Marcus Rashford has enjoyed a “priceless” pre-season and is harnessing the pain of the previous year as the refreshed Manchester United forward attempts to get back to his best.
Last July’s heart-breaking penalty shoot-out miss in England’s European Championship final defeat to Italy was followed by the 24-year-old’s most challenging campaign to date.
Post-tournament shoulder surgery meant Rashford did not feature for United until mid-October, when an initial flurry of goals quickly dried up.
The forward’s poor performances saw him dropped by England and widely criticised, but he hopes to have turned a corner after a full pre-season under demanding new boss Erik ten Hag.
“I feel fit, I feel strong and we’ve come out of the trip without any injuries,” Rashford said after the final match of the pre-season tour of Thailand and Australia.
“For us, it’s definitely a positive thing to have a fully-fit squad ready to start the season.
“For me personally, it’s priceless to have the pre-season that I’ve had.
“Sometimes I don’t really take as much note of it because usually we’re playing games in the summer and stuff like that, so the next season sort of just rolls onto the previous season.
“But this year I’ve had time to break, rest, recover mentally and physically, and then I’ve had a proper pre-season.
“I feel really happy. I’m pleased that I managed to do that.”
Rashford is certainly feeling more positive than he did by the end of a wretched campaign by United’s standards.
The optimism that came with eye-catching signings on the back of finishing Premier League and Europa League runners-up soon faded, with the Red Devils slumping home sixth with a paltry points tally.
“I think it’s normal when we’re not performing as we should perform (that) you get criticised,” Rashford said. “It’s part and parcel of the game.
“I’ve always said that I’m my own harshest critic and I know when I’m not playing my best football and I know when I need to improve.
“Definitely last season was a time for me to reflect on.
“I’ve had the time off in the summer and a long pre-season, so I feel a lot more ready this season.
“I think it’s obviously difficult when you lose. We don’t like to lose and I think that’s just same for everyone as an individual.
“When you are losing games and you’re not picking points, it’s difficult to enjoy yourself on the pitch.
“Hopefully we can start the season off a lot better than that but we have to use last season as fuel to improve and to prove that we’re better players than what we showed last year.”
There have certainly been signs that some of last term’s underperforming players could be rejuvenated by Ten Hag, with Anthony Martial, Jadon Sancho and Rashford among those performing well on tour.
“He just wants us to be positive,” he said of the Dutchman’s demands on United’s attackers.
“He wants us to do everything in a positive manner, so for us it means a lot of forward runs, a lot of interchanging positions, trying to link with each other on the ball.
“It’s fun to play in, we’re enjoying it, so hopefully we can kick on and perform these type of performances come the season.”