With his brace against West Ham United in the EFL Cup quarter-final tie at Old Trafford, Anthony Martial doubled his goals tally for the current campaign. United fans will be hoping the Frenchman’s vibrant display will be the catalyst for getting his season back on track.
The 20-year-old has looked a shadow of the player who took Old Trafford by storm last season following a £36 million move from Monaco.
A stunning solo goal on his debut against Liverpool set Martial off and running on what would be a stellar maiden campaign in English football. David de Gea may have been named the club’s player of the year for the third season running, but the former Lyon youngster, with his 17 goals and vital contribution to United’s FA Cup win, was easily the best outfield player the Red Devils had on show.
But with rumours of tumult in his personal life, Martial’s form this season has been a far cry from what he was able to consistently produce in 2015-16.
After starting the new campaign as José Mourinho’s first-choice option on the left wing, his selection in the United XI has been far from certain in recent weeks as lacklustre performances have become all too common.
The reasons behind Martial’s dip in form have been speculated upon widely in the press, but no-one can say with any certainty why he has been out of sorts.
One thing is for sure, though: he has desperately lacked confidence this season, and the statistics back this theory up. Last term, Martial was attempting an average of 1.8 shots and completing 2.7 take-ons per Premier League game. Those metrics have dropped significantly, with his shots-per-game ratio down to 1.3, while he is averaging just 0.5 successful dribbles per match.
And while Martial’s pass accuracy has risen from 76.7 percent to 85 percent, he is making far fewer passes per game, with an average of just 1.5 this season compared to 29.8 last term.
Against West Ham, the former Monaco man’s confidence appeared restored as he completed four dribbles, hit the target four times, made 30 passes and scored twice.
One of the key statistics from the game that attests to a return of self-belief for Martial was the fact that he only had a 63.3 pass completion rate and lost the ball five times, but remained unperturbed; he was taking risks again, just as a top player in his position should do when attempting to create openings.
There was an urgency and level of application to his game that has been conspicuous by its absence since May.
It was easily Martial’s best performance of the season but, as it was just a single game, we can’t be fully sure whether it signals a long-term return to form; it could yet be a false dawn.
But United fans will be hoping to see much more of this kind of Martial as the season progresses.