Since a damaging 1-0 defeat to Newcastle United at the beginning of October, Manchester United have staged a mini recovery. They have won five of their last seven matches in all competitions, with one of those two winless games being a creditable 1-1 draw with league leaders Liverpool.
There is still a long way to go for United to get to where they want to be under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer but, after a terrible first couple of months of the season, there are finally some positives coming out of his young and experienced side. Youngsters Scott McTominay and Daniel James are growing with the extra responsibility, while Marcus Rashford is finding his best form again and Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Harry Maguire have proven to be astute summer signings.
Return of Anthony Martial Provides Boost for Manchester United
The Key to Improvement
Yet, it is the return of Anthony Martial that is proving to be the key behind United’s improved recent form. The Frenchman has three goals and two assists in those seven matches and it is no coincidence that United’s attacking play, so lacklustre previously, has improved dramatically with his reintroduction into the side.
In the 3-1 victory at Norwich City, Martial and Rashford proved a lethal combination. Their partnership was key in the build-up to the former Monaco man’s goal as a display of pace, skill and quality in front of goal gave United fans reason to be excited again. The pair racked up 16 touches in the opposition box, ten shots, attempted eight shots on target and completed five take-ons as United scored more goals at Carrow Road than they had managed on all their previous away matches combined this season.
In the 3-0 win over Partizan Belgrade, Martial showed how he can spark United’s attacking play into life with a brilliant solo goal, while the 3-1 victory over Brighton & Hove Albion in the league saw the 23-year-old proving to be a constant threat throughout. After teeing up Andreas Pereira for the opening goal, Martial grabbed another assist for Rashford with a calm pass following a break in behind the away side’s defence. It’s not just Martial’s goal contributions that are impressive either – no United forward is averaging more than his 4.2 dribbles per game this season.
“Anthony is a vital player for us,” Solskjaer told reporters after the 3-0 win over Partizan Belgrade. “He has different attributes from Marcus, Dan [James], Jesse [Lingard], Mason [Greenwood]. For us, he’s probably the one player that you can see hold the ball up more and you’ve got players making runs in behind.
“Anthony has been missed in training as well because when he’s in a good mood it affects other people,” Solskjaer told reporters at his pre-match press conference. This season he has been in a very good mood when he’s been with us and it was hard for him to be out. He was working hard, maybe too hard, early on – that’s what made him redo his injury. It’s good to have him back.”
During Martial’s spell on the sidelines, United became heavily dependent on Rashford to deliver as a striker but the 22-year-old ran into a bad run of form, resulting in United scoring just three goals in five league games. With the French forward now back, Rashford has adopted a wide berth, relieving the heavy responsibility off his shoulders, with Martial taking up the striker position. Since then, United have looked a more potent threat up front.
Admittedly, United’s run has seen them face weaker opposition and there will almost certainly be a reluctance to get too carried away. Sterner tests await, with the attacking trio of Martial, Rashford and James still young and having a long way to go to prove their credentials as a genuine attacking force against some of the best defences.
But the reality is that United needed a lift. The decision to sell proven goalscorer Romelu Lukaku and not replace him resulted in heavy criticism of the board and their plans for the squad. However, the return of Martial has brought new energy to United’s attack when it needed it most and the combination of Anthony Martial, Rashford and James looks to be one that United can persevere with going forward.