Following the departure of Romelu Lukaku in the summer, Manchester United opted to hand Anthony Martial the number nine shirt once more - the jersey he was initially given when he first joined the club.
The Frenchman began the 2019/20 campaign by scoring in the Red Devils' 4-0 victory over Chelsea on the opening weekend, before netting once more the following game.
However, having now played 28 matches in all competitions this season, Martial has scored 12 goals, while he has also provided five assists so far. Sure, it's not a bad return up to this point, but he has failed to consistently show that he can be the number nine United require, the goalscorer to propel them up the table.
The key word in that sentence, of course, being consistently.
The 24-year-old is undoubtedly an outstanding talent, with incredible skill and close ball control. He has the ability to create something out of nothing, with fans jumping out of the seats in excitement. In the same breath, Martial also has the ability to frustrate.
He occasionally appears uninterested and to that end, when his team are crying out for a focal point and someone in the attacking line to take charge and make a run or take a player on, Martial is often static. His lack of movement and desire to consistently step up and want to deliver is what is so frustrating about this hugely talented footballer.
While there are countless examples to reaffirm this point, one moment recently perfectly encapsulated just how lacklustre he can be at points. During United's recent Premier League game against Wolves at Old Trafford, new signing Bruno Fernandes, who showed fans exactly what he can bring to the team that day, looked up to play a cross into the box. However, he was forced to turn and play the ball sideways as Martial was on his heels.
Ok, fair enough, the attacker may not have been in the right position at that moment in time, but then the ball went on to Juan Mata, and then Fred, and then Andreas Pereira - all of whom wanted to find their number nine, but couldn't.
Overall, Martial played the full 90 minutes in that game and he failed to register a single shot on target, despite the fact that the Red Devils had 16 shots in total. That, in itself, is hugely alarming that the team had so many attempts on goal, yet the centre forward didn't have one.
After the game, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer alluded to the lack of movement, claiming that the team just wanted to play outside the box rather than making runs in behind. However, the boss refused to name names.
On average this season, the United forward has covered 9.1km per 90 minutes, as noted by Sky Sports. In comparison, the likes of Roberto Firmino, who has been praised for his work off the ball, has covered 2.1km more on average each game. To that end, he has also covered less ground on average each match this campaign than Willian, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Mohamed Salah and teammate Marcus Rashford among others.
Granted, Martial has played a lot of football recently, there's no denying that. Fatigue will have certainly started to kick in, the Premier League's winter break will have come at the perfect time for him. This will have allowed him to recharge his batteries, while he has also had the chance to link up and work with new recruit Fernandes while United were away on their warm weather training camp in Marbella.
Once again, let us not be mistaken, he is a hugely talented footballer, but the Red Devils need him to step up and deliver on a consistent basis, especially with Rashford out injured. He needs to become a presence, a focal point, someone who can hold the ball up and bring others into the game. Equally, however, he must utilise his strengths by committing defenders and making runs in behind, putting himself in a better position to score.
The forward ranks 25th in terms of touches out of every forward in the top flight in 2019/20. To put that into context, Joelinton of Newcastle ranks higher than him, while Steven Alzate of Brighton also does. To that end, he also ranks 22nd for shots in the league this campaign out of every forward.
This underlines the problem at hand. He must show the hunger and willingness to get into better shooting positions on a more frequent basis, or else, simply put, United will continue to struggle.
Despite Man Utd's sub-par performances this season, they are somehow still in contention to finish within the top four. Moreover, should local rivals Manchester City's Champions League ban remain in place, it is an added incentive to push on and climb up the table. However, in order to do that, Solskjaer will require his best players to step up.
First up after the winter break, the Red Devils travel to take on Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Monday evening.
Source : 90min