Sunday 25 February 2018

Pre-season talks sparked Martial rebirth - Mourinho

'Mourinho suggested his colleagues are helping Martial off the pitch as well as on it.' Photo: Getty
'Mourinho suggested his colleagues are helping Martial off the pitch as well as on it.' Photo: Getty

Ben Burrows

Jose Mourinho says Anthony Martial is more focused this season after speaking to the French forward about his future over the summer.

After a strong first season at Old Trafford, Martial had become a slightly marginalised figure at Old Trafford, scoring just four league goals in 18 starts last term.

Personal problems might have contributed to his poor form, and at various points over the summer it seemed that the forward would leave United. Inter Milan were said to have asked for Martial in any deal for Ivan Perisic, and Tottenham were also reportedly interested.

But while Martial has not started either of United's first two games of the season, he has scored twice in two substitute appearances, against West Ham in their league opener and in the 4-0 win over Swansea on Saturday.

"We had a conversation (during the summer) about his future here," said Mourinho after the game at the Liberty Stadium. "It was all positive. I think he has a good connection on the pitch with Paul (Pogba), with Romelu (Lukaku). I think it's coming - his confidence is growing. Two periods of 20 minutes, scoring two goals - it's good for his confidence. We're using him well and he has the right attitude.

"Of course he wants to play, he wants to start, he wants to be selected for the national team and go to the World Cup. For me it's simple: I can't play in the Champions League, Premier League and cups with eleven players. I need a squad.

Mourinho suggested his colleagues are helping Martial off the pitch as well as on it. "That French language group we have - (Marouane) Fellaini, Paul, Lukaku. It's a group he's very well integrated with. His professional level has improved, he's working much, much better. We are happy - we have lots of hopes for him, and he has to be happy now and improve."

Martial replaced Marcus Rashford, who had a frustrating day, but Mourinho believes it was more to do with the game situation that he didn't have the chances to score where Martial did. "I think if he was on the bench and if he came on in the last 15 minutes when the space was there, I think he would do the same as the other guys."

Provoke

Rashford was on the receiving end of some loud and lengthy abuse from the Swansea fans, still upset that he dived to win a penalty against them at Old Trafford last season. "I think so," said Mourinho when asked if the treatment should be treated as a compliment to Rashford. "If he was a bad player nobody would try to provoke him. They see the speed, they see the danger, they think probably they can affect him."

Another United player who has started the season strongly is Henrikh Mkhitaryan. The Armenian set up two goals on Saturday, including a perfect through-ball to Pogba for United's third. That, added to the assists he registered against West Ham, means he has created four goals already this season, when he managed just one last term.

"He is bright, bubbly, good in training," said Phil Jones about Mkhitaryan. "He applies himself very well. He is always first in the door and last out of the door. He is that type of guy. He loves football and you could see here that when he is enjoying his football he creates assists. He is a talented player." (© Independent News Service)

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