This season has already at this early stage been a mixed bag for Manchester United and manager Jose Mourinho. So much talk and hype surrounded the world record breaking transfer of Paul Pogba and the arrival of Swedish icon Zlatan Ibrahimovic it is can be hard to remember the talent that was already within the ranks of Old Trafford. Last season’s campaign was not a memorable one for the club or the fans but there were some plus points, notably the emergence of the supremely talented Marcus Rashford and the arrival of the young Frenchman Anthony Martial.
Martial lifted the mood in so many matches for the Manchester giants last season, his pace and directness being the catalyst to win games or save results for the team, often getting the fans up on their feet almost expecting something to happen every time he had the ball. Then the move to play the Frenchman on the left hand side looks to have really haltered the progress of Martial. After playing a bit part during the summer for runners-up France in the European Championships this season was an opportunity for Martial to really emerge and cement his place in the Manchester United first team. However at this stage of the season it looks worrying times ahead for Martial and how he fits into this Manchester United team. Martial has started the season poorly to say the least, he has had his problems off the pitch but this is not an excuse for a player of his wide range of ability. What can be used as an excuse in defence of frontman is the fact that he is a striker, and yes he can play on the left and cut in but from the teams of the past that Mourinho has managed, he expects his wide men to do a job both defensively and in the final third, a role that is just not structured in the game of Martial.
Right now there are massive question marks over the tactics and the personnel selected by Jose Mourinho. Looking in at this early stage the big problem is yet again Wayne Rooney and how to get the best out of the England captain, which right now looks like it just won’t happen. The constant inclusion of Rooney in that number ten position is affecting the role of Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Marcus Rashford, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and most evidently Anthony Martial. Martial needs to lead the line for the team, whether it is with Ibrahimovic playing off him or someone else, but not Rooney. With the pace Martial possesses and his composure in front of goal ideally Manchester United needs to play with a quicker tempo in the final third and play more directly, in terms of turning over defence into attack. With Martial able to play on the shoulder of defenders playing someone as intelligent as Mkhitaryan just behind Martial would be the ideal solution in terms of adding more excitement to their play. After a strong start Mourinho’s men looked to be in decent shape but there were always still questions being asked about certain roles of players. Can Pogba play as part of that two man midfield in front of a back four, the answer is no. Can Ibrahimovic and Rooney work as the front two, again the answer is no. Will Daley Blind come out of the back two and play in his more natural position in a holding midfield, yet again the answer is no. Looking at some players in opening few games of the new campaign it hasn’t looked overly positive for the Manchester United fans especially when across the city neighbours Manchester City have hit the ground running under the management of Pep Guardiola. Martial is perhaps the player who looks the like the most unhappy in the current situation he is in at the club however the same could be said when watching Matteo Darmian playing against Feyenoord, then there is Daley Blind at times so far this season and Juan Mata who has had very public previous issues with Jose Mourinho.
The biggest decision Mourinho might have to make is dropping Wayne Rooney from this team, is trying to find his form more important than sacrificing the form of four or five other players? From here Mourinho must then decide how to get the best back out of his players, and Martial in particular. The publicised number change couldn’t have been a big issue for the young man but certainly his role on the pitch must be. If Martial is continually substituted or dropped then certainly he would have to consider his future at Old Trafford. He is still only twenty but with the potential and ability he has the player needs to be playing and for me preferably leading the line for someone. I thought Arsenal could have tested the water with a cheeky bid to take him to the Emirates at the closing stages of the transfer window in their hunt for a world class striker, but there would certainly not be a shortage of options if Martial did feel it was time to call time on what has been a difficult six to eight months or so on the pitch. Reading reports that Martial looks tired and sluggish under the management of Mourinho is perhaps true but it has to said through no fault of his own, fourteen games for club and country without scoring a goal will chip away at any player, let alone a striker or a number ten who looks frustrated in every game he plays shunted out on that left hand side.