Martial is Struggling. Can He be Rejuvenated by moving to Old Comforts?
Anthony Jordan Martial, 2015 Golden Boy Award winner who joined Manchester United in September 2015. He cut his teeth at the famous Lyon academy known for producing talented forwards like Benzema, Ben Arfa, and Lacazette. Martial has been at Manchester United for five and a half seasons with 124 goal contributions (76 goals, 48 assists) through this period.
He played as a striker in his 1st season - 2015/2016, played as a left-winger / forward for the following 3 seasons from 2016-2019, and was restored back to his preferred striker role by Solsjkaer at the start of 2019/2020 which brought his best goal scoring and contribution season of 23 goals and 12 assists.
Martial playing style is a big divisive issue among the United fan base. A huge section of the fan base thinks he is lazy and doesn't work hard enough for the team or get about enough and there is the opposite side who will defend Martial to the hill which led to the famous and funny Martial FC slogan (Yours truly is part of that club but for different reasons). Like most polarizing discussions the truth is somewhere in between. Tony is a well-rounded modern striker who can drop deep with his back to goal, hold on to the ball, link the play, and bring others into the game.
He likes to dribble (has curiously only completed 2 dribbles that have led to shots in the EPL this season) because he has excellent close control, plays short passes, short through balls, and can run directly with quick feet at defenders to draw fouls in the box which often leads to a lot of penalties especially in this VAR enhanced world. He is also good at shooting from outside the box where he always elects to place the ball and typically finishes efficiently inside the box and also with 1-1 when through on goal.
His greatest weakness is he likes the ball to feet almost always and doesn't make enough runs behind defenses, although a lot of his decoy runs in-field where he drops back usually drags CB’s out of position allowing Rashford to run into space. His movement inside the box isn't one of an instinctive striker like how Cavani is currently doing since he has joined United and so he doesn't score enough easy or poacher like goals. He also almost never contests or wins any of his aerial duels so he can't be used as a target man.
I think there is some negative effect on Martial’s game from the fact that United are not a well-drilled possession-based team and more of a counter-attacking team which relies on containing, breaking at speed with directness and unpredictability and combinations with their fast attacking players, so when a couple of players are not at it on the day there isn’t any well drilled drawn up a structural pattern of movement in the memory bank to draw from.
Martial has started this season struggling for confidence in front of goal and has scored just 2 premier league goals. He has recently been moved back to a left-forward why Rashford starts in the right forward position and Cavani starts as a striker as he offers better movement, experienced decision making, and more clinical in the box. Despite his struggles, Martial’s link-up play and ball carrying abilities are very important in breaking down compact defenses and helping Rashford find space, especially with their telepathic link-up play.
Martial is 25 now and in the prime of his career, if he wants to be the starting striker for a club like Manchester United with lofty ambitions he needs to learn fast and improve on his weakness (which are mostly based on decision making, movement, and awareness) or he will be left behind and his long-term role might be returning back to being a left forward which might suit his strengths more in this current United setup.
Ayo (@AyoLaiye) is a writer at large, and one of the global contributors to the Daily Manc team. He is also a content creator at footiefantasy.com (@FootieAdFantasy).
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