By Tom Bodell, Football Whispers
Manchester United’s 2-0 win over Chelsea in April was a seminal moment for several reasons. Chiefly, it proved that United could not only cope without Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but thrive without their big Swedish forward.
However, the game was also notable for Anthony Martial’s absence. The Frenchman was left out of the squad altogether, even though Jose Mourinho opted to rest several key players with the Europa League his priority.
A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then. Yet the £57million striker still started United’s first two Premier League fixtures of the new campaign on the bench.
In both, Martial came off the bench to score in 4-0 routs. But why is he still being frozen out by Mourinho? Our friends at Football Whispers investigate.
Speaking after that 2-0 victory over Antonio Conte’s men, in which Marcus Rashford stole the show, Mourinho said: “We are together for almost ten months. The same way I know the players much better now, the players should know me much better. The same way I know what the players like, the players know what I like. The same way I have to go in the direction of the players, the players have to come in my direction.
“That’s the point. That’s why Marcus Rashford, even without scoring goals, even with being since September without a goal in the Premier League, was always a player I trusted, I played, I supported because he was always coming in my direction, in the direction I want from a player and what I want as a Manchester United player. He [Rashford] is about that.
“Do I think Anthony is a player with great potential? Yes, I think. Do I think he can play successfully for me? Yes I think. But he needs to give me things that I like.”
What Mourinho likes is no secret. The Portuguese is famed for building hard-working, organised, tactically disciplined sides. For that he needs malleable players who will bend to his will and sacrifice their own attacking flair for the team.
In his second spell at Chelsea, Mourinho reinvented Brazilian midfielder Oscar into an almost defensive No.10. Upon his returned, he turned Joe Cole into a better all-round team player while stifling some of the wideman’s creativity.
Mourinho is, afterall, someone who makes snap judgements and holds grudges. His mind was quickly made up on Romelu Lukaku and Kevin de Bruyne at Chelsea, selling both before they developed into household names. If you only get one chance to make a first impression in life, you only get half with the former Real Madrid boss.
Martial, evidently, is someone who did not make the right impression. According to Squawka, the Frenchman completed 20 defensive actions – clearances, blocked shots and interceptions – last season. Rashford managed the same number. But Henrikh Mkhitaryan was the leader for United’s wingers, managing 37, and Jesse Lingard was just behind on 27.
However, in terms of tackles the former Monaco fares well. He won 15 at a success rate of 42 per cent which puts him just behind Rashford (won 15 at 43 per cent). However, Mkhitaryan won the most with 17, but with just 27 per cent success.
Perhaps, then, it is about more than the tangibles we see on the field. The talk over the summer was that the 21-year-old would leave with Internazionale keen to include him in a deal for Manchester United transfer targetIvan Perisic.
But the Croatian winger looks set to sign a new contract with the Nerazzurri and speculation about a move to Old Trafford has cooled. Which could open the door for increased minutes for Martial.
Having only managed four Premier League goals in 25 appearances last term, 18 of them starts, Martial has made a bright start to this season with two impressive cameos.
Martial’s performances suggest he has a point to prove to Mourinho and the United boss found rare words of praise after the forward came off the bench to help put West Ham United to the sword.
“We had a conversation about his future here,” Mourinho said. “All positive. We’re using him well and he has the right attitude. His confidence is growing. Two periods, scoring two goals – it’s good for his confidence.
“His professional level has improved, he’s working much, much better,” he said. “That French language little group we have – [Marouane] Fellaini, Paul [Pogba], [Romelu] Lukaku – it’s a group he’s very well integrated with.
“Of course he wants to play, he wants to start, he wants to be selected for the national team and go to the World Cup. For me it’s simple: I can’t play in the Champions League, Premier League and cups with 11 players. I need a squad.”
That is Martial’s window of opportunity. With Lukaku the only senior No.9 at Old Trafford and United returning to the Champions League, minutes will be up for grabs. Now it is on Martial to follow in the footsteps of Rashford and seize his chance with both hands.