Against Chelsea, Anthony Martial finally showed a glimpse of what Manchester United hope he can be

Miguel Delaney
Anthony Martial of Manchester United scores their first goal: PA

You could say this was what Anthony Martial was signed for, except it wasn’t. It was a bonus. And it felt all the bigger a bonus since some around the Manchester United training ground had pretty much given up on this kind of moment.

Shortly before half-time at Chelsea, Martial out-jumped Andreas Christensen to also outfox Willy Caballero, and guide Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s cross into the corner of the net.

It was not just that it was so deft, but that it showed such desire. Martial was getting into the box in a way many had given up on, for the kind of run United had been badly missing. It was the absence of this that pretty much led to the club signing Odion Ighalo in an emergency deal.

Many felt it was going to be permanently missing from Martial’s game. There are just too many games where he is at the fringes of the action, or at the edge of the box when he should be right in the middle.

What a time to address it. And yet it remains the eternal frustration of Martial.

That felt all the more pronounced on Monday because he didn’t even really play that well. He had missed a fair few chances before that. One of them was from the type of opportunity that is optimum for him.

Martial got to cut in from the left in that way he likes, with the goal set up for one of this little curling shots into the corner he likes… only for him to send it wide.

Some of those who know Martial well, and rate his talent, feel the penchant for this has almost become a problem in his game.

“You sometimes think it’s all he ever wants to do as a player,” one well-connected source said. “It’s like he’s always just waiting for it, and reluctant to get involved.”

That’s all the more galling given Martial’s abundant talent. His link-up play - especially little touches around the box - can be exceptional. His dribbling, and ability to get out of right spaces, is a rare quality in the modern game. That pace remains a potent weapon.

There is even the fair argument that, in terms of pure technique and talent alone, he is a superior player to previous United target Erling Braut Haaland.

The great difference, of course, is the Norwegian’s rampaging desire. He maximises his talent, with that feeling so visibly tangible through his physical prowess. He just monsters opposition, and dominates games.

Martial only often dabs at them. Here, that dab was enough. It was actually a minimalist illustration of his talent, and technique. It was the difference, and what he should be doing more.

There aren’t too many players who could get that kind of guided control on such a header. The precision was supreme.

It was the sort of moment that should really be a constant of Martial’s game. Even if he doesn’t dominate them, or isn't always involved, his talent should be enough that he always feels dangerous; that defences always know he is a threat; that they fear what he can do.

Here, it almost seemed the opposite. He seemed to catch everyone - not least some of his own United set-up - by surprise. It was as if they’d forgotten he was capable of this.

That’s what he needs to address. He should be so much more than a bonus.

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