Last season United fans saw very few positives. The introduction of Anthony Martial to the Premier League and to Manchester United was one of them. In 49 games, he netted 17 goals and was a vital member of the side which won the FA Cup. With Louis van Gaal gone, a new style of play arrived along with a new manager and new players. Amid all this, Martial fell out of the spotlight somewhat but did keep his place in the starting eleven for the first three games of Mourinho’s Manchester United career.
All eyes were on the new signings of Ibrahimovic, Pogba, Mkhitaryan and Bailly in the first few games of the season. If they weren’t stealing all the attention from the fans, Luke Shaw’s return from injury and Juan Mata’s questioned future was certainly doing so. Subsequently, Martial sailed through the summer almost unnoticed.
After losing his number nine shirt to Ibrahimovic, Martial began the campaign with a new squad number and under a new manager he grabbed himself two assists from three games, but sadly no goals. A quiet start to the season from Martial could be explained by the strength from others around him. Pogba and Ibrahimovic have taken the pressure away from Martial as well as the attention and are also helping to create chances along with the reinvigorated Antonio Valencia – Martial is no longer being relied on to be one of the key playmakers on the team.
Adapting to Mourinho’s style of play might take some time. Ibrahimovic is at an advantage having spent time with Mourinho at Inter Milan. The transition into the team has become very easy for him as a result. However, Martial is introduced to an entirely new style of play and must adapt along with many other members of the squad. It shouldn’t be expected for them to instantly fit into the new system.
Tactically, the fullbacks are involved far more than they were last season. By allowing the fullbacks to create chances, Martial does not need to do so as often, which allows him to get into the box more and score more goals – which, sadly, has not happened yet this season. It is not as if Martial is not given chances, in the first two games, Martial has had seven shots with only one staying on target. Maybe a lack of confidence is responsible. The 20-year-old suffered a poor tournament at the Euros where, in total from seven games, he played just 70 minutes and was undeniably underused. Upon his return to Old Trafford, his squad number was given to Ibrahimovic and he is no longer relied upon to score the goals – the new United team could work without him and still grab a respectable league position. Last season, this would have been unthinkable. Martial was responsible for a lot of the club’s success – the 90th-minute winner against Everton in the FA Cup semi-final is a perfect example. This season, he will certainly help the team, but for the first time since his arrival at the club, he is being overshadowed by some of his teammates.
Mourinho does believe that Martial is a good player. For three games, he has featured in the starting line-up. He is evidently in the Portuguese manager’s plans for the future and, at only 20 years old is also rather young. Those not in Mourinho’s plans have played no minutes or very few minutes. Martial has played 237 minutes. Mourinho knows Martial will find some good form and the fans will begin to see Martial back to his best soon, but until then United have the luxury of Ibrahimovic, Rashford, Rooney and whoever else is able to grab a goal when needed as the club aim to stay top of the table and challenge for the Premier League title again.