Football Features

Anthony Martial: Man Utd striker has shown his class, now it’s time for consistency

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 10:30, 25 February 2020

Manchester United striker Anthony Martial has scored in three consecutive games for the first time this season.

After opening the scoring against Chelsea a week ago, Martial equalised midweek against Bruges’ before adding a second in Man United’s 3-0 win over Watford at the weekend. This is the Frenchman’s best unbroken run of goalscoring form since September 2017.

That’s right. After netting against Everton, Burton Albion and CSKA Moscow over three years ago; Martial has never once put together a three-game run where he scored each time.

He’s had a bunch of two game-runs, and in late Autumn/early Winter 2018, he scored six goals in seven games (but this included drawing two blanks against Juventus) but the run he is on right now is the first time in a long time that he’s been this consistent.

This highlights both the good and bad sides of Martial. In terms of the good, you only need to look at the quality of the goals to see the baffling versatility in terms of his goalscoring ability. There’s a reason “Martial FC” became a thing on social media, and it’s the Frenchman’s incredible skills.

The first goal in the current streak was a towering header against Chelsea. Here Martial picked on the weakest defender (Andreas Christensen, who had just wandered back onto the field), stole a march on him and beat him to the ball in the air, guiding Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s sublime cross into the back of the net to give Man United a massive lead against the run of play.

That was the kind of goal Martial doesn’t often score, attacking the ball in the air and showing his aerial prowess. The other type of goal he tends not to score are those where he really has to show his drive and determination.

Martial is such an effortlessly excellent player and his style is so languid that he often doesn’t seem to put in the kind of graft you would want from a centre-forward. But against Bruges, Martial showed his killer instinct by chasing down a semi-loose ball that veteran defender Brandon Mechele had let run across his body.

The Frenchman stole ahead of the Belgian, picked up the ball and in two touches surged towards the Bruges goal. With Man United 1-0 down the pressure was on, but Martial calmly slotted home to equalise.

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Just as the strike against Chelsea gave Man United a modicum of safety and control in that game, the goal in Bruges handed Man United a precious away goal and control of the tie. Then we come to this weekend and, with Man United already 1-0 up against Watford, Martial is sent through.

The Frenchman tries to chip Ben Foster but is thwarted. However, he retains control of the ball, slipping it away from the defenders closing around him. Watford form a cage around him but Martial is cold as ice and casually flips the ball over Foster and into the back of net.

Now that is the Martial we all expect to see. The daring, improvisational genius who can produce magic at a moment’s notice. What makes it interesting, however, was that the goal wasn’t an out-of-nowhere explosion of talent as we’ve usually seen from Martial but the culmination of a run of form the likes of which he hasn’t produced in recent years.

Next up is a home game against Bruges followed by an away trip to Everton. These games will be key for Man United but also key for Martial. Can he go on a scoring run the likes of which he never has managed as a Man United player?

What the Red Devils need now more than ever is not a scorer of great goals but a great goalscorer. With Marcus Rashford likely out for the entire season, they need a consistent provider of goals.

It’s not enough for Martial to simply be an attacking reference atop the formation, enabling others and occasionally chipping in with goals. He has to be the main goalscorer. He appears to have an able deputy in Bruno Fernandes, but he has to be ‘The Guy’.

Now, he’s never been ‘The Guy’ before; but then he’s only scored in three games in a row twice before. So he’s treading new ground in more ways than one. Martial needs to knuckle down and find a way to combine the hunger and drive of the Chelsea and Bruges goals with the individual genius of the Watford one.

He needs to show the kind of consistency that could lead Man United back into the Champions League and truly make him worthy of that No. 9 shirt he loves so much.