Friday 23 February 2018

Martial art is worth every penny in his latest masterpiece for Reds

Manchester United's Antony Martial
Manchester United's Antony Martial

Chris Brereton

Success always comes at a price and Manchester United are likely to have to pay it sooner rather than later following Anthony Martial's performance against Watford.

The Frenchman arrived at Old Trafford from AS Monaco for €40m during the summer of 2015 with a clause in his contract that stated United would have to pay an additional €10m should he reach 25 competitive goals for United.

Saturday was goal number 24 as Martial, along with an earlier finish from the sublime Juan Mata, swatted away Walter Mazzarri's Hornets in a United performance that was so unlike a Mourinho side it almost defied belief.

Forget parking the bus, this was revving the Ferrari.

Martial's all-round showing - he plagued Watford relentlessly until his 80th-minute substitution - was the kind of effort that justified the money United spent on him.

It was also a stark reminder of how much more the 21-year-old can give when body and mind are in synch.

Reports in December that his agent, Philippe Lamboley, was trying to orchestrate Martial's Old Trafford exit clearly unsettled him and Mourinho has repeatedly spoken about how he is demanding more and more from Martial, determined to extract every ounce of his talent.

That £10m goal can only be around the corner if he maintains the same intensity and shows the same intelligence that he did on Saturday.

"He was good, creating good chances," fellow striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic said.

"I felt he was tired in the second-half because he was running a lot and he hasn't played every game.

"He did well and scored a nice goal. It'll be good for his confidence and good for the team as well."

Ibrahimovic, as well as savouring the adoration he is receiving at Old Trafford, is clearly also enjoying his elder statesman role in the United dressing room and is doing his best to offer Martial advice, when it is sought.

"He's not a guy who speaks a lot, he's pretty quiet," Ibrahimovic added.

"He's been very professional and training hard. He's always trying to do his best. He's good in training, just like he was today.

"He's positive, training hard and has a lot of energy. Obviously he wants to play."

Martial more than showed his desire to play in this contest, as he was one of many who orchestrated a win that kept United in the race for the top four - ahead of four consecutive cup ties in the remainder of the month.

More helpless than hapless, the visitors stood no chance and United controlled the first 45 minutes to such an extent that it felt an affront to natural justice that they were only 1-0 up at the break.

Mata got the opener, finishing off a Martial run from close range after half an hour, the Spaniard having played a sublime pass in the build-up.

Mata's goal did not provoke the expected rout and neither did Martial's finish - a close-range drive having been played in by Ibrahimovic - but the manner and style United displayed, helped by the panache of Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, should concern the rest of the top six.

Mourinho claimed afterwards that United are likely to fall away from the chasing pack in the rest of the month because of a two-legged tie against St Etienne in the Europa League, as well as an FA Cup game against Blackburn Rovers and the League Cup final against Southampton. United do not play in the Premier League again until March 4.

"The other teams will leave us," Mourinho said. "The other teams will have points so for sure - it is going to happen. That's the way it is."

That idea does not bear much scrutiny considering there is only one other round of matches during United's Premier League hiatus.

Neither does Mourinho's other claim that this is the most defensive domestic season during his time in England, given that more goals are being scored per game this season than any other in Premier League history. © Daily Telegraph, London.

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