Of all 20 teams in the Premier League this season, the fortunes of Manchester United may be hardest to predict.
Years of underachievement have resulted in Erik ten Hag’s appointment, with all quarters accepting a huge rebuilding job is required.
While the transfer window has been quieter than most United fans would’ve hoped, it does give existing players a chance to prove themselves under the new man, and it’s a chance Anthony Martial appears to have grabbed with both hands.
Although it would be unwise to read too much into pre-season friendlies, Martial has shown signs of getting back to his best, becoming the first United player to score in three consecutive friendlies since 2007.
After bursting onto the scene as a 19-year-old with that goal against Liverpool, Martial went on to score 11 goals in an impressive debut season, all the while playing under the ultra-cautious Louis van Gaal.
Since then, he’s worked under Jose Mourinho, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and very briefly, Ralf Rangnick, and only during the Covid-interrupted 2019/20 season did United fans start to see the player they thought they’d signed in 2015.
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After Van Gaal’s exit, United hired Mourinho, where Martial’s struggles in a red shirt really began. With the signing of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and the rise to prominence of Marcus Rashford, Martial was more of a bit-part player, starting just 18 games in consecutive seasons, scoring four and nine goals.
Mourinho and Martial didn’t have the warmest of relationships; the Portuguese suggested Martial didn’t have the character to fulfil his potential, later suggesting his poor work rate was why he’d be better suited as a centre-forward than a left-winger.
But the Frenchman would find a new lease of life under Solskjaer, particularly after the mid-season break in 2020. In the last nine games of the season, Martial would score six goals and lay on four assists as United secured a top-four place on the final day.
It seemed Martial had finally arrived, but an inconsistent season followed, with Martial in and out of the team through suspension and injury, flitting between playing up top and out wide, with a lengthy knee injury curtailing his season.
He was unable to recapture his best form, and with interim manager Rangnick deeming him surplus to requirements, he was sent on loan to Sevilla, which was equally fruitless; in nearly 500 La Liga minutes, Martial failed to find the net once, and the Spanish side declined to make the move permanent.
United fans were keen to see how Erik ten Hag would utilise Martial, and whether he even had a future at the club; Martial’s work rate has often been found wanting, and Ten Hag is unlikely to allow any passengers in his side, but if pre-season is anything to go by, Martial may have found a new lease of life under the Dutchman.
In a post-match interview, Ten Hag replied with an unwavering “of course” when asked if he could return Martial to his 2020 peak, and reports suggest Martial his certainly hitting those levels in training.
With United not in the market for another striker, and Cristiano Ronaldo’s future still uncertain, it may be the perfect opportunity for Martial to finally realise his potential.
Martial Total Premier League Goals:
10 or more - 4/5
15 or more - 10/1
Click here for Anthony Martial's Total Premier League Goals
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