Anthony Martial has been given a major chance this season to secure the role as Manchester United’s number nine. This is the position that he wanted to play upon signing for the club, but his path has been blocked at various times by Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Romelu Lukaku, Wayne Rooney and Marcus Rashford.
The decision not to sign a striker in the summer led to the Frenchman getting the number nine shirt and the opportunity on the pitch, with Rashford playing from the left. Following years of inconsistency, albeit with flashes of quality, it was hoped that the 2019/20 season would be a breakthrough one for 23-year-old.
United have invested a lot of money and time in Martial. Jose Mourinho was especially critical of the young forward during his time as manager. Many expected the player to be sold, but the club stuck by him and awarded him a new contract during this time. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was tasked with getting the best out of the club’s sizeable investment. Although there have been moments of encouragement this season, it has been another year of inconsistency for the attacker.
His numbers for the season look respectable, with eight goals and three assists in the Premier League. However, he has missed six big chances, which raises questions about how clinical he is in front of goal.
Martial is currently averaging a goal every 193.5 minutes in the Premier League. This is a decent return, but it is similar to Chris Wood (192.5) and Teemu Pukki (194.1). United would expect more from their starting striker, such as the scoring rates shown by Tammy Abraham (148.1) and Gabriel Jesus (133.8), both of whom are younger than the Frenchman.
Another criticism of Martial is his physicality as a striker. At times, he can be pushed off the ball too easily and go missing for periods of matches. Due to the creativity lacking in midfield areas, Manchester United need a striker able to hold up the ball and bring midfielders into the game in advanced positions. This is especially true against teams that set up deep. United need to take the initiative and look to dominate possession. This is difficult with the Frenchman leading the line.
In the recent Premier League defeat to Burnley, the Frenchman was the player that the home side were relying on in the absence of Rashford. Although they had 24 shots, they failed to create a single ‘big chance’ as classified by Stats Zone, highlighting the limitations of the Frenchman as the leader of an attack.
There was optimism regarding the attack at the weekend, as Manchester United scored six past Tranmere Rovers in the FA Cup. Although it is correct to point out that this was against a relegation candidate in League One, Solskjaer’s men can only beat what was in front of them. Liverpool’s failure to beat Shrewsbury Town showed the dangers posed by these types of ties. Martial managed to score and get an assist during the game, but he needs to have this influence on a regular basis.
His inconsistency was once again clear at the weekend. It was hoped that Martial would offer the main goal threat for the home side, but he was invisible during the match, failing to take a single shot against a defensively-solid Wolves team. The recent signing of Odion Ighalo will add competition for places and he may even be the preferred option if he hits the ground running. That speaks volumes about the lack of influence the current number nine is having on games.
The Anthony Martial conundrum has been an issue for Manchester United since he arrived from Monaco and the next few months will determine the answer. If he doesn’t become more consistent and impactful in the coming weeks, there will be pressure on the club to sign a proven striker in the summer.