The last day of the transfer window saw Manchester United surprise everyone with the signing of Monaco’s teenager Anthony Martial. A lot of debate has gone into whether he deserves the £36m fee that makes him the most expensive teenager in the history of the game and whether he will be more than just a substitute to Wayne Rooney.
Martial is a versatile forward that can play in most advanced positions. He can play as a lone striker, in a forward two, just behind the striker or as wide attacking player. To justify his fee, not only does he have to deliver in the Premier League and Champions League, but he also has to offer something different to a static United front line. So how can LVG get the best out of him, not from an individual point of view but in a way that improves the team overall?
LVG’s preferred formation this season has been 4-2-3-1. He has experimented with Januzaj and Herrera playing in the hole behind Rooney with Mata shunted to the left – a position that does not suit him both from an attacking and defensive ability. Mata lacks the pace to stretch the defence as a wide attacker and is also inefficient when tracking back to offer defensive support for Darmian. His natural tendency is to cut inside and move towards his favourite position in the middle as demonstrated by his assist to Rooney against Club Brugge. This is only effective when playing with two players behind the striker – the additional CM in this case will allow the wing back to push forward without worrying about the space left behind them. When playing with three attacking midfielder behind Rooney, segregation of duties is key. In the game against Swansea with Mata constantly cutting inside, there was constant positional confusion between him and Herrera. To get the best out of Mata, he needs to be deployed in his favourite position.
What can Martial Offer?
Playing on the opposite flank to Depay, Martial can offer something different and ask the defenders different questions than the ones asked by Depay, Mata and Rooney. Martial’s signing should also allow Mata to be deployed in his favourite position as a conventional number 10. For most of his young career, Martial has been deployed as a wide attacking player and in his first season in the Premier League this is probably the best position for him. Playing as a wide attacking player instead of striker will take some of the pressure off him. Stretching defences, running behind them and creating space for Rooney and co will be his core attacking duties and responsibilities which is more relaxed expectations than shouldering goal scoring responsibilities as a 19 year old.
While Depay is a Ronaldo like winger that enjoys cutting inside and unleashing thunderbolts, Martial would enjoy getting chalk on his boots and would offer United a more direct running threat to complement Depay and Mata. If he makes a wide run, he will more often than not pull a CB out of position – to cover the full back in case Martial gets past him. These scenarios create space for Mata and Rooney to occupy and exploit the gaps between the opposition’s defensive pair. A narrow run would offer another option as in this case he will pull the full back inside and allow Darmian space to make the overlap.
Whether LVG plans to use him in this capacity or just as a substitute to Rooney remains to be seen.
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