Friday 15 December 2017

Martial earns three points for United - and £8.4m for Monaco

Burnley 0 Man Utd 2

Anthony Martial puts Manchester United into the lead at Turf Moor. Photo: REUTERS
Anthony Martial puts Manchester United into the lead at Turf Moor. Photo: REUTERS

James Ducker

Manchester United were banking on Anthony Martial delivering here in more ways than one. With Marcus Rashford rested and Zlatan Ibrahimovic coming to terms with a cruciate knee ligament injury that Jose Mourinho admitted will be hard for a 35-year-old - even one as strong as the Swede - to deal with, the United manager really needed his stand-ins to deliver.

They did that and then some, with a landmark, if costly, goal for Martial followed by something of a collector's item for that forgotten man, Wayne Rooney.

The combined effect was a crucial three points against Burnley in the battle for the top four, and a huge shot in the arm ahead of Thursday's derby at Manchester City.

If Martial's strike helps to secure Champions League football and with it a £40 million cash windfall, the club will doubtless consider the £8.4m bill that accompanied it money well spent.

The striker's 25th goal for United since his move from Monaco in September 2015 triggered the first of three €10m instalments to the French club to take his transfer fee to almost £45m.

Read more: Manchester United players wear pre-match tribute shirts for injured duo of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcos Rojo

Eric Bailly clears the ball under pressure from Burnley's Andre Gray. Photo: REUTERS
Eric Bailly clears the ball under pressure from Burnley's Andre Gray. Photo: REUTERS

The 21-year-old has not looked a £45m player too often this season. In fact, he has been rebuked by Mourinho more times than he will probably care to remember.

However, he took the fight to Burnley, leading from the front, and everyone else followed in one of United's most accomplished performances of the season that stretched their unbeaten run in the league to 23 matches.

Paul Pogba limped off at the end, "dead" on his feet according to Mourinho, who raised the prospect of resting the midfielder against City, but do not count on it. Like Martial and defender Eric Bailly, Pogba excelled.

"I cannot choose a player because they all performed really well in my eyes in relation to the plan and to the demands of their job," Mourinho said. "They were all phenomenal."

David De Gea gathers the ball from Burnley's Ben Mee. Photo: REUTERS
David De Gea gathers the ball from Burnley's Ben Mee. Photo: REUTERS

This was the sort of professional performance Mourinho has craved - clinical and controlled, with energy wisely expended. Pogba was omnipresent in midfield, where Ander Herrera's return was most welcome and Marouane Fellaini was effective.

In attack, Rooney, making only his second league start since December 17, worked the left flank tirelessly, while Martial rendered redundant the pre-match disquiet about Rashford's omission from the starting XI, one of eight changes from the Anderlecht game. Bailly, United's only fit recognised centre-half, marshalled a makeshift defence superbly.

It helped that Burnley had a rare off-day at Turf Moor, but that owed much to United's refusal to let them play their game and they never really recovered once they fell behind in the 21st minute.

Mourinho has told Martial to be more like Rashford, and he took those words to heart.

Demonstrating the sort of doggedness that the England striker showcases, Martial won the ball from Joey Barton deep in United's own half, surged forward and released a pass into Herrera's path. His return ball was accurate and Martial, having continued his run into the box, took a touch before steering a cool left-foot finish into the bottom corner.

Manchester United's Paul Pogba attempts to head at goal. Photo: REUTERS
Manchester United's Paul Pogba attempts to head at goal. Photo: REUTERS

"He was very good, with the ball, without the ball, in a difficult match in the middle of two strong central defenders, without anyone just behind him, because we had no No 10," Mourinho said.

If Martial was a popular scorer, the same applied to Rooney on 39 minutes. Pogba did brilliantly in the build-up, spinning away from Robbie Brady and a crude challenge by Barton - who he showed up all afternoon - before releasing Martial.

His shot from close range squirmed under Tom Heaton and was diverted to Rooney, who finished with the help of a deflection off Michael Keane.

Thereafter, United controlled the game with the minimum of fuss. The top four is still on. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Wayne Rooney celebrates scoring United's second goal. Photo: PA
Wayne Rooney celebrates scoring United's second goal. Photo: PA

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