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Anthony Martial returns to form in Man Utd's thrashing of West Ham
Last Updated: 01/12/16 12:32am
Anthony Martial scored twice as Manchester United reached the EFL Cup semi-finals with a 4-1 win over West Ham. It has been a difficult second season for the Frenchman under Jose Mourinho, but could this impressive performance be a turning point?
Jose Mourinho is not one to mince his words and last week he was typically candid on the subject of Anthony Martial. "You have one opportunity, you have two, you have three," he said. "If you don't bite, then somebody comes and takes the meat."
The Manchester United boss had just left Martial out of his squad for their 4-0 win over Fenerbahce, and he omitted the 20-year-old again for Sunday's Premier League meeting with West Ham. While Henrikh Mkhitaryan was finally starting to find his feet, Mourinho felt Martial simply wasn't offering enough to merit inclusion. He wasn't the only one.
"He's got to produce a lot more," said Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville last weekend. "He doesn't look happy at times, he needs more energy and dynamism in his game. Martial has gone under the radar and he needs to start delivering because some of the performances I've seen have been nowhere near good enough."
Martial has looked a different player to the one who took the Premier League by storm last season, but on Wednesday night he was handed another opportunity, making only his ninth start of the campaign and only his fourth in the last two months. This time, to use a phrase from his manager, he took the meat.
Martial doubled his tally for the season with his second-half strikes, and after so many lethargic displays in recent months, there were far more encouraging signs in his all-round performance.
The Frenchman was not involved in the opening goal as Wayne Rooney, Mkhitaryan and Zlatan Ibrahimovic combined to put United in front, but he soon became just as important to their dynamic attacking display. Martial drew the first of four fouls when he burst past two West Ham players in his own half before being felled by Pedro Obiang in the ninth minute.
Obiang avoided punishment on that occasion, but he wasn't so lucky a few minutes later when he was booked for flattening Martial right on the edge of West Ham's box after the Frenchman had cut in from the left flank and knocked the ball into the space behind him.
It was the kind of direct, daring attacking play that typified Martial's breakthrough last season. His loss of confidence is shown by the fact that his dribbling stats have fallen from 2.7 per game to 0.5 per game in the Premier League this season, but here he was taking the game to his opposition. West Ham were struggling to contain him.
Martial made more successful dribbles (four) than any other player over the course of the 90 minutes. He was a constant menace on the counter-attack, and even before his goals he was showing the kind of desire to get into goalscoring positions that has been lacking this season.
He blasted one shot over after collecting a pass from Mkhitaryan and cutting across the West Ham box after 18 minutes, and the duo combined again on the half-hour mark. This time, Martial couldn't get enough power behind his side-footed effort as Adrian made a comfortable save.
Martial should have made more of that chance and West Ham scored their equaliser shortly afterwards, but he made no mistake with his first opportunity after the break. Mkhitaryan was the provider again after running onto Antonio Valencia's backheel, and Martial's sweeping finish left Adrian with no chance.
Martial fired another effort straight at Adrian after he was played in by Rooney, but he did not have to wait long to extend United's lead. Valencia sent the cross across the six-yard box, and Martial stayed onside to tap the ball into the empty net.
Martial's 87th-minute withdrawal was overshadowed by the warm reception to welcome Bastian Schweinsteiger's first appearance of the season, but his second goal capped an excellent night's work. The Frenchman may have struggled to meet the standards of his first year in England, but Mourinho cannot accuse him of failing to take his latest opportunity.
As Manchester United prepare to resume their Premier League campaign against Everton on Super Sunday, the challenge for Martial is to continue in the same vein.