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Why is Jose Mourinho leaving out Anthony Martial?

Anthony Martial. What a player. Arriving at Manchester United for a massive, and massively overinflated, fee, suffering the brunt of media pressure from people who heard of his name just 45 minutes before writing their attacks, only to make his debut against his team’s biggest rivals and creating one of the best moments of last season. He ended the season top scorer, as the brightest spark in a disappointing season.

Fast forward to today and he has been stuck on the bench in two games against two relegation battlers just four days apart and has played just three games since the start of the year, two of which against lower league teams.

Martial has found himself on the fringes of Jose Mourinho’s team in recent weeks, something even more peculiar when you factor in United’s lacklustre performances in front of goal without him. Time and again United have struggled to break down defences, yet an attacker who was involved in seven goals in his last eight starts fail to regularly make the starting lineup? Why could this be?

Mourinho dropped a little hint when he was discussing Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s performance after the 3-0 win over Leicester City at the weekend:

“Sometimes the best way to protect players is not to play them,

“I think in your chair, your perspective is always ‘if a player is not playing the manager is disturbing him’, but this is not true.

“Sometimes we don’t play players, we protect them, and Mkhitaryan was one of these cases. He was being protected and he was adapting and I can see not just what you see, because you see the magic things he can do on the pitch.

“But I also see other things that I want to see and Mkhitaryan is playing really, really well.”

With this, Mourinho established a couple of points: that a manager could decide not to play certain players to protect them, and that they look beyond on pitch performances in their judgment of players.

Players are protected from not playing well, perhaps there are issues preventing them from performing at their best, and in Mkhitaryan’s case, he was being protected because he was still adapting. Which begs the question, is this applicable to Martial? And if so, why? Surely he isn’t still adapting, considering his form last season.

Before attempting to answer that, let’s look at point number two for a moment. Mkhitaryan was protected, yes. But all players want to play, and Mkhitaryan was not going to get the minutes he wanted if he didn’t show Mourinho that he was doing well with the “other things” he sees beyond the pitch. During the months he spent on the fringes, Mkhitaryan conducted himself professionally, not once coming out with anything otherwise. And with the way he performed after he returned to the team, it’s clear he had put in the work needed on the training ground to adapt.

And Martial? Well, just before the winter window opened his agent mentioned how a potential loan move to Sevilla was being considered, and against Hull last week he failed to participate in the pre-match warm-ups, something he has apparently done twice before. I won’t call him unprofessional because he most likely isn’t, but these are the type of things Mkhitaryan avoided in his time out before getting into the team. And to Martial’s credit, his tweet denying a news report linking him to a move might be him getting back on track.

So back to the previous point. If Martial is dropped because Mourinho is protecting him, why would Mourinho feel the need to do that? If he isn’t applying himself in training, then it’s unlikely he’ll be able to perform to the standards Mourinho expect, and Mourinho might be avoiding the backlash from those performances. He has also had some difficulties in his personal life which might be affecting his focus.

However, the only thing any of us can do to figure out why is to guess. No one outside the club could have any idea, and perhaps it’s best that way. If Mourinho is protecting Martial, the reason for it being wide public knowledge would help no one. And more importantly, none of us, judging from afar, could know more than Mourinho, the man making the decision. The man who sees and works with Martial almost every day.

Martial is an exceptionally talented player, and it’s normal for fans to feel aggrieved that a player with his abilities isn’t getting enough game time. There is no doubt that Mourinho, with all his experience managing at the highest level, also sees the immense talent in Martial, and that is exactly why he would have a good reason for leaving Martial out. None of us outside the club has the ability to judge his decision-making on a matter that we are so much less well equipped to understand. The only thing for Martial to do is to apply himself as best he can in training, as it’s the only chance he has.

Whatever the reason he was dropped in the first place, Mourinho would appreciate the effort, as he has done before with Mkhitaryan. And let’s not forget the blinding form Mkhitaryan had after he came into the team. Mourinho saw what level of performance his efforts would lead to, and unleashed him to the world, and now he might just be waiting for Martial to do the same.

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