Anthony Martial has featured less than Wout Weghorst this season, a startling fact given that the latter only arrived at Old Trafford a month ago. Is the French striker worth a place in Manchester United’s squad whatsoever?
Martial, 27, has missed 23 matches through injury this season, surpassing his 2020/21 injury-hit season in which he was ruled out for 17 club fixtures.
Unlucky? Yes, of course. He has experienced five separate injuries this season. Unfortunately, in top level sport there is not much time to spend hoping a player will regain consistent fitness.
As seen with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, a striker who missed almost three entire seasons through injury, there can be little value for a club to hold onto these players aside from the obvious moral duties.
Solskjaer scored 11 goals upon his return to the team in what was his last season.
But during Martial’s lengthy spell on the sidelines, time to consider his future has nonetheless been provided.
The Frenchman’s problem throughout his career has been his inconsistency in form. He will score against Manchester City but be peripheral against Southampton one week later.
At 27 years old, this should no longer be pinned onto him being at a developmental stage as a young professional. This is Martial’s eighth season at Old Trafford.
Carl Anka of The Athletic recently published a piece in which he analyses Martial’s worth and gives a verdict on the striker’s current predicament.
Like many fans, Anka has pinned his hopes on Martial’s performances during pre-season. He did score a remarkable three goals, after all!
‘A disappointing loan spell at Sevilla last season seemed to have spurred something within Martial, who went into United’s summer tour under Ten Hag with greater endeavour and application.
‘He was no longer hesitant to make runs and offered more to collective attacking and defensive moves other than his impressive repertoire of finishes.
‘If that version of Martial can be maintained for the majority of a season, then United might only need to sign one new striker in the summer window.’
The only problem prohibiting Martial, according to Anka, is his physical frailties this season.
Between November and January – separated by the Qatar World Cup – Martial featured in six consecutive games, albeit Erik ten Hag admitted to having played him against Manchester City when he was not 100 per cent fit.
In this period, he played 357 minutes against Aston Villa, Fulham, Nottingham Forest, Wolverhampton Wanderers, and Bournemouth.
The United No.9 scored one goal.
There seems to be a strange neglect for his competitive performances this campaign with some people’s judgements conveniently being framed by his non-competitive games in Australia instead.
The facts displayed by Premier League matches indicate that he is not capable of being a reliable, goalscoring, dynamic striker for Manchester United.
But, let’s say that he is, in fact, showing some signs of understanding Ten Hag’s philosophy and requirements. This is what Anka alludes to, saying that Martial now apparently knows what to do:
‘Martial finally understands how to carry out the responsibilities of a United striker.’
Forgetting his lack of goals in recent years for a moment, maybe his overall performances and involvement are positive for the team?
The statistics would suggest otherwise.
There is no metric which indicates Martial ‘understands’ how to be a centre-forward for United and Ten Hag.
Playing for United, the striker is part of a front four who are relied upon to create chances for themselves and each other in front of goal.
Martial, however, has averaged 1.77 shot-creating actions per 90 minutes this season. Placing him in the 35th percentile amongst fellow strikers in England, it hardly screams that he is now passing the ‘responsibility’ test with flying colours.
As for what Ten Hag demands, Martial is so far not meeting the Dutchman’s ideals. He has made zero tackles this season and averages 0.98 ball recoveries per 90, placing him in the bottom percentile. Not exactly proactive.
‘He is now in the unfortunate position where he understands the above shoulders demands (mentality) of Ten Hag and wishes to repay the faith his manager places in him, but lacks the below shoulders reliability (physicality) to make it happen.’
The Athletic writer is for some reason adamant, again, that Martial’s application has now reached the required level.
Oh well, Julian Lopetegui, Jose Mourinho, Didier Deschamps, Louis van Gaal, and Claudio Ranieri – all of whom have suggested that Martial’s application in-game and on the training ground is insufficient – must be wrong then.
You can point to Martial’s lack of minutes this season to suggest that he is, but just unable to show so; six goals in 14 appearances is a reasonable return, especially for someone who has been playing whilst unfit.
But as Ten Hag has admitted: “Routines can’t become routines when you are not always available.” The Dutchman needs fit players to carry out automatisms in training.
Anka’s readiness to throw around multiple statements insisting that Martial has the mental capacity and more-than-perfect understanding of Ten Hag’s system to play for United with zero evidence or opinion to back this is, therefore, random and delusional.
That’s not to say that Martial has not grown mentally since these aforementioned managers made their claims about him, but merely that there is no reason to think that he has now developed into a ‘mentality monster’ capable of playing up front regularly for United.
United have made a new striker the number one priority this summer, with Dusan Vlahovic, Benjamin Sesko, Victor Osimhen, and Harry Kane touted as being the prime targets.
Should Martial remain at the club to ‘repay the faith’, he would undoubtedly be the second choice. A €250,000 per week second choice striker who is unavailable due to constant injuries and when he does play is quite ineffective is not ideal, no matter how much Anka alleges that it is.