Martial Matters: A United Fan’s view

Tomorrow, Manchester United and Liverpool go head to head once again. The rivalry stirs up hatred off the pitch, and on it many a player has literally seen red. This particular match has a fascinating subplot; the potential debut of Anthony Martial. We’ve all been told that he could be the next Thierry Henry. United fans would love him to ghost through the Liverpool defense like Henry did in that 4-2 comeback win for the Gunners. Among the United fans Martial’s signing evokes fear, astonishment, bewilderment and somewhere buried deep you’ll find genuine excitement. For an attack that has floundered so far this season, the only way to see off Liverpool is with Martial’s greatest asset, speed, and we all know what that does. It kills! We discussed Martial on the last episode of Coshcast have a listen.

Brent Billing gives a little more insight into what we can expect from potential Manchester United debutante Anthony Martial. Follow Brent on Twitter at @billingbrent. Enjoy.

Besides taunting Liverpudlians with our trophy collection, one of my other passions has been Gridiron football – both coaching and playing.  Years ago I attended a coaching clinic where the Head Coach of a major US football team stated the following:  speed stretches, speed destroys shape and speed confuses.

My major criticism of United’s play post Ronaldo, has been the lack of direct pace in attack.  People confuse speed and width – they are two different things.  Shaw and Darmian get to the by line – and they cross to who?  We have a team of attacking players that are Lilliputian in dimension.  Speed is the pace of play – the ability to eat up ground with direct running and more importantly the ability to draw defenders out of natural positions.

Rooney and criticism are like peas and carrots – they go hand in hand.  However – if you have zero concern as to what is behind you – you can play Rooney tight.  Wayne is at his best where he can find pockets of space to drift into both in and out of possession. He is not a classic 9 nor should he be.  However give him the ball with his face to goal – and he is an exceptional footballer.  With his back to goal you remove all of his natural attacking guile.  It is no coincidence that he has described Louis Saha as his favorite attack partner – Saha was brilliant at running in behind defenders creating avenues for Rooney to attack into.

Which brings me to the point of this diatribe – the signing of Anthony Martial and the positive impact it will have on Wayne Rooney.

I was sad to see Danny Welbeck go for one reason – he was pacy and he was defensively aware.  Martial scored more goals than any Under 20 player in Europes’ top leagues last year.  But his worth is not his finishing – his worth is his ability to force defenders to play deep.  Jamie Carragher did an excellent job early in the season describing how easy it is for any CB to neutralize a striker – if that team does not make repeated deep runs in to the defense.  His basic thesis is you can play tight to a striker and eliminate the pockets of space they want to operate in.  With Martial (and Rooney in the hole, Mata out wide and Depay on the left) defenders will not be able to track Rooney to those deep positions.  In Herrera and Schweinsteiger United have two intelligent CM’s who will be able to overlap with Rooney and force defenders to play deeper – watch the Newcastle tape – they played so high because only on 3 occasions did we make a run behind Coloccini and Taylor.   You build a team around your best player – the signing of Anthony Martial will result in a return to form for Wayne Rooney.  Through 4 games we have dominated possession and been relatively tight at the back.  But when the ball is played into Rooney’s feet with his back to goal neither Depay (through intent) or Mata (through his lack of pace) can get into the areas to allow Rooney to receive the ball in space.  Martial will immediately draw one of two central CB’s to remain in a deep position.  Look for Herrera to play parallel to Rooney when he drops into the hole thus tying up the second defender.  Now Mata’s lack of pace is no longer a concern- we are not asking him to beat anyone merely get into the intermediate channel with your face to goal.  Now Depay only has to beat one player when he turns inside, not two or sometimes three.

James Wilson might have had the ability to perform the same function.  But we are comparing him to a full French International.  Martial is expensive yes but speed stretches speed destroys shape and speed confuses. Here’s to hoping that Martial’s speed puts Liverpool right back where they belong, in our rearview mirror.

Follow Brent on Twitter @billingbrent.

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