One cost £160m, the other walked in free from Fletcher Moss Rangers, but Kylian Mbappe and Marcus Rashford are on a similar path. The temptation to merge their stories into a ‘new wave’ narrative is less straightforward after their joint-appearance at Old Trafford.
An hour into this round of 16 first-leg, Manchester experienced air displacement as Mbappe sped straight through the middle of Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof to meet an Angel Di Maria cross and score his 23rd goal of the season. Rashford is quick, but he can’t run like that. Nor can any young striker, which is why only Cristiano Ronaldo has scored more times in Champions League knock-out games since the start of 2016-17.
Before this 2-0 defeat for United, Mbappe, 20, and Rashford, 21, were being rushed up the line as Europe’s next megastars. Rashford should not take offence when we say Mbappe is much further down that line, and not only because of his World Cup winner’s medal. His goal not only exposed United’s suspect defence for the second time but showed Mbappe at his lethal, opportunistic best.
Manchester United’s No 10 bristles with ability. But Mbappe possesses a weapon no elite striker can match: not just speed across the ground, but a kind of electric urgency that stuns defenders through sudden bursts of activity.