Rashford-Martial-James trio increases Man United's goal threat and gives reason for optimism

NORWICH, England -- This season, Manchester United's defence has been wobbly, their midfield virtually non-existent and their squad depth akin to a paddling pool. But while a long, hard winter might still lay ahead, their attack might be the one thing to give fans hope.

The first time Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Daniel James have started together since Aug. 24 was the 3-1 win over Norwich, and they were the driving forces behind the club's first victory since the middle of September.

Rashford, back in the left-flank role that still feels like his best, was a buzzing menace cutting in. He took advantage of slack defending to clinically score United's second -- adding to Scott McTominay's opener, which was United's 2,000th in the Premier League -- from James' fine pass.

Martial was making his first league start since the third game of the season and scored the third after collecting a glorious backheel from Rashford; the French international matched the assist for delicacy with a beautiful dinked finish over the otherwise excellent Tim Krul.

Afterward, it was put to Solskjaer that the Rashford-Martial link-up -- for the third goal, in particular -- resembled Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke in their pomp.

"Or Solskjaer and [Teddy] Sheringham!" the manager replied. "It was great to see them link up. We've missed Anthony, and that partnership will grow and grow. It was a great finish [for the third goal]."

James, meanwhile, did not score but fizzed up and down the right wing, winning a penalty, as well as creating Rashford's goal. United scored more than once in a game for the first time since the opening weekend of the season, when Rashford, Martial and James all netted against Chelsea.

Their most recent display makes Solskjaer's enthusiasm and optimism about his players, which verges on the delusional at times, feel more realistic. If nothing else, United are fun to watch with three young, dynamic forwards, who are up with the most exciting attacking lines in the league when they combine well. Not the best, nor the most reliable, but thrilling in their own way.

The appropriate caveats must be applied about the opposition. Injury-hit Norwich kept their first clean sheet of the season only last week and have now conceded two or more times in eight of their 10 games; were it not for Southampton's nine-goal calamity against Leicester on Friday, Daniel Farke's side would have the league's worst defensive record.

It should also be remembered that this was United's first away win in league play since Solskjaer was appointed permanent boss in March, since when they have lost at Newcastle and West Ham and could not even beat Southampton. Their problems have not been solved by this win, but it was a step in the right direction.

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"When we play on the front foot like we did today, we can beat anyone away," said Solskjaer, who pointed out just how different his side looks with Martial, who has four goals in just over 400 minutes this season.

"He's vital for us. He's a top striker, and to have him back fit, smiling and enjoying his football. He's clever in his movement, and what he's not given credit for is his defending. He's an important player, and we've felt the effect of him not being there."

Moreover, if they could take penalties, United would be even better. After long waits for VAR to confirm infringements each time, Rashford and Martial were both denied by Krul, who was approximately 3 yards off his line on each occasion.

It means the Old Trafford club have spurned four of six spot kicks in the league already this season although, even despite Onel Hernandez's late goal for the hosts, it did not matter on this occasion.

"It's been too long, but of course the performance was the most pleasing thing," Solskjaer said.

For once, that is something upon which everyone can agree. This victory, earned by their attacking trio, brings hope. United need at least one more striker in January, not least because Martial's fitness cannot be relied upon, Rashford can be inconsistent and James is a 21-year-old who was not a regular in the Championship this time last year.

Those three, though, are a good start.