Anthony Martial: Separating Fact from Fiction
It's been a tumultuous time at Manchester United for Anthony Martial as he has had to endure a cycle of four managers in seven years. But his form has been, on the most part, a shining light.
Since joining from AS Monaco for an enormous £36 million fee in 2015, Martial has made 269 appearances for Manchester United, getting 129 goal involvements, but he has so much more to his game than plain stats. Joining in 2015, everyone can recall THE debut. Off the bench, Liverpool at Old Trafford, he breezes past Martin Skrtel with those dazzling ballerina feet that fans are now accustomed to, and slots it into the corner.
He went on the have a wonderful debut season, racking up 17 goals under the tutelage and watchful eye of Louis van Gaal, winning the FA Cup and collecting the most decorated award a teenager can think of: The Golden Boy Award. After van Gaal was sacked, Jose Mourinho signed for Manchester United, and this was a disaster waiting to happen as, despite his superb first season, he was ruthlessly and perhaps unfairly stripped of his number 9 shirt, as Zlatan Ibrahimovic signed on a two-year deal. His form was patchy as he never really secured a settled spot in the starting eleven, but he enjoyed success in the first half of the 17-18 season, winning numerous Player of the Month accolades for Manchester United, and ironically scoring the only goal in the last game before Alexis Sanchez arrived, as his top corner strike allowed United to edge past Burnley 1-0 at Turf Moor.
He was then absurdly replaced by Alexis on the left-wing. Despite this, Martial managed to accumulate 20 goal involvements in the season. He once again came good in the 18-19 season, where he impressed on the left-wing under Jose, linking up in a coherent fashion with the likes of Paul Pogba.
Martial collected even more Player of the Month awards, and again ironically, likely saved Jose's job as he scored a vital goal, with him and Pogba combining eloquently to fire United level at home to Newcastle United. Manchester United then went on to win the game 3-2. The Frenchman then enjoyed a fruitful spell to round off the 2018-19 season, after Jose was sacked around Christmas. With Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at the helm, he returned to the centre of a front three accompanied largely by Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford. He finished the 2018-19 season with 15 goal involvements in 38 appearances. With the number 9 shirt deservedly on his back once more, Martial enjoyed his best season yet at United, netting 23 times, including a goal of the season contender against Watford, where he nonchalantly chipped Ben Foster after a beautiful piece of skill, and a hat-trick against Sheffield United. The first Premier League hat-trick for a United player since the Sir Alex Ferguson era.
He was deservedly rewarded for his efforts and contribution by being awarded with the Players Player of the Year award at United, and being named in BT Sport's Fans Team of the Year for the Premier League season. However, Martial then struggled with injury and form in the 2020-21 season, and while playing just 36 times, he still contributed with 16 goal involvements.
His season was derailed by a red card against Spurs near the start of the season, but the biggest setback was that he was once again playing second fiddle for the starting striker role, this time to Edinson Cavani. Sure this can be seen as competition, but Martial undoubtedly deserved more game time during his time there.
Martial has so much more to his game than goals and assists. He makes really intelligent runs at the right times, which gets confused by some parts of the media as being lazy.
He's got great feet and links the front three wonderfully with his ability to interchange fluently and fluidly. He dashes across the field and is really comfortable in possession and he loves to give and go, which possibly explains why he wasn't Jose's cup of tea.
His hold up play has improved immensely, with him now playing superbly with his back to goal, something that United have lacked, especially when you look at Mason Greenwood, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Elanga. with their first instinct being to cut inside and shoot off the wing.
In contrast, when Martial plays wide, he looks to commit players with his hypnotic dribbling, taking many small touches to lure the defender in, and then looks for the pass to work an opportunity inside the box.
His weight of pass is also often faultless, shown perfectly when he played the pass for the winner against West Ham United, allowing Cavani to slot the ball across for Rashford to tap home, when maybe other United forwards would have shot in that scenario, causing United to potentially drop two points. Many eyes will be on him, as he completed a simple loan deal to La Liga title challengers Sevilla on Tuesday, and a successful spell could result in him being brought back into the fold under the new manager in the summer, as long as he wants to stay. Whatever happens and despite inconsistencies which can be blamed on himself and the numerous managers he has played under, this player is certainly special, and will likely be hugely successful, wherever that may be.