Friendly rivalry driving Martial forward
Manchester United’s in-house friendly rivalry could be the ignition that fires our UEFA Europa League challenge in Cologne.
And a rejuvenated Anthony Martial can be the attacking force to inspire the Reds, after playing a bit-part role in our 2017 triumph in Stockholm.
United face FC Copenhagen in the quarter-finals on Monday in Cologne, with further semi-final and final dates in the cathedral city hopefully still to come.
Our French striker mainly watched from the sidelines during the latter stages of United’s successful Europa League campaign under Jose Mourinho. He started the February last-16 home leg against St Etienne and was then a substitute in all the following knockout games right up to the final, where he played the last six minutes - replacing Marcus Rashford - as goals from Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Paul Pogba secured the win over Ajax.
Three years on, Martial and Rashford are United's main men, having struck up a formidable spearhead.
Mason Greenwood has also joined the fun and games to give manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer an increasingly envied and admired front line.
The trio are battling for individual supremacy in the scoring stakes in a healthy tussle that has backed up United’s charge to a third-place finish in the Premier League and the coveted Champions League ticket for next season.
With a 5-0 cushion from the first leg against LASK, the boss was able to allow his front three a night off for the return at Old Trafford on Wednesday; that was until Martial begged Solskjaer to let him get his teeth into the Austrians. The 24-year-old even promised Ole a goal with the match at 1-1.
Naturally, he delivered.
Martial’s 87th minute winner, to secure a 7-1 aggregate success, takes the Reds to Cologne on a high.
Anthony scored seven goals after the restart and his cool strike against LASK has taken his season total in all competitions to 23, edging him in front of Rashford who is on 22. With Greenwood backing up with 17 goals of his own it is a prolific unit providing the thrust for Solskjaer’s side.
The boss has praised Martial's increased workrate and spot-on attitude, which is certainly reaping the benefits: the 24-year-old has now scored as many times this campaign as he did in the whole of 2017/18 and 2018/19.
Martial’s goal in our last match of the season in M16 also pitches him into another three-way battle to be top dog in the scoring stakes in the Europa League.
The Frenchman now has four goals in the tournament, one behind Greenwood, with Bruno Fernandes leading the way on six (although five were for former club Sporting) - no other player in the competition has more than the Portuguese playmaker.
If Martial or Greenwood can forge ahead in Germany in the coming weeks then one of them could be the first Manchester United player to top a European goalscorer list since Cristiano Ronaldo bagged eight in our successful 2007-08 Champions League season.
It would be the icing on an impressively baked cake for Martial if he could take that honour in the RheinEnergie Stadion on 21 August, almost five years since he made the switch to Old Trafford.
The opinions in this story are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United Football Club.