Ighalo Signing Could Put Martial’s Man Utd Future Under Threat


The Frenchman endured a torrid evening against Wolves and the profile of the new on-loan Nigerian striker threatens to expose his shortcomings

Anthony Martial should be concerned about his form following the arrival of Odion Ighalo on loan on deadline day.
Martial was one of Manchester United’s worst performers against Wolves on Saturday during their 0-0 Premier League draw. He was, admittedly, far from the only player to struggle.

The problems began for United in defence. Both Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof put in fairly competent performances. Luke Shaw appeared to have been given a man-marking role on Adama Traore, ordered to step in on the winger as soon as he had the ball. The left-back did a largely excellent job, harrying Traore until the moment he departed with an injury. Nevertheless, it prevented him from offering any width to the team when they attacked.

There was a similar problem on the right with Aaron Wan-Bissaka. While he was not detailed with specific marking duties, he offered little in attack either. The 22-year-old defender has already shown himself to be capable of defending as well as anyone in the league. Nevertheless, his biggest weaknesses are that he cannot attack or cross with the same quality and consistency as the best right-backs in the league.

These are handy excuses for Martial. He showed early on in the season that he is United’s most natural finisher in the box. But when Juan Mata and Daniel James are used as inverted wingers, it clogs up the middle. When Fred and Andreas Pereira are employed as deep-lying midfielders, there is no chance for United to send long balls into the channels for the French striker to chase.

The presence of Bruno Fernandes gave Martial someone he could play off. Fernandes struggled with Martial – and to be fair, others around him – barely moving. The staid nature of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s tactical approach means that when defences sit back at Old Trafford, United are unable to stretch defenders out of play.

For the most part, Martial has been given the chance to lead the line in the No.9 role this season. It should be his opportunity to demonstrate that he can make the difference when those around him fail to.

Against Wolves, he instead only made things worse. Save for a couple of occasions when he spun his marker and won free-kicks, he let the ball bounce off him when he had his back to goal. On the rare occasions when he stood up his opponent, he dithered so long they were able to intervene, or else he failed to find a colleague.

For now, Solskjaer seems convinced of Martial’s worth, saying after the Wolves match that: “He’s giving us everything.

“I think he’s started the last seven games in this month, and he’s running probably 20 per cent more than what he did when I came here.

“As a striker, if you don’t just get there in that split second, that’s a big, massive difference, and I’ve praised him, I’ve sat down with him and I’m delighted with him. I know that he’s tired, but he’s never ever – how do you say it… dodged a training session.

“He’s training, he’s available for every game. [I’m] delighted with the boy.”
Were this simply a blip, it could be forgiven. Unfortunately, Martial has turned such sluggish displays into a semi-regular occurrence.

He can be exceptional running at pace and at defenders. He is technically able and can be an inventive finisher. Perhaps everything needs to be just right for him to be at his best, and perhaps he needs his confidence improving. The problem is that United do not have the resources to make that happen. The rest of the team look to him to be the difference. If he can’t affect games with his skill, then it needs to be done with effort.

The arrival of Ighalo should highlight that shortcoming. Ighalo, too, tailed off in front of goal at Watford, and his last season in the Premier League was a disappointment. But generally he ran the channels, would make himself a target and an outlet. He would move bodies in order to allow his team-mates the room to operate in. Mata and Fernandes would be better served by such a player. It would not be a silver bullet, but it would be easy to highlight Martial’s shortcomings.

The likely and worrying prospect, though, is that Solskjaer persists with his first-choice striker, and continues to set up the side in a way which compounds his struggles. As much as Martial does not deserve his place for now, the same could be said about his manager.

Related Articles

Back to top button