Wednesday 20 February 2019

Martial hopes players can pay Solskjaer back for reviving United's attacking style

United caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with Anthony Martial. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire
United caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with Anthony Martial. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

James Ducker

The presence of Kylian Mbappe, the only member of Paris Saint-Germain's gilded attacking trio who will be fit to face Manchester United at Old Trafford in the Champions League tonight, offers a reminder that Anthony Martial still has a way to go to become one of Europe's most consistently feared forwards.

Omitted from France's squad for last summer's World Cup finals, Martial was forced to watch from home as the man who filled the void left by his exit from Monaco for United in 2015 fired his country to glory in Russia.

Mbappe's meteoric rise, from teenage sensation with Monaco to the world's second-most expensive player at PSG and, most likely, United's biggest headache tonight, has been as mesmerising as Martial's ups and downs became a source of prolonged frustration for United supporters.

Disillusioned Martial grew so disillusioned under Jose Mourinho that it was only nine months ago that his agent, Philippe Lamboley, was talking about his client quitting the club.

But, like so many others, compatriot Paul Pogba included, Martial has been liberated by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and there is finally hope that the 23-year-old is playing for a manager, and in a system, that can help him to realise the full extent of his vast potential.

Mourinho wanted to sell Martial and bring in the 30-year-old Chelsea winger Willian last summer. Solskjaer, by contrast, was instrumental in Martial signing a new five-year contract a fortnight ago and has been talking about the player in the same breath as the young Cristiano Ronaldo he once called a team-mate at United.

Listening to Martial talk in a rare public appearance, it was apparent how much happier he is with Solskjaer's front-foot approach and heartening man-management, to the point that he hopes the Norwegian lands the manager's job on a permanent basis.

"We have got a coach who has different intentions and we are trying to do what we asks," Martial said. "Perhaps it is easier to play this style of football and not the style he [Mourinho] asked.

"He is asking me to attack more. That is my job, after all - to make the difference, to be more decisive. Things are working out well for the other attackers [too] and I hope we can continue to be as effective.

"When our new coach came in he had a lot of confidence, a lot of determination. We are trying to pay him back in kind. We are really happy to have him [Solskjaer] here and we hope we can continue [together], but the final decision isn't with us."

If Martial can ask as many questions of PSG's defence in the first leg of their round-of-16 tie as he did Fulham's back line at Craven Cottage on Saturday, United may fancy their chances. Martial's superb solo goal in the 3-0 victory was his 11th of the campaign and evoked memories of Ronaldo's winner over Fulham in 2007.

But the Frenchman recognises that he must become more adept at sniffing out what Solskjaer calls the "ugly" goals, not least by better timing his runs in behind defenders, if - like Mbappe - he is to regularly contribute 20 or more goals a season.

"If I do manage to get beyond the defence, I think I will score more goals," Martial said.

Uruguay striker Edinson Cavani was forced off at half-time of PSG's 1-0 win over Bordeaux on Saturday with a hip problem that will keep him out of the United game and, with Neymar ruled out of both legs with a foot injury, Thomas Tuchel is likely to enlist the former United winger, Angel Di Maria, and Julian Draxler to assist Mbappe in attack.

The abiding memory Solskjaer took from watching PSG's 2-1 defeat by Lyon the Sunday before last was of "how lightning quick Mbappe is". It promises to the biggest test yet of Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly's renaissance.

Absence Solskjaer suggested the absence of Cavani and Neymar would make PSG "more unpredictable" and leave him "guessing a bit" as to how they will play. Yet if there was a sense of trepidation when United were paired with the French champions in December, the day before Mourinho was sacked and the day after a chastening 3-1 defeat at Liverpool, the mood is very different now.

"I said to the boys, if we keep working every day in training, we can improve and maybe surprise a few," Solskjaer said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Manchester Utd v PSG, live, RTÉ2/BT Sport 2/Virgin Media Sport, 8.0

Telegraph.co.uk

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