Manchester United stunned the footballing world last summer when they shelled out an eye-watering £36 million on 19-year-old Anthony Martial in a staggering deadline day deal. However, the fee was forgotten almost immediately as the Frenchman scored three times in his opening two games, including a fabulous solo goal against Liverpool on his debut and a clinical double against Southampton.
Following this blistering start, Martial continued to have a solid, impressive season, scoring a further eight goals in the Premier League. What made this more impressive was that he was shunted out from centre forward to wing by Louis van Gaal, and he continued to shine despite the turgid football deployed by the Dutchman.
However, despite Martial still showing incredible potential for such a young man, the light appears to have gone out this season. The emergence of Marcus Rashford as the new name for the future at Old Trafford has taken much of the limelight away from the 20-year-old, and he appears to be disappearing into the shadows slightly.
The season may just be five games old, but Martial is yet to make any sort of tangible impact on United’s attacking play. Still sitting on the left, he appears to have lost much of the verve that made him such a dangerous option last season.
Part of this problem is the new system employed by Jose Mourinho. United were stifled last season under van Gaal, but the Portuguese manager’s specific tactics are probably negatively affecting Martial more than last term. The Dutchman’s constant passing allowed the Frenchman to have more time on the ball to run at defenders at create chances, but with Zlatan Ibrahimovic leading the line, Mourinho’s more direct style means that Martial is being bypassed on the wing, and his talents are being largely ignored.
Furthermore, Mourinho’s insistence on tracking back means that the number 11 is spending much of his time dealing with opposition full-backs, rather than concentrating his efforts on the area of the pitch where he is most dangerous – the penalty area.
In reality, although Martial is used on the wing due to his impressive variety and flexibility to move around the front line, he is a striker first and is being denied the chance to flourish in his best position. His pace makes him a useful asset on the flanks, but his calm and clinical finishing is a very underrated quality of his which has been badly overlooked for some time now. The Frenchman does a decent job on the wing, but he is a striker first and foremost.
Martial’s malaise is unlikely to last for too long – he is far too talented a player to let a period of indifferent form affect him – but it is worth noting that he is currently being misused in a United team which is full of square pegs in round holes. If United are to see the same exciting player that arrived for such a massive fee last summer any time soon, he must be given more freedom to come inside and affect the game from inside the box, otherwise they will end up wasting one of the best young talents in world football.
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