Martial sends message to Mourinho as United beat Spurs

Anthony Martial could have been scoring the winner for Tottenham against Manchester United at Old Trafford on Saturday, rather than the other way around, had Mauricio Pochettino been successful in his attempts to sign the French forward during the summer.

With Harry Kane sidelined with a hamstring injury, Martial would almost certainly have stepped into the breach and filled the gap left by the England striker.

But even if he had gone to Spurs, Martial is unlikely to have found himself securing the regular starting spot that he continues to crave at Old Trafford.

Whether it is Harry Kane or Romelu Lukaku blocking his path to the starting XI, Martial still has a way to go before he can regard himself as one of the first names on the teamsheet.

But after scoring the 81st minute goal which clinched a 1-0 victory for Jose Mourinho’s team, Martial made it clear that he does not see himself occupying the role of ‘super sub’ on a regular basis.

“No, I want to play,” Martial said. “I don’t want to be on the bench. [Marcus] Rashford plays good too, so when the manager gives us a chance, we have to score.”

Right now, it is usually one or the other — Martial or Rashford — who is selected by Mourinho to play up front alongside Lukaku.

On the two occasions the two youngsters have started together, it has been when Mourinho has rested Lukaku in Carabao Cup ties against Burton Albion and Swansea, so the United manager is clearly still reluctant to thrust both into the firing line in the Premier League.

When he signed Zlatan Ibrahimovic on a free transfer from Paris Saint-Germain in the summer of 2016, Mourinho did so because he felt that both Martial and Rashford were too young and inconsistent to shoulder the burden of scoring 20 goals a season for United.

The same applied this summer, when Lukaku arrived from Everton for £90 million to replace the injured Ibrahimovic, but with Martial just 21 and Rashford not 20 until Oct. 31, the United manager is probably right to still believe that they both lack experience and durability at the highest level.

But is one of them now ready to start more regularly?
It is a difficult judgement call to know when a dangerous substitute becomes a better option from the start of the game and some players never make that transition. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, perhaps the best example of a United super-sub, was always less effective when he started games and was expected to deliver from the first whistle.

The same could be applied to Javier Hernandez, with the Mexican forward earning many points for United with late interventions from the bench.

Sir Alex Ferguson believed that both Solskjaer and Hernandez were able to catch up with the pace of a game immediately and take advantage of any late opportunities in a clinical fashion and both Martial and Rashford are showing similar qualities this season.

With his winner against Spurs, Martial has now scored four goals from four substitute appearances this term. Rashford, meanwhile, has scored three goals, of his seven overall, as a substitute this season.
It may be little more than a case of each player taking advantage of tired legs and greater space becoming available in the closing stages of games, but that is a useful quality, nonetheless.

Both Martial and Rashford want to claim the starting spot alongside Lukaku, however, and that is the problem Mourinho must solve while he continues to select the Belgian forward as his first choice centre-forward.

Lukaku was quiet against Spurs, extending his goalless run to five games for United, but he still made the goal for Martial with his headed flick-on, so he contributed in a decisive way even if his overall performance was disappointing.

Mourinho is unlikely to drop Lukaku any time soon, however, especially with a big clash against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge looming next Sunday, so he will continue to juggle between Martial and Rashford.

“Sometimes he [Martial] starts and his contribution is good, but maybe not scoring as many times from bench,” Mourinho said. “He’s playing well, like Lukaku and Rashford.

“Martial scored with a bad shot and a bad shot can sometimes be beautiful.”

With United just one win from securing qualification from their Champions League group, Mourinho may yet choose to rest Lukaku against Benfica at Old Trafford on Tuesday and go with Rashford and Martial from the start, but it will feel like an audition for the usual one position at Stamford Bridge next weekend.

That is not something that will worry Mourinho, however. Right now, he has two of the Premier League’s most exciting young attacking talents fighting it out for one spot in the team and the competition has seen both players raise their game.

And if Martial and Rashford continue to make decisive contributions from the bench at their current rate, Mourinho will happily keep them both on their toes for as long as possible.

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