Beyond acceleration and relying on his pace, Anthony Martial also needs to be more intense and make constant runs.
That is what The Athletic’s Carl Anka feels Martial is lacking at the moment. The Frenchman needs to diversify his game beyond relying on his acceleration and close ball control, things that he excels at.
In Anka’s analysis, he debunks the striker’s claims that his poor form over the last two seasons is solely down to injury and being constantly played when not completely fit.
In a bombshell interview the player gave to France Football, the Frenchman revealed that he had an unspoken injury that severely hampered his ability to apply himself on the pitch fully.
Martial said, “In the last two seasons, I have regularly played injured. People don’t know that. I couldn’t accelerate during the four months following the COVID season. (Ole Gunnar) Solskjaer tells me that he needs me, so I play. Given my game, if I can’t accelerate, it becomes very complicated.”
In a thorough analysis by Anka in which the journalist places the United no. 9’s words into context and plots them into a timeline, it is clear that injury may not have been the only thing hindering him from playing well.
“If we are to take Martial’s quotes at their most literal, he was unable to accelerate to his top speeds until December 16, 2020, four months after the end of the COVID-19-interrupted 2019-20 season, which ended with a 2-1 defeat to Sevilla in the Europa League semi-final.”
After this, the 26-year-old returned for the first three games of the Red Devils’ 2020/21 season before picking up a red card against Tottenham. He returned soon after but was soon dropped by Solskjaer for a string of underwhelming displays while primarily playing on the left wing.
“Martial’s four-month injury timeline expired a day before his first Premier League goal of the season, in United’s 3-2 victory over Sheffield United.”
“He would earn two more assists a few days later in a 6-2 victory over Leeds United before another loss of form would result in him falling behind Edinson Cavani in the centre-forward hierarchy, and behind Marcus Rashford and eventually Paul Pogba for a place on the left wing.”
On Martial’s weaknesses that lie beyond his physical shortcomings, Anka says, “Even when 100 per cent fit, Martial often relies on his above-average finishing ability to balance out the more difficult attacking positions he is culpable of taking up.”
Martial’s best [under Solskjaer] movements became player-specific as a result — when played through the middle, he would often hold up the ball looking to release Rashford out wide or make early runs into space whenever Pogba got onto the ball in central areas.”
The France international made fewer runs like this, as his time with his favourite players started to reduce.
Under Ten Hag, in a more structured and choreographed attacking system, it is no surprise that Martial appears to be thriving.
Anka goes on to say, “Even when Martial is fit, he will need to offer more than pace. He will have to make repeated runs off the ball, even if passes from Bruno Fernandes or Christian Eriksen do not find him. He will need to receive the ball when on the move, rather than to feet from a standing start.”
“Greater playing resilience above the shoulders is needed for him to make the most of his talents below the shoulders. For Martial to be the United player he wants to be, he will have to play with the intensity and focus he has not always been able to find.”
Fans will be hoping that the attacker can find his feet soon and reintegrate into the team, showing the devastating form he had shown during pre-season. He is more than capable of it.
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