Paul Pogba is relishing playing alongside Bruno Fernandes and Manchester United's in-form attackers, with their "beautiful" link-up play a joy to behold for the Frenchman.

United have extended their unbeaten run to 16 matches across all competitions since returning from the coronavirus-enforced break last month and their forwards have played a significant role in that.

Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood have scored eight goals between them already, while Fernandes has added another four and also grabbed a pair of assists.

Pogba, too, has impressed since the resumption, coming back into the side after missing the majority of the first part of the campaign through injury, and now there is talk of a possible contract extension for the Real Madrid-linked midfielder.

While his long-term future remains a little uncertain for the time being, there is no doubt Pogba is enjoying life at United, with his slightly deeper role giving him the opportunity to look on and savour the attacking talents at Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's disposal.

"From behind I just enjoy it. I'm enjoying just watching Bruno, Rashford, Martial and Mason, who all played the last game, and seeing them score goals," he told United's official website ahead of Thursday's trip to Aston Villa.

"You just keep applauding, it's beautiful. They make me enjoy football every time!

"As well though, there is the defensive work that people don't talk about – they do it. The pressing - they do it. That's what you maybe don't see that much.

"Football fans who know football see that and that's the difference that we have and it's great to see them at their best.

"I think it's about the mentality – the attacking and defending that they do every time – that helps us, it helps the midfielders and the defenders and obviously the talent speaks for itself - the goals and the action and the football, everything."

Pogba believes Fernandes and United's frontline all have the desire to keep pushing themselves for more – a trait which makes them even more dangerous.

"For example, Martial scored three goals, his first hat-trick, then he goes again, you have to carry on. He wants to take another ball home, you know," Pogba continued.

"You have to have this mentality, score a goal and do it again and again… Bruno, Rashy [Rashford], Mason. If you've got two goals, great, but go for three, why not? You have to keep this mentality, keep a clean sheet too. We want to keep working on this and we have the mentality to do it.

"That's also the mentality of this club, it's always been like that. We're never satisfied with one trophy or one game we win or two games or 10 games, you want more, you always want more. That's what makes Manchester United the biggest club, for me, in England."

Victory for United on Thursday will take them to within a point of fourth-placed Leicester City, who Solskjaer's men will face on the final day of the Premier League season.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has insisted it is too early to compare Mason Greenwood to Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo following the teenage forward's brace in Manchester United's 5-2 win over Bournemouth.

Greenwood further enhanced his reputation with clinical finishes in either half in Saturday's clash at Old Trafford to take him to eight league goals for United this term and 15 in all competitions.

He is the youngest player to reach that tally for the club since Rooney but Solskjaer was unwilling to put the 18-year-old in the same category as United's all-time leading scorer and fellow star Ronaldo.

"I have seen Wayne Rooney at the same age and Mason is a specialist finisher and specialist goalscorer," Solskjaer said at his post-match news conference. "He knows exactly what to do with the ball when he's on the pitch.

"If he shoots, he will score. He is going to get better and his general play has improved. But I don't want to compare Mason to Rooney or Cristiano – I don't think that's fair.

"The boy will create his own career and he is doing it his own way and they've had fantastic careers, both of them, and I'm sure if Mason keeps on doing the right things, making good decisions, he will have a fantastic career as well."

Anthony Martial, Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford were also on target against Bournemouth, with the latter scoring from the penalty spot.

United's front three of Greenwood, Martial and Rashford now have 55 goals in all competitions this term – four more than Liverpool's triumvirate of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah.

But Solskjaer warned United's Premier League rivals that his side – fourth in the table ahead of Chelsea's game in hand against Watford later on Saturday – are only going to get better over time.

"Every day and every game and every session is a chance to improve," he said.

"We've seen improvement in Marcus, Mason and Anthony all season, so we will keep on improving the ones we've got but we will never stand still – we are always on the lookout for anything that is possible.

"You cannot think we've cracked it, as Gary [Neville] said, and the emphasis is just on improving the team all the time.

"They will improve, and we've seen that all season they have improved a lot this season, different parts of their game, maturity. We will work with these.

"Marcus is on course for his best season, Anthony the same but they can still improve and there are things they know I want them to keep improving on.

"Mason is in his first season, fantastic, but we've always known that there's a special kid there."

Solskjaer named the same starting line-up for the third league game running on Saturday, United winning each of those matches to make it their best-such run since January 2019.

But the Norwegian talked up the importance of his entire squad during their 15-game unbeaten streak in all competitions that stretches back to January.

"I wouldn't say that you could call it a first XI," he said. "We know we have to use the squad; we've had players who've played and really contributed.

"I can't say this is like the XI that's always going to play, no. Because Eric [Bailly] came on today, he's important for us; Scott [McTominay] and Fred have been exceptional all season. It's not easy leaving Dan James out either but we have started doing well."

Manchester United moved into the top four as Mason Greenwood struck a brilliant brace in a 5-2 victory over relegation-threatened Bournemouth.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side went above Chelsea ahead of the Blues' game against Watford with a win that extended their unbeaten run to 16 games in all competitions.

They fell behind to Junior Stanislas' opener, but led at the break through first-half efforts from Greenwood, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial.

Joshua King's penalty reduced the deficit, yet Greenwood's second stunning strike was added to by Bruno Fernandes' free-kick as United marched on.

The Cherries took a shock 16th-minute lead when Stanislas followed up his initial blocked effort and nutmegged Harry Maguire on the byline before beating David de Gea at his near post.

It was the first time United had conceded in 500 minutes in all competitions, but they soon roared back when Greenwood blasted in a venomous left-footed drive having been found by Fernandes.

And six minutes later, United were ahead. Adam Smith needlessly handled the ball following Martial's downward header and Rashford stuck the resulting penalty into the bottom-right corner of the net.

That put Rashford ahead of Martial in their personal goals duel, though the Frenchman also moved onto 20 for the campaign in emphatic fashion, cutting in off the left flank and rifling into the top corner with a brilliant right-footed strike.

Bournemouth were handed a route back into the match when United made a sloppy start to the second half.

De Gea had already saved from Lewis Cook and Arnaut Danjuma hit the post after Maguire gave the ball away before Eric Bailly handled trying to control Nemanja Matic's pass.

King converted the penalty against his old club, only for Greenwood to again deliver an emphatic response six minutes later, this time with his right foot.

Fernandes, with two assists to his name already, then got in on the act as United scored five at Old Trafford in a Premier League game for the first time since 2011.

 

What does it mean? Five-star United show resilience

This was not a vintage United display – certainly at the back – but they responded brilliantly on the two occasions Bournemouth scored when in the past they may have crumbled after conceding.

The Cherries, who sit 19th, climbed three places above United when they won the reverse fixture back in November, and the two teams have certainly been on opposite trajectories since.

Greenwood's golden finishing

Solskjaer says he wants another striker, but he will struggle to find one that can finish like 18-year-old Greenwood.

He was clinical with his left foot, then his right, and has already moved onto eight Premier League goals this term.

Dave doesn't save... again

Roy Keane's scathing criticism of United's number one last month was probably still ringing in De Gea's ears when he let Stanislas' effort beat him at his near post.

It did not cost United on the day, but the Spaniard's growing collection of mistakes must be factors when the club decide what to do with Sheffield United loanee Dean Henderson next season.

What's next?

United visit another side fighting to stay in the division when they travel to Aston Villa on Thursday, while Bournemouth host Tottenham on the same day.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer expects Marcus Rashford to soon be back among the goals for Manchester United.

England forward Rashford has 22 goals for club and country this season, although he is yet to find the net since top-flight football resumed from its coronavirus hiatus.

United's return to Premier League action at Tottenham was Rashford's first appearance since suffering a double stress fracture of his back.

Although the 22-year-old supplied a pair of assists for Anthony Martial in last week's 3-0 victory against Sheffield United, he also spurned a pair of glorious chances to get on the scoresheet.

After that match, Solskjaer urged his team to be more clinical as a collective, but he has no concerns over Rashford individually.

"Of course Marcus has been out for a while but I think he's looked sharp, he came on and looked sharp against Norwich," the United boss said ahead of Tuesday's trip to Brighton and Hove Albion.

"Against Sheffield United he missed one or two chances but the goals he created is what we're focusing on and he's on his way to his best season ever.

"I'm looking forward to him getting more minutes and he'll definitely score a goal soon."

Rashford appeared as a substitute after the hour as Norwich City took United to extra-time in Saturday's FA Cup quarter-final at Carrow Road, with captain Harry Maguire proving a more unlikely matchwinner in the 118th minute.

A semi-final encounter against Chelsea awaits with United the form team in England – their unbeaten run stretching back 14 games to a mid-January reverse against Burnley at Old Trafford.

"The players are working really hard and want to do as well as they can and, for me, as a team we're trying to implement our ideas," Solskjaer said.

"Talk about 14 games, we can talk about the next one - go into the next game knowing you've won the previous game. It's a good place to be in."

United are firmly in the hunt for a top-four finish and victory at Brighton would move them level on points with Wolves in fifth and two shy of four-placed Chelsea – albeit having played a game more than Frank Lampard's Blues.

"I think every year you're in the Champions League is a great experience, for the players it's a step forward," Solskjaer added.

"For us it's what we're striving to do, winning trophies, and we need to focus on one game at a time and there are so many teams that want that place.

"We can't get distracted about looking too far ahead and onto the next one."

Rio Ferdinand praised players such as Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford for driving social change but insisted more must be done to combat racism.

Sterling has been vocal on the issue of racism, particularly within English football, and the importance of greater representation for BAME communities within leadership roles.

Rashford won widespread praise for using his own social media platforms to drive a campaign forcing the United Kingdom government to make meal vouchers available to schoolchildren outside of term time.

Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold has also stressed the need for greater equality within all levels of football, and former Manchester United captain Ferdinand has been impressed with their efforts.

However, the ex-England defender believes education and a centralised message is the only long-term solution to the problem of racism.

"The difference between their generation and our generation is they have a platform to speak. They have a platform and they know how to use it. Marcus is a great example of that, Trent is coming up behind to do that as well, and Raheem," he said on BT Sport.

"But the problem is it's not just these guys and the players who are going to make change. There needs to be a movement. It can't just be campaigns. We've seen far too often different charities, different organisations, doing fly-by campaigns – yes, their intentions are great, but they're not sustained, they don't make change over a long period of time.

"I believe education has to be the real foundation of that. It needs to be in the curriculum. These players, yes they have to be at the forefront, but next to them needs to be the broadcasters, the Premier League, the clubs, pushing out the same message so the next generation of young people aren't confused with each organisation having their own message here, their own message there.

"Every organisation will be ticking boxes and saying, 'we've done our bit'. But doing it on your own isn't good enough. It has to be a centralised unit they're working from. 

"A young kid is getting a message from that broadcaster, a Premier League team there, it all adds to the confusion. There are so many people who say, 'It's so much better than it was before, it's not as bad as it used to be'. That's not good enough."

Addressing fellow BT presenter Jake Humphrey, Ferdinand said: "You look at it as individuals. Is it better now? Are you getting stopped by police on a daily basis? Are you not being allowed into certain shops on a daily basis? Are you crossing the road because you're in fear of someone else feeling a little bit in fear of their own safety because of the colour of your skin? 

"All of those things are because of the colour of someone's skin. It leads me down the road to ask you the question: would you swap places with someone who is black, in today's society?"

Humphrey replied: "My honest answer would be 'No' because I know that my life would be harder, I know that if I was in America I'd be more likely to lose my life, I know that if I was here [in England] walking down the street, I'd be subject to racist abuse."

Ferdinand continued: "So when people say 'it's better than it was before', it isn't. It might not be as glaring, it might be more subconscious, the racism, but it's still racism.

"People are feeling marginalised. People are saying 'All Lives Matter' – I understand that, but black lives matter here and now because they feel marginalised. We feel opportunities aren't the same.

"So, there is a problem to be addressed, and I'm so happy that now these young players have got the strength, they feel they've got the support, the momentum at the moment, but this has to continue.

"I think there are going to be leaders in this and I think Raheem's one of them. But I think it has to be clear, that message. These players can't feel pressured into coming out and speaking; they need to be fully educated and then have that passion and desire to come out because the power of social media today means you can create movements and you can create change.

"Marcus Rashford is a fine example of that for these players going forward: if you've got a message and you push and you can execute properly, you can create change at a government level.

"If you're a young kid, he goes him and one of his parents or both or his uncle of friend of the family is very ignorant or racist, that kid isn't equipped with the education to go back to the parent and say 'woah, that isn't right'.

"But if you spoke to that kid about his team he supports and that ignorance was coming from a place of 'your team's rubbish' or 'the computer game you're on is not right', he would back himself to have a debate, a discussion, an argument with that family member to say 'no, actually, this is how it is'. It needs to be the same from the perspective of discrimination.

"When racism is spoken about, a lot of people think it's black people who have to march. I went to a march; it was a very mixed demographic. That was one of the most refreshing things to see.

"There are white people and people of different colours who think 'this is wrong and I'm going to stand side by side with my fellow black people and say this isn't right'. That's where football is as well.

"You need prominent players – Jordan Henderson has taken a big role and put himself out there – others have to follow that and stand side by side with their fellow pros to make sure there is change.

"I've been involved in many a moment that are here today, gone tomorrow. This feels like there's some sort of change and momentum coming."

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.

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.

Jurgen Klopp hopes the Black Lives Matter movement can bring lasting change to football and society at large, labelling those who continue to engage in racist behaviour as "unbelievably dumb" and "idiots".

Following the death of African American man George Floyd in police custody last month, anti-racism protests swept the globe and the Premier League gave its backing ahead of this week's restart.

For the forthcoming round of fixtures, players' shirts will bear the message "Black Lives Matter" above their numbers, as was the case during the Manchester City's midweek win over Arsenal and the goalless draw between Aston Villa and Sheffield United. At the start both matches, all players took a knee.

Liverpool make the short trip for a behind-closed-doors derby against Everton at Goodison Park on Sunday, with Klopp's men five points from a first top-flight title in 30 years.

Elite football returns in a global landscape fundamentally altered by the coronavirus pandemic and Klopp praised his captain Jordan Henderson for his part in launching the Players Together charity, while also lauding Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford for lobbying the UK government to extend meal voucher provision for vulnerable children during the school holidays.

Speaking to a virtual news conference, the Liverpool boss was keen to make a distinction between three important causes where footballers have stepped forward.

"If football is a role model for anything in life, then it's for equality – that everybody is exactly the same. Where we come from, wherever you are from, exactly the same," he said.

"It's all about who you are, not which colour you are. I know from my point of view [you think] it's easy to say that but it's not easy; it's just for us in football it's completely natural. That's how it should be everywhere.

"Judge people only because of who they are and not any other things. It's so dumb. It's so unbelievably dumb not doing it like this that it's hard for me to even understand a little bit why it could be like this.

"But it is like this, so we have to stand up or we have to kneel. Whatever we have to do, we will do. The past we cannot change but the future we can change. That's what we all should try."

Although largely applauded, the Premier League's alignment with Black Lives Matter has drawn some criticism along the lines of sport mixing with politics.

Klopp feels there is an easy distinction to be made.

"For me, this thing is not a political problem, it's a society problem," he said. "We are all part of the society, so we should have an opinion at least. If you have an opinion you can speak about it.

"Sports and politics should not be together, that's something I agree on, kind of. It depends on the subject.

"But this is absolutely a society thing. It's all about how we have to show finally to everybody that we are all the same.

"It's about in this moment making a clear stance from all of us that there are maybe some idiots, but there are not as many as we think. They are not that powerful, hopefully, and we can change the world with action."

Players Together was set up by Premier League players to help fund NHS charities in April, before Rashford took even more direct action in a campaign that came to fruition this week.

UK health secretary Matt Hancock had called for footballers to "play their part" in addressing the hardships caused by the coronavirus pandemic, but Klopp feels the desire of players to do good by their communities should never have been in doubt.

"What Hendo and the players did during the lockdown – I'm proud of the players, but I'm not surprised because I know that the players do a lot of things without really talking about it," he said. That makes me proud.

"I was not surprised the players were immediately ready to help in this difficult time."

On Rashford, he added: "What Marcus Rashford did, I couldn't respect it more, it's unbelievable. It's a little bit of a shame he had to do it. These things should be just natural.

"But there was something to do and he did the job in an incredible manner."

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."

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.

Controversy over technology failing to award a clear goal, howling errors by David Luiz and Arsenal getting brushed aside away to a "big six" rival. Premier League, it's like you never went away.

But even allowing for the above or any hammily constructed zinger of your choosing, it is impossible to claim nothing has changed.

A disorientating, surreal and ultimately tragic three months means top-flight football in England returned to a world feeling very different to the one it left behind.

The coronavirus pandemic will unquestionably be remembered as a seismic pivot point when our history is written. Out of the fear and despair, the questions over what kind of world we want to shape from the wreckage and what side of that history we want to be on have boomed louder.

They were thrust into a harrowingly sharp focus by the tragic death of George Floyd. Footage of an African-American man crying for his life as a white police officer knelt on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds caused shock and revulsion around the world. Thousands upon thousands stood up and said "no more".

The Premier League has made itself part of that movement. As the backs of every player's shirt said, Black Lives Matter.

Backing causes in the social media age, however noble, can sometimes feel disposable, as online petitions and hashtags blur along with the latest trends list.

But the sight of Aston Villa and Sheffield United's players taking a knee for the first 10 seconds of their goalless draw, before Manchester City and Arsenal's players did likewise at the Etihad Stadium should stand as a significant moment.

This is the same, solemn gesture that Colin Kaepernick used to protest against the police brutality in 2016. The same brutality that killed George Floyd.

Kaepernick found himself cast aside by his sport, still without a team. The Premier League created the space for players to collectively express themselves on Wednesday, taking the same stand.

Those players will face no consequences. Consider the contrast with the experiences of Kaepernick, or others like Tommie Smith and John Carlos. It is no cause for complacency, but this is progress.

"I see it as a massive step for the Premier League to allow something like that to happen," said Raheem Sterling, City's opening goalscorer in their 3-0 canter against Arsenal and a reluctant but brilliant spokesperson in the fight against racism.

"It shows we're going in the right direction and, little by little, we're seeing change. That's what everyone's hoping for. Not just black players, but I think the majority of the country. It was great to see."

This should stand as the week when the preposterous notion of "stick to football" is consigned to the dustbin. The images of Premier League players calling for racial justice went around the world a day after England and Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford ensured 1.3 million vulnerable children would get meal vouchers during the school holidays.

In April, the UK's health secretary Matt Hancock called for Premier League footballers to "play their part" in the country's coronavirus effort. Two months later, Rashford is shaping government policy and Hancock is getting the toast of the nation's name wrong on live television. Why be put in your place when you can hold power to account?

Far from being the out of touch, aloof rich boys they have been derided as in the past, plenty of Premier League's leading stars are young men of impressive substance with a sharper perspective on the hardships of life than most.

Rashford and Sterling grew up with mothers struggling to make ends meet. Most of the millions in a similar situation are not granted a platform to speak eloquently of the hardships they endure.

Rashford and Sterling have a capacity to affect change. What good argument is there for them to stick to football?

Earlier on Wednesday, UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin conceded his organisation's previous anti-racism campaigns and attempts to address a lack of BAME representation in football's corridors of power had not gone far enough. The Premier League's light touch this week points to a different way of doing things.

It would be awful if this powerful moment is allowed to subside into lip service, empty slogans and the annual wearing of another t-shirt. The authorities are already too compromised by their very nature – even the most well-meaning initiative can come to look cynical and self-interested.

Some might even see cynicism in the Premier League aligning itself with Black Lives Matter, but leaving room for the stars of the show to express themselves as they see fit is absolutely right

Through acts of charity, protest and authentic expression during these torrid months, Rashford, Sterling and their contemporaries have shown they can be a force for good. Sometimes, they'll get it wrong. But that's okay. Little by little, let them stick to changing the world.

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."

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