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Expect big things from Man United striker Marcus Rashford this season

Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford started last campaign by surprising Zlatan Ibrahimovic on a preseason trip to Sweden. He ended it 10 months later as Ibrahimovic's replacement for the Europa League final in the same country.

It was during a friendly in Gothenburg in July 2016 when the then-18-year-old Rashford raced through Galatasaray's defence to win a penalty, prompting a round of applause and a look of astonishment from Ibrahimovic.

Then, after almost a year had passed and with Ibrahimovic ruled out injured, it was Rashford who was chosen to lead the line for the Europa League final in Stockholm. He had already helped United get there with crucial goals against Anderlecht in the quarterfinal and Celta Vigo in the semifinal, but to be handed that level of responsibility in the most important game of United's season was a sign of trust from manager Jose Mourinho.

It was an impressive end to a season of transition. Rashford first broke into the team under Louis van Gaal as a centre forward, but under Mourinho last season he found himself out wide more often than not. That will not have come as a shock to him after Ibrahimovic's arrival on a free transfer from Paris Saint-Germain last summer, yet he showed great maturity for one so young.

It was not an entirely new position for Rashford, having played there regularly for the Under-18s and reserves, but Mourinho was still impressed with the youngster's ability to adapt -- especially to his own demands which had caught out players like Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Anthony Martial.

"Since September, Rashford has not scored in the Premier League," Mourinho said in April. "But he was always a player I chose. He was always player I support because he was always coming in my direction and giving me what I want as a Manchester United player, so it is about that."

Pointedly, that was in response to a question about Martial; the inference being that the Frenchman should be looking to follow Rashford's example.

Rashford scored 11 goals in 53 games last season, after eight in 18 during his breakthrough campaign. Mourinho, though, maintained all along he wasn't interested in the numbers.

"I knew that it would be a very difficult season for him after the season of the surprise," he said in March. "The season without pressure, the season where nobody demands, that nobody knows him, he comes in and makes an impact, he feels free. He is just a kid that is enjoying his football.

"The second season was always going to be a difficult one. I think the third season is going to be the good one again. The third season is one with more maturity, he can build on his experiences so I am sure the third season will be better than the second."

Rashford's third season starts in Los Angeles in just over a week. This summer, he will have the advantage of a full preseason after being handed an extended break 12 months ago following Euro 2016 and has already been putting in some training. Ibrahimovic is out of the picture, too, having been released after suffering a cruciate knee ligament injury which will keep him out until January.

Yet many of the challenges for Rashford this year are still the same. He has already been asked about United's interest in Alvaro Morata -- "at a big club you are going to attract big players and that's what we want" -- while there is the added pressure of trying to earn a place in the England's 2018 World Cup squad.

Whether it's Morata or not, United will sign an established centre forward. That will leave Rashford to share the responsibility up front while competing with Martial, Mkhitaryan, Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard for one of the wider roles. Wayne Rooney might also be in the mix. So, to, Ivan Perisic or Willian if Mourinho has his way in the transfer market.

Still, United signed Ibrahimovic and Mkhitaryan last summer and Rashford still ended the season having made more appearances than anyone else in the squad. So it is unlikely to bother him if Mourinho strengthens his forward line with two, or even three, new signings.

Even after his explosive start in senior football, Rashford was still surprising people last summer: Ibrahimovic and Mourinho among them. There are very few left who don't know what he can do, and there lies a challenge in itself.

However, after getting over his second-season syndrome, Mourinho is expecting big things from his No. 19. The only surprise this time would be if Rashford doesn't prove him right.