Anthony Martial's hold-up play must improve if he wants to spearhead attack

Anthony Martial has been handed the responsibility of being Manchester United’s main striker this season.

And his return to action, allowing Marcus Rashford to return to the wing, has improved Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s attack on the whole.

But in away matches against Bournemouth and Sheffield United, Martial’s hold up play has been found severely lacking.

That’s something he has to swiftly improve on if he wants to prove he is good enough to spearhead the frontline for a team of Manchester United’s ambitions.

What’s been going wrong?

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Martial has long been hit with accusations that he is not consistently motivated enough and Jose Mourinho wanted to sell him.

At the Vitality Stadium and yesterday at Bramall Lane, Martial simply wasn’t pumped up enough to protect the ball from physical defenders.

It was embarrassingly easy for the likes of Nathan Ake and Phil Jagielka to brush past the Frenchman and win the ball when United are looking to build attacks.

Being a frontman doesn’t just mean more opportunities to score. Martial must provide a focal point for his side to build attacks, protecting the ball and keeping it simple at times.

But at present, he just doesn’t seem motivated enough to do the basics of shielding the ball in the way elite frontmen do. That must change – fast.

Solskjaer might have got it wrong

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United’s official website quoted Solskjaer earlier this month saying of Martial: “Anthony is a vital player for us. He has different attributes. For us, he’s probably the one player that you can see hold the ball up more and you’ve got players making runs in behind.”

So Solskjaer is clearly looking for the Frenchman to bring his team-mates into play, but he didn’t do it well enough at Bramall Lane.

The manager needs his number nine to step up, or it will be tricky for United to improve their record in tough away matches until a new arrival comes through the door at Old Trafford.

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Sam Preston is an NCTJ gold standard news and sports journalist who studied with the Press Association. He also has a 2:1 law with French law degree from the University of Birmingham, which included a year studying at Bordeaux Montaigne University. He is an FA Level 1 football coach who appeared on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire show in 2018 and has also written digital football content and match-day programme pieces for Colchester United, Mansfield Town and Stockport County.