It's Time to Appreciate Anthony Martial - Man Utd's Brilliant Number 9

Jul 11, 2020, 3:45 PM GMT+1
Anthony Martial, Kortney Hause
Anthony Martial has scored 15 Premier League goals this season | Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

For all the talk about Mason Greenwood since the restart - and yes, he is absolutely exceptional - the performances of fellow forward Anthony Martial have really caught the eye.

The Frenchman may not have scored against Aston Villa on Thursday evening, but it was the manner of his display that truly marked his new found importance to Manchester United.

Tyrone Mings, Anthony Martial
Martial fending off Tyrone Mings in the build up to United's second goal against Villa | Pool/Getty Images

The sight of the 24-year-old shrugging off Tyrone Mings in the build up to United's second goal was refreshing, as was his annoyance at being substituted without having added to his own tally.

It's exactly what manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been working towards.

No, not trying to irritate his first choice forwards, but to light a fire under them and make them hungry enough to score any half chance they might get. Martial could see that Villa were there for the taking and his number being held up meant an opportunity missed.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has slowly begun to turn the tide at Old Trafford | FRANCK FIFE/Getty Images

Top strikers are usually at their best having received confidence and faith, and that's something Martial's managers haven't always given him since arriving at Old Trafford. They were two factors seemingly lost once Martial was stripped of the famed number nine shirt after the arrival of Zlatan Ibrahimovic in 2016.

For the next two to three seasons, the Frenchman was a shell of the player that had arrived a year earlier, as José Mourinho sought to place him either on the left wing, demote him to the bench, or even attempt to push him out of the club in favour of signing Willian from Chelsea.

Yet the arrival of Solskjaer has reinvigorated Martial. The sale of big-money signing Romelu Lukaku last summer was the clearest indication of the manager's faith in his young forward line, and it was a chance for the likes of Martial and Marcus Rashford to really take the goalscoring mantle. Both have hit 20 for the season, so it's worked.

Romelu Lukaku somewhat struggled to win over his managers and the fans in his two-year spell
Romelu Lukaku somewhat struggled to win over his managers and the fans in his two-year spell | Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images

Making Martial the number nine again has done the trick too - it's a real symbol of belief. Since the start of this season he's looked a different prospect and has continued to pay back the trust given to him by his current manager - notching his first Manchester United hat-trick against Sheffield United a couple of weeks ago.

While you'd hope his performances don't simply rely upon a change in jersey, he is beginning to finally look like the player every United fan was hoping for when he tore past Martin Skrtel on his debut.

Since that debut Martial has shown frustratingly sporadic glimpses of his quality, yet his 15 Premier League goals this season is a real marker of consistency and hopefully a taster of what's to come in the next few years.

As the focal point of United's mouthwatering front three, Martial is now beginning to show signs of a player worthy of carrying the burden of being the club's centre forward. He seems to relish the battle to retain possession and looks a real menace with his back to goal, but he's also getting into the areas to finish off chances - something Solskjaer has called on him to improve time and again.

The real question now is whether he can retain his position in the long run.

The current trio of Rashford, Martial and Greenwood may be working at present, but with rumours continuing to circulate regarding a move for Jadon Sancho, it's only going to increase competition next term and make none of the three a guaranteed starter. Greenwood will then become more of a direct threat to Martial's role, particularly given the younger man's unrivalled finishing prowess.

If he continues this fine form, however, his manager would have to be a brave - and foolish - man to leave him out. With the talent Martial possesses, he has the potential to dominate the Premier League for years to come.

He just needs to continue to add the odd 'scabby' goal or two to his bank of worldies, and he really will be complete.