Football Features

Magical Martial’s historic hat-trick shows that he’s the total package

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 20:14, 24 June 2020 | Updated: 9:58, 30 March 2021

In a one-sided evening of football, Manchester United thrashed Sheffield United 3-0 at Old Trafford.

It was April 23rd, 2013 when Robin van Persie sealed Manchester United’s last Premier League title with Manchester United’s last Premier League hat-trick. A magical moment where the Dutchman stuck two steady finishes either side of an absolutely storming volley.

Then for seven years, there were no more hat-tricks. Not for Van Persie, not for Wayne Rooney, not for Radamel Falcao, Angel di Maria, Juan Mata, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Alexis Sánchez, Romelu Lukaku, Marcus Rashford… but today that all changed.

Anthony Martial is a divisive figure among Manchester United fans, largely thanks to his incredible inconsistency. The Frenchman can be magnificent one week and then miserable the next, which is not good if you are your side’s lead forward. All of his wonderful link-play can be for naught if he, himself, doesn’t threaten goal enough.

Moreover, Martial has routinely shown an inability to get the kind of basic goals the best strikers thrive on. The simple one-touch strikes from close range that can bump up your scoring total into the 20’s and 30’s. His career-best goal total was 17, his second-best? 12. These are rookie numbers in this racket and at 24-years-old, Martial is no rookie anymore.

Today against Sheffield United, Anthony Martial put in what you would probably describe as a true coming-of-age performance even given the striker’s age. This looked like a player finally coming to life and figuring it out.

Martial opened the scoring with a snap shot from within the six yard box, showing great reactions to turn home Marcus Rashford’s bullet cross. He doubled the lead later in the first-half with a simple sweeping finish from about 10 yards out, converting Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s cross just before half-time.

These goals were so decisive in the game as they took United’s stranglehold on possession and gave it a presence on the scoresheet. So often under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, United have played well against smaller sides who have sat in and defended deep but have had no incision in their play to break them down.

Now part of that is because of a lack of elite creators, sure, but it is also down to the lack of a presence in the box to make United’s creators confident that if they send the ball into a good area, someone will convert it. Today Martial provided that presence, and as a result Manchester United handled Sheffield United with absurd ease – when these have been the kind of opponents who have given them hell.

The Frenchman capped the performance with a sublime third goal, lifting it over the goalkeeper with the outside of his foot after a sweet pass from Marcus Rashford. It was a beautiful goal and the hat-trick will dominate the headlines, but Martial has never had a problem scoring those kinds of goals, the magical moments that take our breath away. That’s what he has been: a scorer of great goals.

But today he showed the potential to be just what Manchester United need him to be and what all elite strikers must be: not only a scorer of great goals but a great goalscorer. He’s shown he can score the simple, ugly goals at crucial moments against dogged opponents. His first two strikes checked every box United would have wanted them to, and then the third reminded us of the genius in his boots. Now if he can just find some consistency, no one will be able to deny that Anthony Martial is the total package.