Erik ten Hag was unhappy with Manchester United’s defensive display against Cadiz, especially in the first half.
United conceded two goals in the opening 13 minutes on the way to a 4-2 defeat.
Goalkeeper Martin Dubravka had a game to forget, while United’s back four looked exactly like a defence featuring three players who have not started a competitive match this season.
There were positives from the game, and arguably the most significant for Manchester United’s season was Anthony Martial getting on the scoresheet.
Anthony Martial on the scoresheet
Anthony Martial showed intent from the moment he first got on the ball against Cadiz, firing a long-range effort which was saved by the goalkeeper.
For a player who has at times drawn criticism for his body language, Martial’s display told us all the right things.
Martial was keen to get on the ball as often as possible, dropping deep, drifting wide, and linking up well with his teammates.
The penalty he scored, he had a hand in creating, playing a one-two with 19-year-old midfielder Zidane Iqbal, who was fouled in the box.
Martial stepped up and nonchalantly scored a panenka, piling on the agony for the Spanish hosts, who had just watched Achraf Hakimi eliminate their country from the World Cup with Morocco in the same way.
The striker’s confidence was clear to see. It’s understandable why, too. The only thing which has held him back this season has been fitness, not his on-pitch output.
Martial scored three times in pre-season, and has scored four competitive goals – more than Cristiano Ronaldo managed in a fraction of the game time – plus two assists.
Getting on the scoresheet here continued his run, and this is crucial for Ten Hag. With very limited options up front, and Marcus Rashford still away at the World Cup, Manchester United need a fit, firing, confident Anthony Martial.
The challenge is getting him to the competitive games fully fit. Reinforcements may arrive up front in January, but United have three important fixtures left this calendar year, before the window opens.
Martial can be a streaky striker, who thrives when he’s confident and scoring. It was important he returned to action convincingly. In addition to getting through the game without any fitness issues, seeing him play well and score was just what was needed.
Forget the poor defending from the makeshift defence, Martial is United’s best option up front right now, and he delivered. That’s what mattered the most from Wednesday night’s display.