Anthony Martial can provide the striker depth Manchester United seek

Anthony Martial’s second season under Jose Mourinho was bittersweet. After a disappointing first year under the Portuguese in which issues off the pitch saw him struggle to find form, Martial got off to a fast start at the outset of this campaign.

A friendly competitive battle for the starting berth on the left flank of United’s attack between the Frenchman and teammate Marcus Rashford seemed to bring out the best in him. Whether it was in cameos off the bench or in a starting role, Martial flourished and by the end of January had netted 12 times while chipping in furthermore with six assists — an excellent return midway through the season.

Alas, following his winner against Burnley on January 20, Martial didn’t find the back of net again this season. This drop in form coincided with Alexis Sanchez’s arrival from Arsenal as the Chilean was inserted almost immediately into the starting lineup on the left-hand side of United’s attack. Martial was given opportunities to start on the right, where he struggled. He also had chances off the bench back out on the left, but he’d lost the spark which he’d started the campaign with.

Since Sanchez’s arrival rumors have rumbled on suggesting Martial’s future at the club in doubt. His lack of playing time since Sanchez’s arrival, a drop in form since that point and missing out on France’s World Cup squad all led to rampant speculation that Martial would be on his way out.

While there’s certainly interest in a player of his caliber from many clubs around Europe, United have shown no interest in selling. For now, it’s been noted that Martial remains in the manager’s plans for next season. Where would these minutes come though?

If reports are to be believed Mourinho has plans to deploy Martial more frequently in a central striker role. This is something the Portuguese has been reticent to do in the past as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Romelu Lukaku and Rashford have all been preferred to him.

Lukaku is likely to remain the club’s top choice striker, but there were points in the season where the lack of rotation seemed to burn him out. With Rashford struggling to lead the line in the Belgian’s absence at the end of the year Mourinho needs more options and Martial is one already available to him.

Martial often played centrally when he was at Monaco and initially did as well when he moved to Manchester under Louis van Gaal. While he hasn’t featured through the middle often under Mourinho he has performed well on the rare occasions he has been handed the opportunity.

Against Burnley last season he scored a brilliant goal on the counter in a comfortable 2-0 victory at Turf Moor. This season he scored a stunner from the edge of the box at Goodison Park in a 2-0 win over Everton.

If Mourinho opts to play with two up front, something he did this year when he had United set up with three at the back, Martial is more than capable of partnering with Lukaku. The duo linked up to devastating effect when called upon, most notably in a 4-1 drubbing of CSKA Moscow in which Martial scored one and setup two more for Lukaku. The two were again key in a dramatic 3-1 victory over Arsenal at the Emirates.

Playing centrally also seems to suit Martial as it plays to his natural tendencies more. While he’s a very capable dribbler out wide his inclination is to drift inside to link up with others rather than maintain the width. It also keeps him closer to goal, where his cool demeanor makes him a very efficient finisher and while he’s not as adept as Lukaku with his back to goal, Martial’s touch and close control make him more effective than Rashford in holding the ball up.

Anthony Martial’s time at United has been a bit of a roller coaster ride. He burst onto the scene but hasn’t gone on to establish himself in the starting lineup under Mourinho. Still, at just 22 years old, his potential is immense and the talent unquestioned. United would be foolish to sell him at such a young age and if Martial keeps his head down he will have the opportunity to establish himself again next season.

Written by Ashwin Ramnath

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