action, in light of increased difficulties for many of the most vulnerable in society during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking at a video conference on Wednesday, Ceferin praised Rashford and suggested his organisation could do more when looking to address social issues.

"He is a very popular football player," said Ceferin.

"It's a big, big power and obviously he's a smart guy. We are impressed by his achievement."

Rashford is one of a number of players who have given their support to the Black Lives Matter movement following the death of George Floyd in police custody last month.

Protests calling for an end to racial discrimination have swept the globe and Ceferin confirmed UEFA is reviewing its own work in this area, especially with regards to improving black and minority ethnic (BAME) representation within its operations.

"We are discussing about many things these days. We know the situation is serious, and it is more and more serious every day," he said.

"It's too early to share with the public because we haven't concretely yet. We know the power of football and governing bodies is huge, so we should use that for at least good messaging.

"Probably the campaigns we had were not enough. We tried a lot. Still, I think we should come to the next level.

"Honestly speaking, it is too early to speak about our concrete ideas that we are discussing."

Cristiano Ronaldo will "probably" play out the final years of his career in MLS, according to his former Manchester United and Portugal team-mate Nani.

Five-time Ballon d'Or winner Ronaldo has established himself as one of the sport's all-time greats, winning four of his five Champions League trophies during a nine-year spell with Real Madrid.

He left the Santiago Bernabeu as their all-time leading goalscorer and has surpassed 700 for club and country since moving to Juventus in 2018.

Although he is showing few signs of decline – as evidenced by his 21 goals in Serie A this term, equal to his tally in 2019-20 despite playing nine fewer matches – Ronaldo is now 35 years old.

Retirement does not appear to be imminent, however, with his Juve contract running for another two years, and he is seemingly planning on a spell in the United States before calling it a day.

"A couple of years ago, he told me that he will probably end up in America," Nani, who plays in MLS with Orlando City, told ESPN.

"It's not 100 per cent, but probably. There is a chance."

Nani is convinced by the quality of football in MLS, even if he does recognise there is still plenty of room for improvement.

"It is a great league," Nani said. "Obviously there are points where we must improve as a league, even in the quality of the players.

"[But] here you have fantastic clubs, well organised with fantastic conditions, great coaches, great players. You see every season improving.

"I think we all have the conditions in this league. We are in a great country, everything is around us. It is all about being better, not being afraid to improve."

Manchester United are said to be ready to turn their attention to Bayer Leverkusen Jamaica international Leon Bailey, if deals for two main targets, Borussia Dortmund's Jadon Sancho and Aston Villa's Jack Grealish, fail to materialize.

United head coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is reported to be keen on adding an attacking midfielder to his ranks ahead of next season, but the uncertainty of the coronavirus market and expense of Grealish and Sancho could make the Jamaican a more attractive prospect.

Bailey has had a stop-start kind of season, halted by injury and other issues, for Leverkusen after an eye-catching introduction to German football two seasons ago.  While the player remains sought after in the market, some believe his price tag now falls in the £40 million range.  This could make the player a more palatable option than Sancho and Grealish who are likely to eclipse the £100 million mark.

Bailey signed for Leverkusen from Belgian side Genk in 2017.  He's made 110 appearances across all competitions for the club, scoring 24 times.  His best campaign came in 2017-18 when he netted nine goals and provided six assists.   

In 19 Bundesliga appearances this season, Bailey has five goals.  The player has, however, lost his regular spot in the starting lineup under coach Peter Bosz.  He has three years remaining on his current contract.

Internationally, Bailey made his senior debut for the Reggae Boyz in 2019 and has been capped six times.

 

 

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