Manchester United, having made a habit of scoring four goals in a football match, managed to repeat the feat – this time in chilly Russia against a CSKA Moscow side who are usually formidable at home, particularly in the Champions League. It was a result that put a bit of daylight between United and the rest of the teams in that group – almost easing the pressure off of their shoulders, with a relatively straight-forward path now laying ahead of them that will lead to qualification for the knock-out rounds.
Romelu Lukaku scored a brace on another productive night for the striker who has now reached double figures in all competitions as the Belgian is enjoying his best ever form, personally at this level. Henrikh Mkhitaryan scored the fourth and final goal of the match, continuing on his habit of scoring in key away games in Europe – a routine he developed last season. Manchester United dominated the midfield with Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic and enjoyed close to 62% possession, so much that star man Paul Pogba’s injury, which is now believed to be long-term, was nearly forgotten.
But what also contributed to easing the blow of losing Pogba, now for a significant amount of time – in the most important stage of the season was just how Anthony Martial looked like the Anthony Martial who was signed for a then British record fee by Manchester United in the Summer of 2015.
The Frenchman had a hand in all four goals – creating two, scoring a penalty and involved heavily in the fourth – taking his tally of contribution to goals to 9 in all competition. That tally looks even more impressive and a tad ridiculous considering the 22-year old’s limited involvement – having featured in the starting line-up only four times across all competitions in 2017/18.
Martial clearly has the goods which was always evident since the day he turned Skrtel twice to slot the ball into the net in front of the Stretford End against Liverpool on his debut. He went on to score 17 goals in all competitions in 2015/16 in a team that created less chances than every single team that finished in the top half that season, a side that simply failed to score enough goals to finish fourth, losing out on Champions League qualification with an inferior goal difference.
But this season, Martial has looked different; more matured and less faffing about in front of goal. Martial is still probably the most exciting player Man United have had since Cristiano Ronaldo – and there are parallels between the ways they are managed in this crucial phase of their careers.
Ronaldo, ever the showman, liked to unload his fat bag of tricks every game which often had a negative impact on his output and an immediate rise in his contribution was observed when he focused more on the end product rather than the razzmatazz. The Portuguese ended the 2007/08 season scoring 42 goals – a goal-scoring record which still stands today.
Anthony Martial has faced similar criticism from his manager Jose Mourinho – and struggled to nail down a place in last season in the first team where he often found himself sidelined for a more industrious Marcus Rashford.
Mourinho expressed his concerns on a few occasions over the 22-year old not really suiting the way he wanted his forwards to play, hinted at the possibility of Martial’s ‘PlayStation’ football not conducive to sustaining the style of play he wanted to implement at Manchester United, although not explicitly.
But the tide has turned at last.
The start that Martial has made to his campaign has been nothing short of phenomenal and the fact that Lukaku’s grabbing all the headlines has worked in the usually introverted Frenchman’s favour. Under the radar he may be at this point in time, but the 22-year old cannot stay there for long, should he continue to impress the manager and the fans. Martial has added efficiency to go with his French finesse, and the proof is now in the pudding.
As Paul Pogba is now facing the sidelines for a fairly long time, it is time Martial shot himself back to where he was in his debut season. Playing week-in week-out, winning games almost single-handed by having a say in big goals, letting his feet talk. It’s time the lack of of showmanship at United now that Pogba is out, is addressed.
The £50-million may not have gone down the drain after all.