Making a case: Should Anthony Martial Be Played As A Number Nine?

Manchester United have been in a rebuilding process throughout much of the four years since legendary boss Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement. One position has proven difficult to fill following Robin van Persie’s departure in 2015 under Louis van Gaal, and that’s up front. But who is Jose Mourinho’s best finisher at Manchester United and who should play the role?

Over the last season and a bit, it would seem many prays were answered when the self-immortalised presence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic made waves in Manchester. True to his own word, 28 goals in 46 appearances carried United to Europa League and FA Cup double success in their first season under Jose Mourinho. However, injury struck the big Swede, side-lining the striker until the end of 2017 after knee ligament damage in an April Europa League tie against Anderlecht.

With Romelu Lukaku now filling the Zlatan sized void – the big man recovering from knee ligament damage – the Belgium looks to repeat the Swedes 2016/17 feat and lead United onto success in the Champions league. But throughout all of this ‘targetman’ striker focus there has been one young man, watching from the shadows as these players establish themselves as the Red Devils number nines. That is, 21-year-old French forward Anthony Martial.

Heading a Different Way

Having ripped up Ligue 1, much like successor Kylian Mbappe has repeated history – £166 million later, plying his trade at French giants PSG – Martial was one of, if not the top attacking talent world football had to offer before his £36 million Manchester arrival in 2015. The Frenchman has created a number glittering moments during his time in England, displaying fleeting glimpses of his potential only to stutter in an effort to stamp his mark on the English top division. It is sad to see one French youngster in Mbappe moving on so rapidly and fulfilling his full potential, developing in leaps and bounds while Martial, who should be on a similar path, struggles to find his way. Contrasting fortunes for the compatriots.

The biggest reason the forward struggles in Mourinho’s team is because he does not get played where he should be. The 21-year-old often finds himself cutting in off the left-wing to attack goal in the Premier League, often from the sub bench too. Martial plied his trade with finesse and composer beyond his years at Monaco, this talent still very visible in the brief time he’s spotted in a United shirt. But his cutting edge, flair-filled playing style that has defenders stumbling over themselves comes into its own when utilised up front in the central attacker’s role.

 

The Solution

Quite simply, and as controversial as it sounds, Martial could and should be played as a sole striker ahead of the likes of Lukaku at United, despite his own £75 million price tag. The French forward’s technical ability is second to none in this United side when it comes to the final third. He possesses a better natural technique when it comes to finishing for Mourinho’s side when compared to the direct, hard-hitting power of Lukaku. He is stripped of the ability to be at his best, making defenders look stupid and scoring a hat full of goals when he is marooned out wide away from goal. But as this issue stands, the Red Devils have a deep pool of attacking talent at their disposal and it is sad to see that the French forward loses out to ‘bigger names’ despite a natural talent for the game that surpasses Lukaku’s.

He is stripped of the ability to be at his best, making defenders look stupid and scoring a hat full of goals when he is marooned out wide away from goal. But as this issue stands, the Red Devils have a deep pool of attacking talent at their disposal and it is sad to see that the French forward loses out to ‘bigger names’ despite a natural talent for the game that surpasses Lukaku’s.

But with Mourinho, a manager who is famously stubborn and set in his ways, will likely never feature his sides best finisher where he should be positioned. The realistic option, should Martial want to push on with his career development and become one of the world’s premier forwards would be to leave Manchester to pursue first-team opportunities elsewhere.

With things continuing as frustratingly as they are for the youngster at United he may very well look for the exit door beyond this current campaign, and if he does, a message for any manager that would sign him please – for god’s sake play him in the centre.