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Marcus Rashford’s Hat Trick Was A Ball-Striking Fetishist’s Wet Dream

Manchester United's English striker Marcus Rashford (L) scores his team's second goal past RB Leipzig's Hungarian goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi during the UEFA Champions league group H football match between Manchester United and RB Leipzig at Old Trafford stadium in Manchester, north west England, on October 28, 2020.
Photo by Anthony Devlin/AFP via Getty Images

Marcus Rashford does about a dozen things really well, which is why he’s one of soccer’s brightest rising stars. For aficionados of the simple art of kicking a ball extremely hard, though, it’s Rashford’s ball-striking that really gets the heart racing. If you are one such connoisseur of the kick, the Englishman’s three-goal substitute appearance in Manchester United’s Champions League win over RB Leipzig was enough to—well, never mind; this is a family blog.

Rashford entered the game against last season’s UCL semifinalists in the 63rd minute with the score at 1–0. Thirty minutes later, the forward was celebrating his third goal of the night in what he had turned into a 5–0 thrashing. The hat trick may have been the first of his career, but the goals themselves were exactly the kind we’ve come to expect from him.

One of the most distinctive aspects of Rashford’s game is the way he hits the ball. His ball-striking style is defined by its cleanness, its accuracy, and above all, its power. Each of the goals he put past Leipzig’s keeper bore those hallmarks.

The first was a simple little pop of the ball with the inside of his foot in a 1-on-1 with keeper Péter Gulásci. It’s far from the most difficult of finishes, but the way he sets up his angle with his penultimate touch, and musters a surprising amount of power with hardly any windup while using the side of his foot still makes for pretty viewing, like a golfer using a long iron to punch out from some tall grass with a short but powerful swing.

The second was the most drool-worthy. Rashford’s favorite shooting technique is to just crash his instep through the ball with a straight swing of his leg, and that 78th-minute goal was a quintessential example. I could watch a loop of his approach from 1:17–1:25 in the video above all day. The way he rushes onto the ball, then straightens up, takes a final look at the goalframe, and begins to measure his steps in preparation; the way he seamlessly transitions from sprinting to arming his shot with only the slightest hint of an extra backlift to his right leg; the way he uses his entire body to generate as much power as possible while also controlling of the ball’s trajectory, snapping his torso forward at the same moment he snaps his leg into the ball, creating a motion kind of like one of those slap bracelets; the way his body just kind of flails over once the ball has left his foot, the contradictory forces of his shooting motion sending him sprawling to the ground—I simply cannot get enough of it!

The hat trick–sealing goal was another instep blast like the second. Rashford’s first touch sends the bobbling in the air a little too close to his right leg, but yet again Rashford loads his shot at lightning speed and with a compact swing bazooms the ball into the net on the half-volley.

If you love watching pure, hard kicks of a soccer ball, it’s hard not to love Rashford, even if you hold a healthy distaste for all things Red Devil. In fact, United as a whole might be the world’s premier source of gorgeous hits. Fellow homegrown youngster Mason Greenwood is probably an even sweeter striker of the ball than Rashford, only a select few in the game can smash passes as pretty as those Paul Pogba belts every match, and Anthony Martial is the premier purveyor of the Henry finish. Indeed, only the most committed of haters can maintain that the current United team is not cool as hell.

Aesthetics and effectiveness aren’t always synonymous in soccer, and appreciation or dislike for one can often prevent an accurate assessment of the other. But when the two are married, as they are when Rashford’s powerful stroke sends the ball screaming into the net, the combined impact hits like a deep, satisfying thump, leaving you thrilled and exhausted, replaying the moment of climax over and over.