Anthony Martial may finally be fulfilling his enormous potential amid a turbulent season at Manchester United as Jose Mourinho plots how best to use his attacking resources.
The France forward heads into Saturday’s clash at Bournemouth on a run of four goals in three Premier League matches — a sequence that can only have boosted his fragile confidence.
His recent run is reminiscent of the fabulous start he made at Old Trafford, when he scored four goals in his first four games following his move from Monaco in September 2015 for a fee that could ultimately rise to 58 million pounds (USD 75 million).
The forward struggled badly last season. Having become used to sharing duties on the left flank with Marcus Rashford, his opportunities were limited following the January arrival of Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal.
Martial’s form and confidence tailed off, to the extent that he was left out of the France squad that won the World Cup in Russia this summer.
The player indicated during the close season, via his agent Philippe Lamboley, that he was ready to leave United, and while Mourinho was apparently willing to sell executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward rejected the idea.
This season initially looked as if it would be little better after Martial started just one of United’s opening six matches, but Sanchez’s failure to settle combined with the struggles of Romelu Lukaku in the centre-forward role have pushed Martial right back into the picture.
The Frenchman has been restored to his favoured position, on the left of the attack, where he is able to cut inside and create chances for others as well as scoring goals himself — five in eight starts so far.
Those goals have come at key times.
He scored the equaliser as United came back from two goals down to beat Newcastle in early October, struck twice in a 2-2 draw at Chelsea, and scored what turned out to be the winner as Everton were defeated 2-1 on Sunday.
Each goal was a reminder to his manager and teammates about what he can do when he is in the mood.
– Confidence –
“Anthony is a great player and he needs to understand that,” says United midfielder Nemanja Matic.
“He needs more confidence. He is still young and I think if he continues to score in the next game he will get that. If he reaches his top level he can be one of the best players in the league for sure.”
It is not just Martial’s teammates who are talking him up.
Former United captain Gary Neville, now a television pundit, said he was astonished to find that the forward’s statistics — in terms of goals and assists related to time on the pitch over the equivalent of a full season — were as good as Chelsea’s Eden Hazard’s.
Neville’s criticism was that Martial needed to improve his movement off the ball, as he covered less ground than any outfield player on either side who played the full 90 minutes on Sunday.
Yet Martial made four of the nine key United passes that led to a goal or a direct scoring chance.
“The quality is there, and the confidence is there now,” says Matic. “He just needs to be more consistent.”