Ice-cool Martial looks real deal as double strike inspires United
Southampton 2-3 Man United
Published 21/09/2015 | 02:30
Time appears to stand still. It is a talent that only footballers of the highest ability possess.
They can create calm in the maelstrom.
It is a quality that makes the difference at the most rarefied and intense of levels. It is a quality that Anthony Martial has.
His move to Manchester United, for a fee that could rise to a world-record £58m for a teenager, was a whirlwind.
But Martial has been the still point in that storm ever since he put on the number nine shirt and stepped into the Premier League.
His 115 minutes in this most hectic, most physical, most demanding, most scrutinised of leagues has been a study in unnerving serenity. And goals.
Three have been collected and each has been, in its own way, a remarkable, clear-eyed, cold strike that speaks to, quite possibly, the most impressive start to a career in this league that there ever has been.
There will be dips, of course there will, as Louis Van Gaal acknowledged. But there was a telling comment also from the United manager when he spoke of how Martial "shows his talent under pressure - and maybe that is his greatest talent".
The evidence was here. There is ice in the 19-year-old's veins; there is fire in his feet. And there is an edge to his game.
It sounds silly, maybe, but he simply looks the part.
Martial is not a man, yet, but there was no chance he would be physically dominated.
By the end he was helping treat Southampton's Virgil Van Dijk, who went down with cramp presumably from the number of twists and turns he had to execute to try and track the striker.
This was better from United - going forward, at least, because the trade-off was occasional chaos in defence - as they reclaimed second place, closing the gap on Manchester City and they will point to the extraordinary sequence of 45 passes, apparently a league record, that resulted in what proved to be the winning goal from Juan Mata and which was, according to Van Gaal, a "confirmation of my philosophy".
And yet, as important as Martial was, the debt was as great to David De Gea.
Martial scored two brilliant goals; De Gea made two brilliant saves, one of which, from Jose Fonte's header, was simply world-class and defied physics.
It was three brilliant saves - in fact - given De Gea also parried superbly to deny Sadio Mane from point-blank range before Graziano Pelle scored the first of his two goals.
It was a tough result for Southampton and the frustration was not hidden by manager Ronald Koeman - not least because he lost to his old Dutch nemesis - but because, as impressive as his team were at times, they were also architects of their own undoing even if they suffered from bad luck and a mistake when an crucial offside was not given.
Van Gaal did not like it when it was suggested that Southampton had dominated the first half hour, but they emphatically did.
United were overwhelmed down either flank with Marcos Rojo - in for the injured Luke Shaw who will be greatly missed as he recovers from his horrific leg break - struggling at left-back and Matteo Darmian performing so poorly on the other side, against Dusan Tadic, that he was replaced at half-time.
Southampton scored one and could have had three.
The goal came as James Ward-Prowse sent in an inviting cross from the wide open space down the right which Mane met. De Gea saved but Pelle side-footed in the rebound.
Shortly afterwards, the Italian striker hit the outside of an upright after he had easily out-manoeuvred Daley Blind.
Tadic should have done better with an opportunity from the area's edge before Ward-Prowse claimed a penalty as he fell under Rojo's challenge.
It seemed the story would be United overwhelmed.
But Martial changed that narrative even if there was the benefit of a cruel plot twist for the home side as the assistant referee failed to spot that Mata was offside as he latched onto Morgan Schneirderlin's speculative header forward.
After Maya Yoshida tackled Mata, the ball fell to Martial who turned sharply, wrong-footing Van Dijk before stroking his shot beyond Maarten Stekelenburg.
It was a serene whirl and United were improbably level. Then they were ahead.
This time Martial anticipated Yoshida's back-pass, springing forward to collect the ball, striding on and having that calmness to bend the ball around Stekelenburg.
"What a waste of money," sang the gleeful United fans of their new talisman.
They were equally gleeful when, after Fonte powerfully met a corner, De Gea arched and appeared to claw the ball back from behind him, and from just underneath the bar in what was a simply incredible save, to maintain United's slender lead.
Martial's goal, followed by De Gea's intervention, appeared to deflate Southampton.
Perhaps even more than the equaliser and they fell further behind when United played keep-ball, pushing and probing across the pitch until substitute Bastian Schweinsteiger played the cleverest of passes to pick out Memphis Depay, who cut back inside and slammed a low right-foot shot against the near post.
The rebound fell to Mata who dispatched it into the net.
It seemed over but Pelle then pulled away, unmarked, to beat De Gea with a close-range header back across the goalkeeper, who then, again brilliantly, pushed away Victor Wanyama's injury-time shot to ensure all three points for United. © Daily Telegraph, London.