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red hero 'We are at the beginning of what is a long journey' - Marcus Rashford on his campaign to combat food poverty


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Force of change: Manchester United attacker Marcus Rashford says ‘a lot more steps need to be taken’ to tackle child poverty, something he has been campaigning against in person and on social media. Photo: PA

Force of change: Manchester United attacker Marcus Rashford says ‘a lot more steps need to be taken’ to tackle child poverty, something he has been campaigning against in person and on social media. Photo: PA

Force of change: Manchester United attacker Marcus Rashford says ‘a lot more steps need to be taken’ to tackle child poverty, something he has been campaigning against in person and on social media. Photo: PA

Having leapfrogged Liverpool at the top of the table thanks to Tuesday's 1-0 win at Burnley, Manchester United have the chance to extend their lead over the champions to six points at Anfield on Sunday, when they are bidding to inflict the first home league defeat on Jurgen Klopp's side since April 2017.

But, despite finishing 33 points behind Liverpool last season, Marcus Rashford said United were not interested in merely closing the gap at the top this term as they fix their sights firmly on a first league championship for eight years.

"It is going to be a good feeling if we manage to win the league - if we finish second or third, it is not going to be a good season for us, it is not what we set out to try to do at the beginning of the year," he said.

"We want to win trophies. We are (still) in the FA Cup and (have) the Premier League left, so we have to try to go and win both of them, and just do our best to continue improving. The main aim is to win trophies, as it always has been at this club.

"They (Liverpool) are hard to beat at home. For us to beat them, we are going to have to be at our best, it is as simple as that really."

Rashford has scored three times in eight appearances against Liverpool, including both goals in a 2-1 win at Old Trafford in March 2018, and says, as a Mancunian, there is "no sweeter feeling".

But it is the memory of narrowly escaping a red card for a challenge on James Milner in that game that he will be carrying with him this weekend.

"You have to (be calm), it is so important that you do that because you can be off before you know it," he said. "(In 2018) I was just emotionally into the game, and I made a tackle and lucky it was on James Milner. He is not one to roll around on the floor! He just bounced back up.

"It was just a yellow card, on another day it could have been a red card. They are the moments you have to learn from, and I had the right players around me who made me just get on with the game and play football."

Leadership and the mental jump United need to make to become winners AGAIN

United's 2-0 Carabao Cup defeat by Manchester City last week was their fourth semi-final exit in 12 months and followed their elimination at the Champions League group stage.

Rashford, who has been awarded the Football Writers' Association Tribute Award in recognition of his fight to end child food poverty, believes United are much stronger mentally than two years ago, but they are determined to shed the nearly-men tag.

"I think it (the leadership) has always been there, but this year it has had to come out because we have already experienced things which we didn't want to happen or expect to happen - getting knocked out of the Champions League, losing the semi-final of the Europa League," he said.

"There are things which have happened where if you don't come out and be a leader, someone that the squad can look to in difficult moments, then it will continue to happen. We have to show we are ready to fight for what we want - and what we all want is success.

"We are more ready now than we were two years ago in terms of leaders on the pitch and ready to fight for trophies. But still we need to get our hands on those trophies."

The potential of United's attack is enormous - Rashford, Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood scored more goals between them last season than Liverpool's gilded forward trio of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino.

And with talisman Bruno Fernandes proving a revelation in front of goal and Edinson Cavani joining the fray this term, Rashford believes there is so much more to come.

"Ultimately, we are more dangerous, we can score goals at any time," he said. "But we can do much better. I believe it is still the start of something which can go on to be an unbelievable connection.

"Just the forward line in general at the moment which we have - we can play in so many different ways, in different positions with different personnel.

"We can just be so strong, and for us that is what is key because if we want to win trophies and win the leagues, then you need versatility.

"I believe that we have one of the most versatile squads probably in the Premier League, especially going forwards. It is exciting, but it is the beginning of something, we want to keep progressing and keep improving."

Coping with congested fixture list

The Covid-19 crisis has meant an increasingly frenetic schedule but Rashford - who has been playing with damaged shoulder ligaments since November - believes handling it is a state of mind.

"There are a lot of games but, for me, it is a mentality thing," he said. "In a 'normal' season, you would play 60 games if you reached the finals and if you don't, maybe 55 games. In terms of reality, it is not that much different, so it is just in your head. We know we started a little later on this year, but we are going to finish at the same time. I just try to put myself in the best mental position, because physically I know I am fresh and can play the games."

The fight against child food poverty

Last year, Rashford forced a UK government about-turn to ensure free school meals were provided to vulnerable children during the holidays - a campaign that earned him an MBE - and only this week he triggered a review of the free school meals system after hitting out at the pitiful stand of some food parcels being delivered to struggling families. But he insists the hard work has only just begun.

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One of Marcus Rashford's social media posts

One of Marcus Rashford's social media posts

One of Marcus Rashford's social media posts

"We are at the beginning of what I see as a long journey," he said. "I am definitely not at the stage of relief yet, I feel that there is a lot more which needs to be done and a lot more steps which need to be taken forward.

"On the positive side we have started to take a few steps in the right direction. But for me, just because we have done that it is not about sitting back now and being happy with what we have done.

"It is about what is next in the chapter of these children's lives.

"We know we have managed to reach a lot more people that weren't being reached, but there are still people out there who are really struggling and if we can make a five or 10 per cent difference to every single one of their lives, then it puts everyone at a good baseline, and then we can start to work on foundations for the future."

© Daily Telegraph, London

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