Sunday witnessed an implosion that saw Ronald Koeman’s Southampton lose to ‘themselves’ as described by the losing Dutch manager, than their opponents Manchester United in a fairly close encounter at the packed St.Mary’s stadium. The Saints opened the scoring through Graziano Pelle following a brilliant opening spell and despite David De Gea’s cat-like reflexes thwarting the first attempt. Their domination though, slowly faded as the half progressed with the visitors keeping the ball trying to control the pace of the game from the midfield. Louis Van Gaal’s men finally equalised, basically, out of nothing when Anthony Martial pounced on the loose ball inside the box, produced a turn that was worth his weight in gold, slotted it past Stekelenburg with the composure you’d hardly expect from a 19-year old just off the boat.
Things went from bad to worse as history repeated itself at the St.Mary’s when fullback Yoshida in the second half passed the ball back, under pressure, to his goalkeeper, only the ball didn’t reach the intended receiver. Anthony Martial was on his bike again as he latched onto the poorly weighted ball and calmly put it past a helpless Stekelenberg to give his side the lead and minutes later the other one between the sticks palmed away a fine header, nothing short of a world-class save at an important moment crucially turning the game in United’s favor. The lead was doubled as a result of a 45-pass move, much to Van Gaal’s delight, when Mata scored from a rebound to make it 3-1 and it looked like United were running away with the win at that point. A late goal from Pelle, thanks to some woeful defending at the back from United, was not enough ultimately, as United managed to kill the game off to seal the all vital 3 points, climbing up to second in the table.
Manchester United made the most of a weekend when fellow top four rivals Arsenal, City and Liverpool dropped points but it was that man Martial again who hogged the limelight, not just by scoring the two goals but also showing the qualities in the final third that the side has missed for sometime now. His movement, raw pace and the ability to come out of tight situations with the ball intact have all helped in these last two league outings as United managed to score 3 goals for a second consecutive time in the Premier League, making life a touch easier for the back four.
Martial’s touch map against Southampton makes for great viewing and is indicative of the teenager’s influence all over the final third giving creative midfielders like Mata and Schweinsteiger plenty of options to carve out chances. His direct nature makes him a better option upfront than for example Wayne Rooney who is more suited for a deeper role where he can influence the game better than playing with your back to the goalkeeper.
His conversion rate has been ridiculously good and in fact Manchester United as an attacking unit has been ruthless in front of goal. United have scored 5 goals from the last 5 shots on target while Martial managed to score two goals from the two attempts that were on target with a shot of accuracy 66% taking his League tally to 3 in 2 appearances. His pass accuracy was not so good on the day having just completed 57% of his passes but that’s the mark of a Louis Van Gaal striker, isn’t that? Who cares about the touches and pass accuracy as long as you can be in the right place at the right time and score them goals?
Martial also adds another dimension to Manchester United in front of goal with the aerial prowess he brings to the table. The 19-year old has shown he can handle the physicality of the Premier League with the forward winning 7 out of 13 aerial duels, highest on the pitch and two more than his counterpart Graziano Pelle. Most of these aerial battles have come in the middle third where he draws the opposition back four forward to create space between them and the goalkeeper to run into.
Anthony Martial looks a man unfazed by the media that would be crying what a waste of money he was for every chance he is going to miss. In his one and a half appearances in the Premier League, he’s looked a bargain considering the potential he has and the scope to develop at a club like Manchester United, under a manager who relishes working with rough uncut diamonds that are promising young footballers, where he can only get better.
It is interesting how Van Gaal answers any question regarding Martial and his man-of-the-match performance against Southampton with caution, constantly tempering the expectations of the fans and anyone associated with Manchester United off the field while the player himself, has been setting the standards on it.