Anthony Martial’s ability to change a game is key for Manchester United

Credit: @SkyFootball
Credit: @SkyFootball /

The Frenchman starred for Manchester United against Swansea City, illustrating how he can change a game in an instant.

Anthony Martial’s performance for Manchester United in the 2-1 win vs. Swansea City evidenced the point that he’s currently the one player in the squad who is capable of conjuring up game-changing moments.

The Frenchman flitted in and out of the match in the first half. For a team desperately needing a goal and a win on the day, it was odd that United’s best attacker lined up as a left-wing-back in a 3-4-2-1 formation. Although he had the freedom to launch attacks down the left flank, he also had added defensive responsibilities in that role, which forced to him to play deeper at times.

In the second half, however, Martial appeared to play further up the pitch and in a narrower position. That subtle switch enabled him to get into the box more and open the scoring with a brilliant header shortly after the break.

It was a goal that made Martial outright top scorer for United in the Premier League this season – an impressive feat for a 20-year-old, even if a total of five is awfully low for a club of such size and stature midway through the season.

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Martial’s second game-changing moment came after Swansea equalised on one of their rare forays into United’s penalty area. With the game locked at 1-1, Martial gathered the ball on the left, effortlessly coasted past Federico Fernandez before playing a pinpoint cross into Wayne Rooney’s path for the winning goal.

In scoring a goal and picking up an assist, Martial came up with two flashes of genuine brilliance. It’s been a forgetful season thus far for United, but he has provided some memorable moments.

Whether it was his solo goal against Liverpool, his cool brace against Southampton or his well-taken header against CSKA Moscow, the Frenchman has registered more individual contributions than any other United player this season.

His pace, power and directness – qualities that are lacking in the current United squad – ensure that he can pose a threat even when the team is not playing well. On an individual level, despite having a few quiet performances in the last couple of months, it’s difficult to pinpoint a genuinely bad or disappointing display from the forward this season.

Yet that is not to depict him as an individualist, as a selfish player who plays for himself. Instead, Martial has rejuvenated United’s attack on a number of occasions in the first four months of the campaign.

He injected real pace into United’s play in his first month at the club, tormented Seamus Coleman on the wing in United’s best match of the season so far against Everton and came closest to breaking the deadlock in the Manchester derby when his excellent chipped pass was flicked onto the crossbar by Jesse Lingard.

So, while Martial deserves great acclaim for his individual performances this season, it’s noteworthy that he’s also been a creative outlet and improved the team’s general play. It’s a frightening thought, but United would have endured a thoroughly miserable season had it not been for Martial’s signing late in the summer.

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The young Frenchman has just about made United watchable this season, even when those around him have floundered under the restrictive and sterile style of football that Louis van Gaal encourages.

Martial, in contrast to some of his team-mates, seems free and unshackled. Whether it’s been as a No. 9 or as a left-winger, he has been the focal point of the team. It’s therefore worrying and exciting in equal measure that United’s attacking fortunes appear to hinge on the form of a man only months out of his teenage years.

Paradoxically, it reflects how poor the club’s recruitment has been in recent years that someone so young and inexperienced is leading the line for one of the world’s biggest teams. At the same time, however, it suggests they have found a real star.

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In Martial, United have a player who could genuinely develop into one of the finest talents of his generation.

As his performance against Swansea illustrated, Martial is more than good enough to be a part of United’s present. It’s encouraging to think that he could also shape the club’s future.