Sports Monks

Anthony Martial is on his way to completing Manchester United challenge

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer knows more than most what is expected from a Manchester United striker.

The Norwegian made his name as English football’s definitive impact player, scoring 28 of his 126 United goals from the bench and becoming the man Sir Alex Ferguson would turn towards in the eleventh hour.

And he is hoping his newly adopted centre forward can deliver in United’s crucial short burst of games before the end of the season.

Anthony Martial has been entrusted to play his desired role down the middle in Solskjaer’s fluid attacking setup this term. And while the Frenchman has had his fair share of bad luck with injuries, he is just one goal away from matching his best goalscoring season in a red shirt.

But much of Martial’s progress in his favoured position has not been reflected in the goalscoring charts. His improved hold-up play has given United a new focal point in attacking transition. He has become adept with his back to goal.

Ultimately United’s forwards will always be judged on their ability to find the back of the net and those that can consistently deliver are the ones that shine brightest. Dutch greats Ruud van Nistelrooy and Robin van Persie are considered two of the most ruthless finishers of their generations and are still revered by United supporters. It’s no coincidence the pair averaged over 0.6 goals per game during their spells at Old Trafford.

It would have been naive to suggest Martial could match the unerring brilliance of two of the club’s greatest frontmen, given it is his first campaign leading the line and Solskjaer’s rebuild is still very much in its infancy.

A tally of 16 in 33 games at an average of just shy of a goal every other game does deserves credit, however. It’s that record that, crucially, has solidified Solskjaer’s belief that he already has his number nine for the foreseeable future at the club.

Martial’s 14th of the term came in the 1-1 Europa League draw away to Club Brugge in late February. It was a goal that encapsulated exactly why Martial can be so effective up front; opportunism, speed, strength and composure.

In the aftermath, his manager was asked whether Martial could reach 20 goals for the season. “I think Anthony can step up, get a few more and get to the 20 mark,” Solskjaer said. “Definitely. He’s got quality of course, he’s a very good finisher. He takes his chances really well.”

Now, with nine league games remaining, plus a possible three in the FA Cup, Martial has been offered up the perfect platform to surpass that expectation.

Solskjaer finally has a full complement of players to choose from and can now provide a dynamic support network to his striker with the hope he can fire United into the top four positions.

Martial was linking up well with Bruno Fernandes before the enforced break and United will hope the partnership between the pair can flourish when football returns. Fernandes already has four assists to his name for United and Martial must continue to feed off the Portuguese playmaker’s ingenuity and imagination in possession.

Much has been written about how United’s newest hero Fernandes can fit into the same team as Paul Pogba. The return of Martial’s French compatriot in any capacity only adds to the creative options at United’s disposal. Pogba can offer variety and unpredictability to the attack, even if it is from a withdrawn midfield position, and Martial can be the main beneficiary.

Meanwhile, the return of United’s talisman Marcus Rashford is also a huge boost. Rashford has two more goals than Martial this term, and will likely share the burden to relieve some pressure in the remaining fixtures. Solskjaer may opt to play the pair together in a split striker system, or alternatively deploy Rashford off the left in the more trusted 4-2-3-1 formation.

If Martial can return immediately firing, United’s previous momentum from their 11-game unbeaten run will be reignited.

Martial’s first chance to expedite his rush to 20 goals comes against Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham Hotspur on Friday. And a resumption of goalscoring form would be all the more satisfying against a manager that would have had no hesitancy in selling him had he had his way during his United tenure.

Source: manchestereveningnews

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