Sunday 9 December 2018

Sanchez's imminent arrival fires up Martial as United maintain new year cheer

Anthony Martial
Anthony Martial

Jim White

As Jose Mourinho sat in the press conference room at Turf Moor, satisfied by Manchester United's seventh away victory in the Premier League this season, he insisted the imminent arrival of Alexis Sanchez was governed solely by a need to provide some competition among his forwards.

He had plenty of defensive and midfield options. But up front, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic once more indisposed, he has only three players to choose from.

''We need that extra internal competition," he said.

Whether those were the precise words used in the lengthy negotiations with the Chilean - 'to be honest Alexis, we only want you to keep Anthony Martial, Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford on their toes' - appears unlikely. And, for the man who will wear the iconic No 7 shirt, £400,000-a-week seems a sizeable return for someone whose principal purpose is to make others better.

But there was a sense in the bruising 1-0 win over Burnley on Saturday that both Martial and Lukaku are already benefiting from feeling the potential new arrival's breath on their collar.

They conjured up a superb goal to win the match. Lukaku, widely criticised as having have a poor touch for a big man, created it with a lovely pass after battling his way through the Burnley backline. But it was the clinical aplomb of Martial's finish that stood out, as he deceived Nick Pope in goal before shooting with real conviction.

"We know when we put him in the one-v-one with a full-back it's difficult for the full-back because he has so many attributes," said Mourinho of the Frenchman.

"He can go inside, can go outside, he can shoot to the far post, he can shoot to the near post like he did today and he has lots of attributes.

"So it is one more reason to be happy with Romelu because he knew if we put Anthony in a one-on-one he is difficult."

Sean Dyche, the Burnley manager, was no less admiring of the strike.

"It's a fantastic finish," he said. "Sometimes you have to hold your hands up. I have seen it back and he looks for the gap and finds the gap in the top corner, and I think there is often a reason why those footballers move to Man United for 30 million quid."

Martial's contribution, however, was a rare moment of quality in a game more attritional than aesthetic. Showing little evidence of a lack of confidence brought on by a poor run, Burnley were tough opponents: organised, spirited, determined. Based around Steven Defour and Jack Cork they have a midfield of pace and intelligence.

Indeed, what the match demonstrated was that whatever weaknesses in his squad Mourinho is hoping to address with Sanchez, they do not lie in his defence. This was the fourth clean sheet his team have delivered since the new year.

And this against a Burnley side who chucked everything at them, including the kitchen sink in the shape of Pope trundling forward for injury-time set pieces.

''That was the defining image," said Mourinho of the goalkeeper's intervention. And the smile he wore as he said it suggested that, unlike many of his peers, he is a manager who still prefers a battle to an exhibition.

At the heart of United's resistance was Phil Jones, who, under Mourinho, is looking like the centre-back he has long threatened to be. His every touch booed by the home fans for his Blackburn past but Jones was magnificent. With his speed, strength and timing he provided a smothering blanket, ensuring for all Burnley's drive, David de Gea was rarely pressed.

Watching from afar Sanchez must have been pleased too. When he finally arrives in Manchester, he will find it something of a new experience playing in a team that gains as much pleasure from stopping the opposition as from scoring themselves. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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