There have been pleasing parts to Erik ten Hag’s first pre-season as Manchester United manager, none more so than the improved performances from Anthony Martial. Over the last 12 months, it was thought that the Frenchman’s career at Old Trafford was over. Although it would be unwise to read too much into pre-season, it does look like he will get another chance at the club.
During the friendlies so far, Martial has contributed three goals and two assists. The short term future of Cristiano Ronaldo has loomed large over ten Hag. The new manager is fielding plenty of questions about the legendary striker, but his team’s attack seems to be gelling well without him. Martial could be the surprise beneficiary of the situation and his performances will have given his new manager food for thought.
Martial has had a couple of poor years, but there has never been doubt over his finishing ability. It is too early to judge ten Hag’s attacking structure, as only friendlies have been played. However, the movements of the front three and the fluidity play to the strengths of the trio currently being used. Marcus Rashford, Martial and Jadon Sancho are all comfortable across the forward line and the chemistry is already growing at a rapid pace.
For the Frenchman, the last year will be one to forget. Martial was only used sparingly before his loan exit from Manchester United in January. During that time, he contributed just one goal in eight appearances. The move to Sevilla was spoken about as a fresh start, It has been a good environment for players to find form, but the forward struggled.
In Spain, Martial contributed one goal and one assist across all competitions. It was a disaster and Sevilla were certain that they didn’t want to make the move permanent. The French international was once considered a player with huge potential.
From the start of the 2018/19 season to the end of the 2019/20 season, Martial was starting to become a consistent performer for Manchester United. During this period, he scored 27 goals and contributed eight assists with a goal involvement every 121.8 minutes.
This long period showed that Martial could be a consistent player in the Premier League, producing regular returns in the final third. The arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo coupled with some poorly timed injuries have led to that momentum being stopped. There have been other lingering issues too, but the ten Hag appointment has led to a fresh start for the 26-year-old.
At his current age, he should be reaching the peak of his powers and he needs a big role under ten Hag to achieve that. Martial is currently looking like a better option to lead the line than Ronaldo. The Portuguese superstar could still leave the club, but if he doesn’t, it will give a huge problem to the coaching staff.
The pace, threat and fluidity of the front three in pre season will be impossible to replicate with an ageing Ronaldo replacing one of those components.
Pre season doesn’t matter in the long run, but it does give indications about the tactical style of a team and individuals can put their hand up for a bigger role than expected. Martial has done his bit in Australia. He deserves a chance to start the season.