When the relatively unknown Anthony Martial signed for Manchester United in a deal worth up to £58million in 2015, there was plenty of fanfare about what was to potentially come from the young French forward.
Largely he has struggled to live up to expectations at Old Trafford, but just last season Martial showed signs that the club were finally starting to see the best of him.
Martial enjoyed his most prolific time in front of goal, scoring 23 goals and producing nine assists in all competitions as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side became ‘nearly men’, reaching the FA Cup and Europa League semi-finals.
Anthony Martial was dropped to the bench against Chelsea following a poor season in attack
The striker has scored just seven times in 33 appearances across all competitions this term
But Martial was finally forming a formidable front line with Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood. Fast forward to the present day, however, and it appears he is back at square one.
The 25-year-old was dropped for United’s crunch clash at Chelsea in the Premier League last Sunday, and with the visitors looking rather toothless in front of goal he was still only brought on with just over 10 minutes remaining.
It signified his sudden fall, and after the final whistle Roy Keane and Graeme Souness were quick to question the undoubtedly talented striker’s commitment.
‘I’m not surprised you leave him out,’ Souness told Sky Sports. ‘I think he’s a young man with talent to succeed at the highest level… but will he be disappointed he’s not playing today?
‘Does he ever show he’s got a real passion for the game? Does he ever play, get emotional about the game? I’ve never seen it.
‘He’s one of those players who’s going to end up looking back at his career and thinking he could have done so much more. I’m a fan but I’m not a fan.’
Roy Keane (left) and Graeme Souness (right) agreed that Martial lacks passion for football
Fellow pundit and ex-United captain Keane offered similar concerns saying that Martial ‘doesn’t look like he loves that game. That’s always a worry.’
And the majority of United fans certainly wouldn’t argue against the Sky Sports pundits’ point of view.
Martial has shown years of promise but has failed to push on and show his cutting edge following his most fruitful campaign last term, much to the frustration of those at Old Trafford.
In 33 appearances both domestically and in Europe this season, Martial has only found the net seven times (just four in the Premier League) and that is far too low for a side that want to win the biggest trophies of all.
On the assists front, he only has five currently while his overall shots per match are down from 2.29 last season to just 1.85 this campaign.
And he appears to be lacking that decisiveness too this season – making only 1.15 penalty area entries per game compared to 1.71 during the 2019-2020 campaign.
He isn’t doing enough from an attacking point of view, especially when you compare his productivity to Manchester City’s star-studded frontline, which are helping their side storm to a third Premier League title in four seasons.
Furthermore, the arrival of experienced Uruguayan striker Edinson Cavani has further highlighted where it is all going wrong for Martial.
Martial has endured a drop off in front of goal this season while his overall work-rate has fallen (stats courtesy of sofascore.com)
Solskjaer wants a free-flowing attack and one that terrorises opposition defences thanks to their quick movement but Martial doesn’t offer this compared to Cavani, alongside the likes of Rashford and Greenwood.
Cavani provides that much-needed attacking instinct, and is often in the right place at the right time to punish lapse defending while finding pockets of space to capitalise, whereas Martial is far too often one step off the pace.
And in a defensive sense, Cavani provides that determination and winning mentality to keep United on the front foot.
Former United right back turned Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville recently hailed Cavani’s work-rate and provided an insight into how he stands out compared to Martial.
When speaking about his initial question marks over Cavani’s arrival, Neville said: ‘I have to say he’s been a revelation. His attitude, which is the only real question about him because his quality is fantastic, is spot on. His out-of-possession work is far better than Martial, Rashford and Greenwood.
‘They’ve got a lot to learn those young players in terms of how he operates when Manchester United haven’t got the ball and I think ultimately, those young three I’ve named, haven’t grabbed that No 9 spot.
‘He’s come in, off the bench to start with, then you see his movement when he’s started playing, they look more physical up front when he’s there and he’s done brilliantly for United in this last month or so.’
Martial enjoyed his most prolific season in front of goal last season for Manchester United
And the stats this season show that Martial is lacking that work-rate and commitment needed for him to kick on in Manchester.
The Frenchman’s total duels per match are down by over one this season while he is winning possession in the final third less frequently now (0.33 per game) and making less tackles (0.15 each fixture).
One particular moment highlighting Martial’s lack of perceived effort from a defensive point of view is still fresh in the minds.
The Frenchman came in for immense criticism for his role in basement boys Sheffield United’s winner at Old Trafford at the end of January in what has proved a costly defeat for the Red Devils in the title race.
After losing the ball just inside the Blades’ half, instead of sprinting back Martial jogged as the visitors went on the attack. After Sheffield United eventually conceded the ball, it appeared Solskjaer’s men had escaped the danger but awful defending from the hosts allowed Chris Wilder’s side to win it back.
The signing of Edinson Cavani has highlighted the Frenchman’s troubles at Old Trafford
But Martial still appeared to be sleep-walking on the edge of the box and failed to provide any sort of defence, before Oliver Burke eventually punished United.
It really was costly, and if United are to have any success, that sort of attitude needs to be cut out immediately.
Much of United’s illustrious success under legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson was down to their never-say-die attitude and win-at-all-costs mentality.
From attack to defence, United had that champions’ mentality but unfortunately the current crop, and in particular Martial, just don’t quite cut it.
Martial may be brilliant in front of goal, but his failure to influence the game as a whole – both in the attacking build-up and defence – looks set to serve as a detriment to his Red Devils career.
And if Martial doesn’t act on this soon enough, he may well find himself on the bench for weeks to come – which could subsequently spell the end of his time at United – as we approach the business end of the season.
Martial has had his commitment and work-rate questioned by both pundits and supporters