A Statistical View: Anthony Martial – the prolific Frenchman with the world at his feet


Anthony Martial signed for Manchester United on deadline day in the summer of 2015 from AS Monaco for a then reported fee of £36 million, costing a further £8.5 million just under a year ago after scoring his 25th competitive goal for the Old Trafford club. At the time of his signing, Martial was a relative unknown in the world of football but one with a lot of talent. True to form, the British media reported that United had made a panic buy and Martial was a waste of money.

Martial made his debut for United after the international break at the start of the 2015/16 season with Liverpool heading to Old Trafford in the Premier League. The French teenager made his debut in the 65th minute of the match, replacing Juan Mata. United were leading 1-0 at the time after Daley Blind opened the scoring in the 48th minute. Five minutes after coming on, Ander Herrera scored a penalty putting United 2-0 up in the fixture. Liverpool got a goal back through Christian Benteke in the 84th minute, Martial scoring a sublime goal two minutes later.

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Anthony Martial had announced himself on the stage in the Premier League and the English media were being mocked for writing the player off so soon. The United supporters still sing the song on the terraces, especially once Martial has scored another goal. Martial was one of the bright sparks of European football at the time United signed him and his debut season was going to make him much better, especially with the number of goals he scored. By the end of the 2015/16 season, Martial had registered 17 goals and eight assists in all competitions – in 51 appearances.

The following season, Van Gaal had been sacked and Jose Mourinho was the new manager of the Old Trafford club. Martial was not the same player from the season before with problems on and off the pitch, also talk of the player’s attitude being part of the problem. Mourinho still used the player sparingly, with public criticism part of the was Mourinho dealt with the problem, which currently seems to have brought forward a much better player, than during the 2016/17 season anyway. Martial scored eight goals and assisted eight others, playing 41 times in all competitions.

During the current season, 2017/18, Martial has shown glimpses of the player he can be, which is something which needed to be more consistent. Recently, that has started to happen with the prolific Frenchman showing Mourinho why he should trust him, making the left-wing his own and also playing as the main striker with Romelu Lukaku on the sidelines. Martial has played 32 matches so far this season, so is on course to feature as much as he did in his debut season, scoring 11 goals and eight assists, which is much better than last season.

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Good and bad seasons

The 2015/16 season will be the benchmark for Anthony Martial, making 51 appearances, scoring 17 goals and assisting eight more. The 2016/17 season will be the benchmark for his decline, despite it not being as poor a season as many would believe but the player only made 41 appearances, scoring eight goals and a further eight assists. This current season, Martial has already made 32 appearances, scoring 11 goals and eight assists – so, therefore, has matched the assists made during his debut season, six goals away from matching his eventual feat under Van Gaal.

Martial had both on-field and off-field problems during Mourinho’s debut season at the club, but he did not exactly underperform. He had to get over his problems, both personal and at the club, earn his stripes under a new manager and play in a new system. Under Van Gaal, Martial played mainly in a central role with Radamel Falcao a shadow of his former self and Wayne Rooney fast losing his ability as a striker, under Mourinho, Martial played as a wide man, cutting in to find goals, supporting Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who was the main striker, until injury hit.

This season, seemingly settled in his left-wing role, despite the odd appearance as a central striker, Martial has quickly settled and has rotated in the role with Marcus Rashford at times, also playing with the Academy graduate in the same team, which was at one time this season, United’s best attacking team. In his debut season, Martial had a total of 98 shots on goal, 39 of those on target, 17 turning into goals. Last season, he had 64 shots on goal, 30 of those on target, eight of them turning into goals. This season, he has 54 shots on goal, 24 on target and 11 of them turning into goals.

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During his debut season at United, Martial averaged 1.63 shots per match in the Premier League, UEFA Champions League, and the UEFA Europa League. In this three competitions, Martial scored a total of 14 goals and four assists. The following season (2016/17), Martial averaged 1.35 shots per match in the Premier League and the Europa League, scoring five goals and six assists in the two competitions. This season, Martial has averaged 1.70 shots per match in the Premier League and the Champions League, scoring 10 goals and six assists in these two competitions.

Martial’s stats in domestic cups are not recorded the same way as they are in the Premier League, Champions League, and the Europa League, so the data is not available for a complete statistical view but based on the date I have, Martial has grown as a player under Mourinho, having more shots on goal per game, 0.35 more than last season and 0.07 more than in his debut season. He has matched both last season and his debut season in terms of assists, in fewer matches, and sits six goals shy of the 17 goals he scored in his debut season, beating the eight from last season.

Many will be quick to slate or defend Martial but last season there was a problem both on and off the pitch which affected his ability during matches, also causing Mourinho to criticise the player, both privately and publicly and this season, the player seems much better for it. Those who say criticism will harm more than fix, are wrong. If we, as human beings, do not know we are doing wrong, we will continue as we are, which is why we have managers and coaches to help make us better.

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This season, Martial has become that player we all knew he could become. He may be a way off being in the final ten of the Ballon d’Or, which was one of the clauses added to his contract when Monaco agreed to sell him but with his development seemingly heading in the right direction and him playing the way he played in his debut season, despite playing the majority of matches as a wide player, rather than through the middle, the Frenchman is starting to achieve the plaudits he deserves.

With United facing Yeovil Town in the Emirates FA Cup on Friday evening, followed by a trip to Wembley to take on Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League, it will be more important for Martial to continue in the zone he is currently in, which seems to see him find his best abilities. If he continues to head in the same direction, his place as United number 11 will grow all the more, him bringing the kind of flair a previous bearer of that famous shirt brought to the club – Ryan Giggs.

There may be no comparison yet, but in terms of achievement, Martial can go all the way. To see players such as Alexis Sanches, Romelu Lukaku, Paul Pogba, Nemanja Matic et al around him, will further inspire him. Now that Mourinho has signed his new long-term contract, continuing to bring out the best of Martial and his teammates will be all the more important on getting United back into that club Sir Alex Ferguson turned them into.

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