If you’re one of those people thinking Manchester United are short of strike power, Anthony Martial could well be about to prove you wrong. The stats certainly seem to indicate that the Frenchman is the answer to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s issues in attack.
Through an unfortunate hamstring injury, the forward had to miss playing the entirety of September, which yielded just a single win for the Red Devils from five Premier League games. But following his recent league return in the 3-1 win away at Norwich City, Martial has now either scored or assisted a goal in each of his four league starts this season. In total he has had a hand in 16 goals in his last 20 starts in the competition - with 13 goals and three assists.
Compare that to his record when coming on as a substitute - with no goal involvements in his last 16 such appearances - and it is natural to surmise that the bench doesn’t seem to suit the man who at one time was the most expensive teenager in the world. One expects he will be starting again when United head to Bournemouth on Saturday.
Martial reportedly retains a strong relationship with the man who brought him to Old Trafford as a 19-year-old in 2015, Louis van Gaal, and his best tally in a United shirt came in his debut season under the Dutchman. His 15 goals in 31 Premier League appearances, beginning with ‘That Goal’ against Liverpool at the Theatre of Dreams, but the £36m man from Monaco couldn’t nail down a fixed role under either Van Gaal or his immediate successor Jose Mourinho.
First Wayne Rooney and, then Marcus Rashford forced their way into the lone striker position under Van Gaal, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Romelu Lukaku were trusted with the job once the Portuguese took over.
Martial might have joined the long list of United players to miss penalties this season against Norwich last weekend, but he made up for it 15 minutes from time with a saucy deft finish over goalkeeper Tim Krul, having been teed up by Rashford.
In a recent interview Martial declared on returning to the number-nine role: “Now, it’s all about scoring goals for me. That’s my number-one aim. It has to be.
“These days I am very focused on my central striker role, getting my scoring stats up and helping the team that way.
“We have one of the great finishers to learn from in training now, with Ole as our manager.
“I’ve watched quite a few clips of him from when he was still playing, and what a finisher he was – he scored some fantastic goals.
“During training, he sometimes gives these little flicks and moves, and you can see he still has it. The skill, the touch, the finish… we can all see what he’s got!
“Ole also gives us forwards a lot of advice in relation to our positioning on the pitch, and we’re glad to receive it. It’s important to keep learning new things, new elements that can widen your range of options and make you more efficient as a player when you’re out there on the pitch.
“I’ve come to understand that to score you have to be obsessed, to be fixated on just that, scoring goals. That’s how you enjoy yourself as a striker.
“That’s not a choice – that’s how it has to be.”
Martial and Rashford’s attacking prowess will be under extra scrutiny given that United continue to be blighted by defensive lapses. Though they haven’t yet lost since Solskjaer switched to a back-three, they’ve failed to shutout the opposition on each occasion, despite the acquisition of £80m summer recruit Harry Maguire. What’s more, they haven’t kept a clean sheet in any of their last 10 Premier League away games, marking their worst defensive run of goals conceded in consecutive games on the road since a sorry streak between August 2002 and January 2003.
Martial managed a 100% shot accuracy at Carrow Road last week and completed two out of three dribbles against the Canaries defence. Not bad for his first game back in the lineup since August.
United have now won 77% of their Premier League games under Solskjaer when Martial has started. When the Frenchman is absent, it drops to 29%.
United, Solskjaer and executive vice-chair Ed Woodward came in for heavy criticism having failed to recruit attack-minded players in the summer whilst allowing target men Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez to depart. But the solution seems to have revealed itself in a revitalised and confident Martial. The Frenchman’s form may be enough to both appease the fans and keep Solskjaer in the hot seat for the time being.