There has been surprisingly little debate about the starting position of Anthony Martial in the Manchester United side.

The Frenchman is yet to score in the Premier League this season. Edinson Cavani sits on the bench, Marcus Rashford is playing out wide and Mason Greenwood has been involved little.

Martial’s goalless performance against West Brom on Saturday night was indicative of much of his play this season. Having played as a left-winger under Jose Mourinho, he’s still learning his trade as a number nine. It’s clear to see, as one United fan pointed out on Twitter after the game.

Lack of Martial movement means United cannot break teams down

It’s Martial’s movement, or lack thereof, that is so concerning. As a striker, he is regularly looking to take the ball to feet. It’s no surprise. That’s how he played as a left forward, taking the ball to feet and driving at his man.

The space and opportunities to do the same in central areas just isn’t there. And so Martial’s eagerness to receive the ball at his feet is harming United.

Take the above example, Martial wants the ball to feet from Rashford. The better run, though, as pointed out in the tweet, would be across the box. That run would have opened up space for Rashford, perhaps to get a drilled shot away.

 

It’s not to say that Martial is not United’s best option as the central striker. He may well be. He still has the highest non-penalty xG of any player in the United team except Cavani, who’s limited minutes (86 minutes in the league) make that sample too small to make a judgement from.

Nevertheless, it’s clear improvement is needed. No goals or assists in five games isn’t good enough from United’s main striker.

Diagram of Anthony Martial loss of possession in Manchester United game in Premier League against West Brom, West Bromwich Albion
Martial’s loss of possession points vs West Brom (via WhoScored) – three of them are on the halfway line. Martial is always going to lose the ball a few times such is the nature of his game, but when he does it needs to be near or in the box, not near United’s own half.

West Brom stayed compact thanks to Martial

Martial is not a true number nine who makes those runs off the shoulder of the defender. But in this United system, where there often seems to be a lack of practised ‘patterns’ of play from the training ground, he needs to be. United need him to move constantly to stretch defences.

Instead, he allows defences like West Brom’s to stay compact, relatively unchallenged by a striker who wants the ball to feet and only makes runs off the shoulder very occasionally.

Solskjaer must fix problems or make changes

Solskjaer has a responsibility to fix this. This should be his speciality, advising strikers on how to improve their game.

If Martial continues to play like this, United will have many more games against low defences which they simply cannot break down. Solskjaer has to offer him an ultimatum; make those runs or sit on the bench.

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