Opinion: Martial’s return is key for Reds
Manchester United enjoyed a superb day in East Anglia on Sunday after defeating Norwich City 3-1, and coming away from the ground, it was difficult to suppress the hope that this result could be a huge one in the Reds’ season.
Elsewhere, the three points saw Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men catapult themselves up the table and United are now seventh, with a top-four placing very much in our sights.
Story of the match Gallery
Take a look at the best images after a wonderful afternoon for United in East Anglia.
Even against the Reds, Norwich showed signs of what a dangerous team they can be, with Todd Cantwell and half-time substitute Onel Hernandez, in particular, looking a threat.
Yet, despite the Canaries' spirited display, they were ultimately powerless to stop the free-flowing Reds.
Ole lined up with Daniel James on the right flank, Marcus Rashford on the opposite wing and Andreas Pereira in the no.10 role, all behind the impressive Anthony Martial.
His movement caused Norwich’s defence an endless headache and the 23-year-old showed his skill and composure with a brilliant dink over Tim Krul in the second half, which all but secured the win for United.
The significance of Martial’s return to the side really should not be underplayed. A statistic compiled by Statman Dave revealed that under Ole, the Reds’ win-percentage in the Premier League is 77% when Martial starts, compared to 29% without him in the starting XI.
With our no.9 in the team, United look more fluid, more direct and, to be blunt, more likely to score.
A lot has been made about our inability to find the back of the net more than once in games this season, bar the opener against Chelsea, but most sides in the division would struggle with their main striker on the sidelines.
We saw just over a week ago how much Mohamed Salah’s absence at Old Trafford appeared to affect Liverpool, and take Harry Kane from Tottenham Hotspur or Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang out of Arsenal's attack and it does often have an effect.
But with Martial back alongside Rashford and James, the Reds are a completely different animal. The raw pace and directness of the trio were devastating on Sunday, but they also combined superbly during the clash in Norfolk.
Ole was also similarly delighted with the impact of his attacking trio.
“I think it's going to improve and improve,” the boss said after the game.
“It's fantastic to have Anthony back. He's been missed for eight weeks and Dan and Marcus have done really well over the last two months, while he's been away.
“Loads of attacking play has been through them. They stretch teams so much, it creates space for people like Andreas [Pereira], I thought he was excellent today. The midfield can have more space and it continues, and the performance depends on the forwards.
Ole's post-match interviewVideo
“When they play like this, it creates more space for others. We're trying to improve that relationship [between Martial and Rashford] more and more. Sometimes, it's two up front. Sometimes, like today, three up front. I'm very pleased with the whole team,”he added.
Before the Reds opened the scoring in the 21st minute, Rashford and Martial had already teed each other up for shots on target and it was only the brilliance of Krul that denied United early on.
After going 1-0 up, James burst through the Norwich defence and was felled by Ben Godfrey to earn a penalty. Sadly, the Reds missed the spot-kick, but soon after the Welshman found Rashford with a superb pass and his effortless touch and finish pushed us further ahead.
Highlights: Norwich 1 United 3Video
Martial’s return also takes some of the goalscoring burden off Rashford and his role through the centre, with the England international cutting in from the left, suiting both players perfectly.
It has not been the easiest start to the season for Ole’s men, but with James, Rashford and Martial all fit and firing, suddenly things look much rosier again at Old Trafford ahead of a busy period of fixtures.
The opinions expressed in this article are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United.
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