Football Features

Anthony Martial: Does Man United’s well-stocked front line mean time is running out?

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 18:09, 21 January 2021

Last season Anthony Martial was Manchester United’s top scorer, this season he has just five goals.

While Marcus Rashford is just eight behind his own individual total from 2019/20, Martial is absolutely miles away (18 to be exact). Moreover, of his five goals only two have come in the Premier League and while he has scored twice in the Champions League too, his profligacy – specifically against PSG at home – is ultimately what got the Red Devils knocked out in the group stages.

Worse, it’s not just a poor run in front of goal – Martial’s overall performances have been poor in 2020/21. Given the Frenchman is a striker who at his best is as good at linking play as he is at scoring goals, Martial could still have a massive influence on games without scoring (as he did in the 6-2 win against Leeds) but only if he were to play well, which he isn’t.

Anthony Martial

  • Age: 25
  • Club: Manchester United
  • Position: Forward
  • Football Index value: £0.60 (Sell)  £0.79 (Buy)
  • Premier League stats (under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer): Goals: 22 (second-highest at the club) | Assists: 11 (third-highest) | Chances Created: 63 (fifth-highest) | Take-ons completed: 102 (second-highest)

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Sure there has been the odd flash of brilliance, suggesting Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s persistence was set for a pay off. The Leeds game, the home win over Leipzig, and both his league goals were well-taken especially the header against Aston Villa. But by and large he’s looked nowhere near his best level, slowing play down, dribbling down blind alleys and just using the ball poorly including some bafflingly wayward shooting.

To make matters worse, Edinson Cavani has come in and shown Manchester United a completely different level of a striker play. You could argue it’s unfair to compare literally one of the three best no. 9s of the last decade to a young player; but Martial is 25-years-old. He’s not some untested youngster and frankly Manchester United signed him because he has the talent to match Cavani’s performance levels.

Yet even at 33-years-old and experiencing English football and weather for the first time, Cavani is playing circles around Martial. The Uruguayan has just 506 minutes in the Premier League, literally less than half of Martial’s 1062, and has taken 14 fewer shots (18 to 32) yet he has doubled the Frenchman’s goal tally scoring four times.

His recent goal against Fulham was a classic example of the kind of scrappy goal that Martial, for all his brilliance, does not score enough of. Solskjaer said at the start of last season that he wanted to see the Frenchman score more of those scrappy efforts. While there have been a few there have been nowhere near enough, especially this season where he’s scored two great strikes and nothing more.

Moreover when you watch Cavani play, he just exudes a level of positional and intelligence and phenomenal work-rate that is beyond anything Martial approaches. Cavani’s understanding of how to lead the line puts Martial to shame and the Uruguayan makes Manchester United more dangerous in attack as he provides more of a focal point.

This is a fact Solskjaer has been acknowledging with his team selections of late, preferring to deploy Martial on the left with someone else leading the line. Against Fulham it was Cavani, at Liverpool it was Rashford; Mason Greenwood is yet to have a turn there but his emergence is another key factor in putting pressure on Martial.

Because while Cavani exists as a veteran striker, unable to play 50 times a season and thus opening up games for Martial, Greenwood is younger than the Frenchman and a far deadlier finisher. The youngster has been playing right-wing to squeeze himself into the team and living off scraps and half-chances to get his goals but he is blatantly no winger (Solskjaer has surely declined to play him there in big games for this very reason) and has the kind of supernatural finishing ability that makes him born to play up-front.

Cavani as the 33-year-old mentor and Greenwood as the 19-year-old prodigy is an almost perfect blend of ages. As Cavani enters his mid-30s and needs phasing out, Greenwood will really hit his stride in his early 20s. The youngster can learn from the veteran and develop his own game as a forward through training as well as game experience in attack.

This leaves Martial out in the cold. Or rather, on left-wing. Except that’s Rashford’s position. The Englishman has been shunted to the right on occasion to accommodate Martial on the left, but he’s not at his best there and is a better left-winger than Martial.

So does Martial play right-wing? Well, he’s shown little aptitude for the position. But his inconsistency in front of goal renders him a back-up in his two favourite positions and, as of now, right-wing is the only place he could perhaps get into the front three on merit.

At 25-years-old, Martial is too old to not have a settled position. He’s too old to be this scattershot in front of goal. He’s too old to be this inconsistent. Manchester United need more, and unless he can show himself capable of delivering more before this season is over then he might find first-team minutes very hard to come by in 2021/22.

In fact if Manchester United were truly looking to bolster their squad they would surely consider using this chance to offload Martial, selling him and bringing in a right-winger.

Someone who could dominate that flank, be a genuine creative force in the final third, allow Greenwood and Cavani to lead the line and give ample time for young winger Amad Diallo to develop at his own pace.

Who could Manchester United sign? Well besides obviously returning for Jadon Sancho they could have another look at Ousmane Dembélé and try to tempt the increasingly cash-strapped Barcelona. They could go for Emi Buendia at Norwich, a proven production machine even at Premier League level. Leeds’ Raphina or Bournemouth’s David Brooks could be cheaper options but possessing of all the same kind of upside.

In truth there’s lots of players who could be more useful than Martial at present. The Frenchman’s reputation is still high enough that Manchester United could easily find a buyer for him and give him an opportunity to thrive as the inconsistent big-fish-in-a-little-pond somewhere.

The truth is Manchester United’s forward positions look very well stocked even without Martial. The Frenchman could carry on as a back-up, but he is altogether too talented for such a role and it will be a tremendous disappointment if he never makes good on his ability to become a world-class striker and instead remains a talented “on his day” maverick, not fit for a team with the ambitions of this new Manchester United.