Anthony Martial celebrates a goal with Bruno Fernandes

How Martial is thriving back at no.9

Saturday 02 May 2020 11:00

Anthony Martial’s reinstatement as Manchester United’s no. 9 back in the summer felt like a real moment.

It preempted the fact that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was looking to build a front line that got the best out of Martial and Marcus Rashford; with the Norwegian ultimately deploying Rashford as an inside-forward from the left and playing Martial through the middle for the majority of this 2019/20 season.

It’s safe to say that the Frenchman has thrived this season - averaging a goal or assist every 115 minutes across the Premier League, Emirates FA Cup and Europa League so far this term. 

All of Anthony Martial's goals for the Reds this season.
Having established himself at centre-forward in Solskjaer’s 4-2-3-1 formation, Martial has enjoyed the best non-penalty goal return of his career to date and - more than ever - his underlying numbers really paint a picture of him as a fully fledged centre-forward. He is taking more shots (2.9) and, specifically, more shots from inside the box (1.9) p90 (per 90 minutes) than he ever has in the Premier League before.

The stats suggest that the France international is more eager to shoot when inside the box than before, as he has averaged a shot every 4.7 penalty-area touches compared to every 7.6 last season - for example.

What’s even more impressive, though, is that he is still converting chances more efficiently than xG (the expected-goals statistic) would expect him to, despite that significant uptick in shot volume. Anthony had always finished at a better rate than the maths would project - but the fact that, this season, he has managed to increase the volume of his shots whilst maintaining that level of efficiency is really impressive and bodes well for the future.

When shooting from inside the penalty area in the league this season, Martial has scored (11) more often than he has missed the target (8).

We’ve also seen something of an evolution of Anthony Martial the footballer as well as the goalscorer this season. The 24-year-old has completed 63 per cent of his attempted take-ons in the Premier League this term - which is particularly impressive when you consider the kind of high-pressure areas that he usually carries the ball in.

For context, his success-rate was 54 per cent in 2018/19. There’s no trade-off in volume, either, with his attempted take-ons rising slightly from 3.17 to 3.59 p90 (per 90 minutes). There’s plenty of purpose behind his carrying of the ball, too, which is evidenced by the fact that he has already taken more shots after beating a man this season (9) than he did in 2018/19 (7) or 2017/18 (8).

There has also been a sizable increase in the work that the former Monaco man has done off the ball since the start of the season. Solskjaer has made clear his desire for the Reds to be an aggressive, high-pressing side and these numbers are a really positive sign that Martial, in particular, is adapting well to the boss’s style.

On average, he pressured an opposition player in possession of the ball around four times p90 (per 90 minutes) in the Premier League last season.

Relive the glory of Anthony's most recent goal - over and over again.

This campaign, that has dramatically increased to around nine presses. That is obviously a huge uptick and really goes some way to highlighting how much extra defensive work the Frenchman is undertaking under the Norwegian. The success-rate of those pressures has also jumped from 25% to 29%, suggesting that Martial is not only pressing more but he is also doing it in better situations and more effectively than ever before.

To summarise, then, 2019/20 has seen the fans' favourite prove just how well-suited he is to lead the line for Solskjaer’s Manchester United. The French forward has started shooting more often but managed to maintain his unbelievable efficiency.

He has also carried the ball impressively, and with purpose, as well as adapting to the manager’s pressing style to great effect. The most exciting thing about the club’s current forward line is that they’re all very young and - while they’re producing now - they have plenty of room to grow together.

As one of the older members of that contingent at 24, Anthony Martial is developing into the ideal striker to lead the line.

Statman Dave is a regular guest on MUTV, offering detailed analysis on the United matches.

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