Focus: Martial could be just what Man United need to spice up predictable attack
The North West derby looks set to be a low-scoring affair, as two teams still refining their intricate short passing tactics meet in a managerial clash of patient conservatism. But although only five goals have been scored between them so far this season, there is one very good reason to keep an eye on this game: the world’s most expensive teenager is set to make his debut.
Manchester United have struggled creatively, and many critics have begun to question Louis van Gaal’s possession-based philosophy. A striking absence of risk-taking on the ball and movement off it have characterised their displays, as opposition defences easily withstand pressure by sitting in banks of four.
41% of United attacks come down the left (the highest proportion in the division), which is unsurprising considering Memphis Depay and Luke Shaw operate on this flank, and both Wayne Rooney and Adnan Januzaj both instinctively drift left when attempting to create space. This has resulted in low-tempo, aimless passing that – with the ball rarely being switched flank to flank and supporting players fearful of leaving their positions – fails to pull defenders out of position and create opportunities. It speaks volumes that United have completed only 7.5 dribbles (13th in the league) and 9.5 key passes (10th) per match.
However, Van Gaal will be hopeful that Anthony Martial breaks the cycle. Perplexed United fans may be reassured to know that Martial averaged 5.5 dribbles per 90 minutes for Monaco last season, and possesses the precise attributes United have lacked; a direct player who drives towards goal at every opportunity. Martial has the pace and trickery to add width and movement to Van Gaal’s attack.
An injection of forward-thinking intent to complement Depay’s similar attitude is sorely needed at Old Trafford, and could prove particularly dangerous against the attack-minded Nathaniel Clyne.
Clyne has started brightly at Liverpool, but will be expected to hurtle down the touchline with greater frequency in this match to both expose Luke Shaw’s positional indiscipline and provide width to a team struggling creatively in a narrow front three this season.
We are unlikely to see a pulsating Premier League contest, but a first look at Martial, and how United’s left-focused attacks fair against Clyne, make for an intriguing contest nonetheless.