MANCHESTER, England — Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will inform you that Manchester United have not actually hit high kind this season, and that one of many causes is Anthony Martial. It bodes properly, then, that on the opening day of a 12 months that would yield a primary title problem of the post-Sir Alex Ferguson period, it was the Frenchman who received the primary purpose as United beat Aston Villa 2-1 at Previous Trafford.
Solskjaer wanted one other Bruno Fernandes penalty, three good saves from David De Gea, a powerful efficiency from Paul Pogba and a heroic block from Eric Bailly within the fifth minute of stoppage time to recover from the road, however his crew is now degree on factors with Liverpool on the high of the desk after 16 video games. On the very least, United have given themselves an opportunity of title No. 21 in 2021.
Martial’s purpose, simply earlier than half-time, was solely his second within the Premier League this season, having waited till December to get his first. He averaged one each different recreation after Undertaking Restart final season to assist United end third and safe a return to the Champions League, and if he can discover that type of kind between now and Could, Solskjaer won’t be able to bat away questions on a title cost for for much longer.
When one reporter started a query within the post-match information convention with, “You are most likely not going to speak in regards to the title,” Solskjaer was fast to reply merely: “You are proper.”
The Norwegian just isn’t the sort to single out gamers in information conferences, however Martial has been the topic of a mild nudge greater than as soon as. Solskjaer mentioned he is “been on at him” about his operating stats throughout video games and final season specifically urged Martial to attain extra “striker’s targets” of the sort he used to gather usually when he was a participant at Previous Trafford.
Martial’s purpose right here — his fifth in all competitions this season — was in precisely that mould, operating throughout the entrance publish to search out house between centre-backs Tyrone Mings and Ezri Konsa to go in Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s low cross. It was a purpose Solskjaer, Ruud van Nistelrooy or Dwight Yorke would have been pleased with and necessary, too, in opposition to a crew who arrived at Previous Trafford with extra clear sheets than another crew within the league.
“I like diving headers,” mentioned Solskjaer afterwards. “Anthony will enhance and be higher. He is had possibilities this season — he is nonetheless getting them however he is not had the luck. Tonight we noticed a greater model of Anthony, a extra assured one.”
It has been a troublesome begin to the season for Martial after selecting up a three-game ban for his pink card within the 6-1 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur in October and struggling a groin damage in December. Match once more, he’s slowly discovering his capturing boots with three targets in his previous six video games after scoring simply twice in his earlier 19 appearances for membership and nation. If he can get anyplace near the 17 league targets he received final season, United ought to run Liverpool shut.
“We have had some chats, and we have spoken about final season and the way necessary he was then and will likely be now,” mentioned Solskjaer. “Good gamers know kind is short-term, however he is confirmed his class and he’ll get higher and higher.”
It helps, too, when your key playmaker is contributing each time he performs. Fernandes’ penalty within the second half, after Bertrand Traore had equalised, was the Portuguese midfielder’s 19th purpose in his 30 Premier League appearances since arriving from Sporting Lisbon. No crew has earned extra factors since Fernandes’ debut on Feb. 1, 2020.
Since dropping to Arsenal on Nov. 1, United have gone 10 video games unbeaten, successful eight and drawing two to take 26 factors from the final 30 out there. The journey to Liverpool on Jan. 17 is already trying like one of the necessary league fixtures United have been concerned in since Ferguson retired in 2013.
“I am very pleased with the place we discover ourselves in, such an enormous distinction to 12 months in the past,” mentioned Solskjaer. “You possibly can lose the possibility to be within the title race within the first 10 video games. It is a good place to be in, however we have to get higher. For those who can win video games like tonight, it’ll make an enormous distinction.”
Solskjaer just isn’t but able to acknowledge that United look to be Liverpool’s impediment to regaining the Premier League trophy, and the sport at Anfield in a little bit greater than two weeks will go a protracted approach to deciding if their problem is fleeting or extra agency. For now, although, United are of their highest place on New 12 months’s Day since Ferguson’s final season, and Solskjaer insists there’s extra to return — significantly from Martial.