Anthony Martial will always be a confusing player to figure out at Manchester United, especially for the neutral.
For those of us able to sit back and enjoy the 24/7 soap opera unfold around Old Trafford in recent years, Martial appears a precocious talent with all the qualities of a high-class modern forward – a one-man nutmeg machine with pace and an eye for goal.
Twitter is no barometer to gauge the overall mood of a fanbase, but Martial has been lauded on the platform when United have impressed under various different managers in the last few seasons, only to then be slated when the club’s fortunes have changed.
As with most things in life, it’s easy to blame Jose Mourinho for this.
There was a sense when Mourinho was keen to offload Martial that the Frenchman could become another Kevin De Bruyne, flourish elsewhere and come back to bite United on the arse, but whenever the forward then underwhelmed it was easy to have those nagging doubts in the back of your mind: “What if Jose was right?”
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer does not seem to have had any such doubts about the 23-year-old, and the player’s stats demonstrate why. Martial has provided a goal or assist in every game he has started this season, while United failed to score more than one goal in a single game throughout the attacker’s injury absence.
Most strikingly, United have won 77% of their league matches under Solskjaer when Martial has started compared to just 29% when he hasn’t.
Ahead of United’s trip to Norwich, Solskjaer gave Martial his unequivocal backing, telling the Daily Mirror: “I’ve heard what some people have said about us being short of a genuine No.9, but Anthony has absolutely everything in his locker to take that role.
“He can be a target man, he’s quick, he’s technical – and one of the reasons he wanted to stay here was because I told him I saw him as a central striker.
“I don’t think people outside the club realise how good this lad is. But the players in the dressing room know. When we are talking about how we are going to score goals, they say, ‘We will just give the ball to Anthony.’”
And the player responded in the perfect manner, scoring United’s third goal after a beautiful combination with Marcus Rashford.
• 5 league appearances
• 3 goals
• 1 assist
• 87.8 minutes per goal contribution
• 10 league appearances
• 5 goals
• 3 assists
• 107.5 minutes per goal contribution
— ً (@utdrobbo) October 27, 2019
With Martial alongside him to join in the fun, it is notable how Rashford now appears much more dangerous after a tricky spell when he was forced to carry the weight of leading the line all by himself.
And perhaps what was most impressive about the duo’s displays on Sunday was the way that both struck after bouncing back from earlier set-backs.
Rashford’s goal came just minutes after seeing his penalty saved by Tim Krul, while the Dutchman also thwarted Martial from 12 yards out.
At that point, Martial could have been forgiven for accepting that it just wasn’t going to be his day after Krul had earlier made a world-class stop to deny him from close range.
The chance was again created by some inventive play by Rashford, and the United pair could threaten to challenge Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette as the Premier League’s favourite buddy cop duo. Indeed, 56% of United’s goals this season have come when Martial and Rashford have been on the pitch together.
Tim Krul saved two penalties but this stop off Martial's point blank header was incredible… pic.twitter.com/CCkPDiAVQT
— Shamoon Hafez (@ShamoonHafez) October 27, 2019
“People have the wrong idea about Anthony,” Solskjaer told the Mirror, addressing the perception that Martial can often let games pass him by when the going gets tough.
“He is a lad who enjoys life and always has a smile on his face. I know some people will be surprised by that because he is always being criticised for having poor body language.
“But he is happy again. He always wanted to be Manchester United’s No.9 – and he’s got his number back.”
Martial is clearly enjoying the challenge set down by Solskjaer of being the Red Devils’ front-line goalscorer and the sacrifices he has to make to his game to make that possible.
“We all prefer beautiful goals but, at the end of the day, a goal is still a goal,” he told the club’s magazine ahead of his comeback earlier this month. “So, if I could score 30 goals like I scored in the game against Chelsea, I would take that right now!
“I guess I have tended to score quite nice goals and so, if I managed to score more of this kind of goal, in addition to the more spectacular ones, then I’d end up with a much higher goals total come the end of the season.”
With a more trustworthy boss now at the helm and his partner-in-crime alongside him in attack, Anthony Martial is ready to erase any remaining doubts once and for all.