A 3-1 victory for Manchester United didn’t tell the whole story when they overcame relegation-threatened Newcastle at home in the Premier League on Sunday night.
The performance picked up late on and winning while not at your best is a good sign, but the display was lethargic and laborious for the most part. Anthony Martial was a particular standout, and not for good reason.
Let’s not beat around the bush any longer: Martial has serious work to do.
It would be much easier and a lot more fun if this was a piece praising the Frenchman for his ascent to the top and continually improving performances as United’s number nine, but we still cannot do that as fans. And now in his sixth season with the club, the line has to be drawn somewhere.
Again, Martial looked disengaged and disinterested as the lone striker against the Magpies and was barely in the game before being hooked after 70 minutes. One shot on goal in that 70 minutes is simply unacceptable, and yet again more proof that he just isn’t up for the task of playing on the shoulder of defenders and being the target man United need.
When United recruited then-33-year-old Edinson Cavani last summer on deadline day, the signing should’ve been the one to fuel the fire inside Martial and spur him onto bettering his career-best tally of 23 goals in all competitions from last season. It has done the opposite, however, and the Uruguayan has swiftly become the number one option for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, offering so much more than Martial as a front man.
The Red Devils currently lead the way in goals scored in the Premier League this season with 53 strikes from 25 games, but Martial has only chipped in with four. Marcus Rashford has already hit nine in the league from the left flank, leaving the 25-year-old having to take his chances from the bench.
Consider that United shifted a £75m signing in Romelu Lukaku and gave Martial the number nine shirt back from Zlatan Ibrahimovic in an attempt to get him firing, things aren’t looking good. While there is still a sticking point when it comes to creating opportunities – particularly against sides who sit deep – the problem has improved, but Martial still doesn’t do enough as the lone striker to ensure he scores goals.
Cavani’s presence has proved this, as has the rise of Mason Greenwood. The pair look more productive and eager to score inside the box, while Martial often drifts out of games, pulling wide and leaving creative players with nobody inside the area to aim at, while giving central defenders the easiest shifts of their careers.
The veteran Uruguayan has seven goals to his name so far this season which, admittedly, isn’t enough. But he is also 34 and cannot be seen as the long-term solution to United’s striker woes. What he actually offers in games in terms of movement, aggression and goal poaching is seriously beneficial to the side and something United must find in the transfer market in summer.
Did they have that in Lukaku? Perhaps, although his move to Serie A was always going to make him look a star. United must move forward and, while a central defender and a defensive midfielder should be the priority, signing a new striker is no less important. Greenwood looks promising and his finishing at such a young age is marvellous; there is no ceiling for the teenager, but he isn’t the solution to the problem just yet.
For Martial, things have to improve quickly. To suggest that he isn’t up to the challenge and that time is running out is not reactionary, either; the Frenchman has managed just one 20+ goal season since signing in 2015. It isn’t good enough.
And with Rashford now making the left wing his own, Martial must show some improvement as a number nine if he wants to save his career at Old Trafford. There is no denying there’s a talented player in there, but United cannot wait around any longer if they want to win trophies and titles once again. A prolific striker is needed to fire the club to silverware, whether Martial likes it or not.