Striker insists United must adapt to situations on pitch as they are undone by ‘15-minute plan’
Marcus Rashford admits his side’s first-half display against Manchester City was “not a Manchester United performance” and they have to learn to control key moments better.
United were given a footballing lesson in a 3-1 home defeat to their neighbours and while Rashford’s 17th goal of the season gave the Red Devils a lifeline they did not really deserve for the return leg later this month, the England international knows they have to improve.
“We were way off the tempo. They changed a little bit and brought more players deeper than the last time we played against them,” said the 22-year-old.
“On the pitch we have to adapt. We have to try to control the situation better than the way we did.
“The first half wasn’t a Man United performance but the second half we showed character and courage and it was more like us.
“Those key moments, we have to learn to control them better than we have done this season.
“It’s a learning curve for us. We’ll learn from it but it’s not going to keep us down. We’re going to put it behind us and the best way to do that is by winning the next game.”
United may be fifth in the Premier League but they are 27 points adrift of runaway leaders and arch-rivals Liverpool. Consistency has been a problem, with three defeats in their last six matches, but Rashford believes they have shown they can compete with their top-six rivals.
“Nobody started playing football to lose games. I don’t think that’s the problem,” he added. “I think everyone knows that we want to win and that the team is fighting. We have to continue to do that.
“Everything can improve a lot. We’re probably only showing half of what we can do as a team. We need to keep fighting to find that extra percentage that will win us games.
“It happened against PSG (second leg comeback) and we’re going to have to find that again. There’s always a chance if we do that.
“It (his late goal) makes it doable but to be honest our minds aren’t on the second leg.”
Meanwhile, Kevin De Bruyne has revealed the Manchester City players spent just 15 minutes fine-tuning the tactics which dismantled United in a devastating first half.
Manager Pep Guardiola deployed Bernardo Silva as the false nine, having left strikers Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus on the bench, in the semi-final first leg at Old Trafford.
The Portugal international ran the show from a deeper position, scoring once and having a hand in another two.
While the tactic was a common one for Guardiola at Barcelona, it has been used sparingly during his time at City, but De Bruyne said such is the way the manager prepares them they spent only a quarter of an hour in the morning of the game working on the set-up.
“We did 15 minutes on it in the morning, that’s about it,” said the Belgium midfielder, who said the players were only told of the team shape on the day of the game.
“We didn’t train that (on Monday), but it’s not like we never did it before - we did it sometimes against teams that prefer to play man-against-man - Cardiff, United, in Barcelona away we did it the first year with Pep, so we’ve done it a couple of times.
“With Bernardo dropping it is four against three in the midfield, so they have to choose what they do - if they put their defender up there is more space behind and if not Bernardo is going to be free and that is what we tried to do.
“I think overall we played well. The second half they tried to put a bit more pressure on us and we made one mistake and they scored from it.
“I don’t think they had a lot of chances and I think we should have scored more but in the end 3-1 is a good advantage. We know it is not over but obviously it was a good game for us.”
The return leg in three weeks’ time remains in the balance, especially considering United won at the Etihad in the league.
De Bruyne took responsibility for the goal, which came from City’s loss of possession in the centre-circle.
“It’s my mistake. I wanted to play to Rodri and didn’t see the United player. But it happens, we can always look at stupid mistakes - and we could have scored three or four more,” he added.
“We play that way and everyone knows there is space in behind us - it’s the risk we take in the way we play and it’s something we have to calculate.
“We minimised those counter-attacks and played well defensively and offensively. You try to be the best possible but always make mistakes in a game. We try to learn and minimise them.
“In the end you have to create the chances and we limited them, so that’s important.
“It isn’t done because I don’t think the rule of away goals is there so they only have to score two and that is always possible, but we prefer to start with a 3-1 advantage.”