Has Manchester United's Anthony Martial Become Too Predictable?


All the great footballers have a framework that guides their genius - a formula of winning movements, thoughts and a tactical philosophy that shapes the way they play the game.

Even artists like Zinedine Zidane, Michel Platini and Diego Maradona could be identified by such things as ball-striking technique, trademark pass angles or the trick that worked best when they needed one.

These were the actions that never stopped delivering for them and repeating success, as everyone knows, is forever to be indulged.

But what if a player's go-to moves are just not working? What if, like Manchester United's Anthony Martial, a formula is being stuck to that has little recent justification in success.

It's at that point that preparedness enters the realm of predictability and that's the accusation that has been leveled at Martial by some lately - that his play down United's left flank has become as fruitless as it is formulaic.

FBL-EUR-C1-MAN UTD-PSV : News Photo

It was only four-and-half months ago that Martial arrived at Old Trafford, billed as the uncut diamond who could deliver much-needed sparkle to Louis van Gaal's dull-as-a-spoon forward line (copyright Alan Rickman).

Much emphasis was put on Martial's raw credentials - the consensus being that terrifying acceleration matched with PlayStation touch, sharp finishing and a deep vat of rich untapped potential, would inevitably make of Martial the next Thierry Henry.

The early signs were strong. When Martial cut inside from the left and had Martin Skrtel on toast to score against Liverpool on his debut, there was good reason to be excited.

Finally United had a player who could beat a man (Van Gaal was denying the existence of Adnan Januzaj at that point). Martial's burst inside conjured memories of a teenage Ryan Giggs, or further back to to wing heroes who came before him like Jesper Olsen, Steve Coppell or George Best.

Arsenal's French player Thierry Henry, o : News Photo

Most of all we thought of Henry though, because nobody owned the cut-in-from-the-right finish like the Arsenal man did. This was further proof that Martial was to be United's answer to him.

Four months on, we might have expected Martial to be further established as a man to evoke fear into Premier League defenders up and down the country.

But it hasn't really happened. Martial has his had his moments - the brace he scored against Southampton, the odd blistering run here and goal there - but generally speaking he's been a slightly frustrating proposition as United's outlet who isn't really an outlet yet.

Against Liverpool last weekend he was once again pushed out to the left, with Wayne Rooney central. Stats show that Martial attempted to beat his man nine times at Anfield, succeeding five times and being dispossessed the other four.

That ratio is not the concern. The concern is that all of Martial's nine attempts were made cutting inside from the left, driving to his right. Not once did he go the other way. And the only chance he created was a shot taken from outside the box.

It was a similar story against Newcastle at St. James' Park, where Martial was this time stationed on the right flank. This time he only tried to go past a defender on five occasions, every time pushing towards the touchline to go in the same direction, to his right. Again, just the once chance was created.

During United's loss to Bournemouth in December, Martial tried 10 times to go past an opponent. All 10 attempts were cutting across in the very same direction, from left to right. The identical stat applies to United's game at Everton in October.

Manchester United FC v VfL Wolfsburg - UEFA Champions League : News Photo

This is not to say Martial never goes to his left, just that his overwhelming propensity seems to be towards his right - which means cutting inside at every opportunity when Van Gaal puts him on the left flank

Here's where things get really interesting though. When Martial does fancy going the other way, he seems to go all out in that direction instead.

This happened against Swansea, when he tried seven times to beat his man going left. And it happened against Norwich, when all three of his take-ons were also headed in that direction.

I'll leave it to the analysts to go into further detail on the whys and wherefores of this all-in approach, but watching on you sometimes wonder if Martial is being led in some fashion. Could it be that Van Gaal tells him to cut inside at every opportunity?

Whatever is prompting it, the anecdotal evidence suggests Martial needs to vary his plan of attack. Moments of excitement are guaranteed, but too many times of late the Frenchman has given away possession it his attempt to perform the spectacular, and he's not creating enough of note right now.

Might Martial cross the ball more from wide positions? When you consider he averages 0.3 crosses per game in the Premier League this season, the answer has to be yes. That being said, United need to have players who can keep pace with him to make that a viable proposition. 

Something needs to change to get Martial to the next level.

His staple approach is not producing enough fruit and defences are starting to wise up to his approach.

 

Read more from Will Tidey