Friday 23 March 2018

Reliance on Anthony Martial sums up Louis van Gaal's fragile philosophy at Man United

Anthony Martial celebrates his early goal
Anthony Martial celebrates his early goal

Luke Edwards

Anthony Martial has not been the only striker in Europe struggling to score goals, but he is the most expensive, as well as the youngest at such a prestigious club. There are understandably doubts about whether he is good enough to be Manchester United's first-choice centre-forward during the formative years of his career.

The Frenchman ended his personal goal drought after ten minutes here, the best way to silence criticism, but he still does not look like the sort of number nine who will win you things. Not yet.

United spent an awful lot of money on potential, rather than proven goalscoring ability in the summer.


There was a brief explosion of excitement when he arrived, a few flashes of match-defining brilliance and then weeks of mediocrity. Martial has not looked like the best young striker Europe, let alone one who is good enough to, in the absence of injured captain Wayne Rooney, lead the line at one of the world's biggest clubs. Martial scored four goals in his first four games following his £36m move from Monaco, but had only one in his last 13 before arriving in Lower-Saxony.

When your team has failed to score in five of their previous nine, and all of the excuses offered by the manager, refer to the fact his players are not taking their chances, the pressure was most certainly on.

But just 24 hours after his manager, Louis van Gaal, had thrown a protective arm around him in order to try and preserve his fragile confidence, Martial made a brilliantly timed run in behind the defence, which was spotted by Juan Mata. The finish was calm and crisp.

Martial had not scored since the 1-1 draw against CSKA Moscow almost eight weeks ago and, as always tends to the case with strikers who are going through a barren run, the size of the transfer is mentioned in almost every discussion about him.

United were mocked in August for making a rash, rushed buy at the end of the transfer window and having initially silenced the jibes, the doubts had returned with a vengeance.

Van Gaal argued you cannot expect a 20-year-old to score all the time.

Unfortunately, that is precisely what is expected of a United centre-forward, regardless of their age, certainly when so much money was invested in them.

One for the future does not wash when you are starting every week.

He may not have been responsible for his price tag, but only Martial can justify it. He will be judged on goals and having scored one, there was more of a spring in his step, but Martial's movement remains a concern.

Even after scoring at the end of the clever run, he still looks too much like a striker who waits for the ball to come to him, rather than one who attacks the area the ball could come to.

The draining of confidence tends to make players look weary and cumbersome, but a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. The energy was there, but perhaps his game intelligence still needs to develop.

He has skill and quick feet, that had been evident in that wonderful debut goal against Liverpool, but he remains a work in progress. Such an inflated price tag will not be justified on the basis of one goal, when there have been so many ineffective games.

Martial makes bad decisions - the bane of every young man's life - and he is too static inside the area. When crosses come in, he is not on his toes.

The most effective predators are constantly ready to pounce.

It does not help that too many United players appear to be communicating on a different frequency. Martial looks dangerous when he can run behind centre-backs, but only Mata gave him the opportunity to do so.

A statistic of one chance and one goal is impressive at any level, but United were trailing 2-1 at the start of the second half.

A good cross from the 20-year-old almost created an equaliser after an hour, but Memphis Depay was denied. Yet, during a goalmouth scramble seconds later, Martial was nowhere to be seen. He should have been in the thick of it. The worrying thing is, he rarely seems to be.

Martial may develop into a world-class striker, but he is not one yet and £36m remains a lot of money to spend on a maybe. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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