Manchester United started the season with a very positive result as they thrashed top-six rivals, Chelsea, scoring four goals in the process. The scoreline was arguably harsh on the visitors, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side capitalised on the tactical flaws displayed by Frank Lampard in his first game in charge of the Blues. There are similarities that can be drawn between the two clubs, due to adored former players being in the dugout. However, the quality in the forward line of the home side was superior to those in blue.
Supporters feared a problem in attack following the exit of Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian never fully found his stride for Manchester United, with the number nine looking heavy, especially in the big matches. However, it is a huge risk to sell a player like the Belgian without a replacement. That is the route taken by the decision-makers at Old Trafford. This places greater responsibility on those at the club already.
Anthony Martial looks to be the biggest beneficiary of the decision, with the French international regaining the number nine shirt following the sale of Lukaku. The player, once the world’s expensive teenager, has always been highly rated by the club. However, those in the dugout have sometimes sidelined him, with worries about his work rate. This was true under Jose Mourinho, who would have been open to selling the 23-year-old.
Manchester United seemed to back Martial in that spat, with the Frenchman being given a new long-term contract earlier this year. Although he has been used as a winger for the majority of his Old Trafford career, the former Monaco starlet did enjoy a successful campaign under Louis van Gaal as a central striker. During his first season, he scored 11 Premier League goals and looked to have real potential as a number nine.
Since then, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Romelu Lukaku have blocked the path to the centre forward role. Marcus Rashford has also been preferred for a period, but it was Martial that was given the nod at the weekend.
The attacking trio of Rashford, Martial and Jesse Lingard were given license to roam, with the three regularly interchanging positions to cause Chelsea plenty of problems. The pace and movement of the three made them very difficult to track, with openings in the defence being exploited by the vision of Paul Pogba from deep. This line-up looked especially tricky to contain on the counter-attack, as could be seen on several occasions in the second half.
It was only one game, but Martial’s performance showed his quality as a centre forward and the different qualities that he brings to the role. The 23-year-old completed four dribbles during the game, showing he can carry the ball and manoeuvre to create openings for himself. Further to this, he regularly got into shooting positions, as he had four attempts, including the second goal. The Frenchman is confident in front of goal and displays composure that Lukaku was sometimes missing in the final third.
The scoreline on Sunday was kind to Manchester United, as the performance was far from perfect. However, there were positives to take from the game and the display was more similar to those witnessed at the beginning of Solskjaer’s reign. The pace in transition was reminiscent of the best United sides of the past. Martial has had his struggles in Manchester, but he looks set for his best campaign yet.