Anthony Martial shows United the way with goal against Swansea

Anthony Martial was exceptional against Swansea City – scoring one and assisting Wayne Rooney

As New Year’s resolutions go; Manchester United fans will be hoping that Louis van Gaal can keep to his, as United beat Swansea City 2-1 at Old Trafford. The first fixture of 2016 saw United pick up three points, their first victory since the 2-1 win over Watford at the end of November – which marks the end of an eight game winless run.

The Dutchman will be have been pleased with his side’s performance in the 0-0 draw with Chelsea and although United didn’t start the game against Swansea City as quickly (i.e. hitting the woodwork twice within fifteen minutes) – the home side did look most likely to score early on, with Ander Herrera and Wayne Rooney close but failing to hit the target. United shifted from a 4-3-3 that worked so well against Chelsea to a 3-5-1-1 – which quickly changed to a 3-3-1-3 formation when United were attacking, with both Ashley Young and Anthony Martial pushing up high and wide to deliver crosses. The United coach had started the game with a four man defence, however – reverted very early on to a three at the back formation once it was clear that the visitors were playing a diamond in midfield with two very wide forwards in Ayew and Routledge.

Anthony Martial opened the scoring for United early in the second half following a brilliant cross from Ashley Young. The Frenchman got on the end of the cross to head home United’s opener. United looked dangerous and much more animated in the second half than in the first forty-five – but the home side were left stunned when Gylfi Sigurdsson scored the equaliser with twenty minutes to go. A neat header past the helpless David De Gea following some great work from substitute Modou Barrow (who again forced van Gaal into a tactical change) on United’s left hand side. It didn’t take long for United to hit back, with a superb finish from Wayne Rooney – who has now overtaken Denis Law’s goal tally of 237 and is now second on his own, eleven goals behind Sir Bobby Charlton.

Although both wide men, Ashley Young and Anthony Martial, had excellent games – it is the Frenchman that really is a shining light in this United side. As he did against Branislav Ivanovic last Monday, he gave Angel Rangel a torrid time on the left hand side with his pace and tricky. His burst of acceleration to setup Rooney, for what was a stunning goal, is priceless and although many reds – including myself – have called to play him through the middle, with match winning performance like this one, it is hard to argue against his inclusion on the left hand side.

Marvellous Martial is shining light once again
Anthony Martial was Manchester United’s match winner and it is becoming a common reoccurrence to urge the side to “give it to Martial”. The youngster glides past defenders with ease and his quick feet, usually a left foot to right foot shuffle at lightening speed, is a ridiculous asset for Louis van Gaal to have. He may have only played twenty three times for the club, but in that time he has shown exceptional talent that will be at the heart of Manchester United’s attack for years to come.

One of the most exciting sights is seeing Martial in full flow running at players. He has a unique direct dribbling style and it causes havoc. The like of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin offer that protection to allow Martial to be free in his play. One criticism aimed at United under Louis van Gaal is the apparent restriction of freedom, to be creative and to remove the shackles.

Martial’s shown that week in, week out. We’ve just seen the video back of how quick he looked going down the line – I wouldn’t want to be facing him.”

– Ashley Young on Anthony Martial

Angel Di Maria, who is Manchester United’s record signing, was a massive mistake. This is easy to say in hindsight as he is a wonderfully gifted player who looked to be made for United. However, a combination of lack of desire to leave Real Madrid (he has just won the European Cup having been voted man of the match in the 2014 final), restrictive tactics and off field issues ensures that he is one of the worst signings ever in England. United managed to make £45million of the £60million paid, but Di maria was a massive disappointment.

In September of 2014, United fans were licking their lips at the prospect of a player who could dribble all day long, leave players for dead and bring the ball up the pitch 80 yards, in the same fashion as Andrei Kanchelskis, Ryan Giggs and Cristiano Ronaldo used to do. There were glimpses but it never happened and following that great dribble and finish against Leicester City in that barmy 5-3, United fans didn’t see much more. At the start of 2015, United hosted Southampton at home in a dire 1-0 defeat, with United failing to register a single shot on target.

Angel Di Maria dribbles versus Southampton
Angel Di Maria dribbles against Southampton at home in 2014/15

In comparison, Martial is a lot more active and looks to take the opposing fullback on when in one on one situations:

Anthony Martial dribbles against Swansea City at home in 2015/16

Many teams will double up on Martial, as they do with Di Maria, but if United can shift the ball quickly to the left handside and get him running towards the byline – this side will score more goals. Eventually, Martial will end up through the middle with licence to roam to the flanks, but for now – United need to utilise his pace on the left hand side.

New formation allows Ashley Young freedom down right hand side

Louis van Gaal has always been known as a thorough tactician and we saw the United boss alter the formation a number of times to combat Swansea’s approach. He had quickly shifted to a back three following the visitors diamond setup, with Jones on the right and Blind on the left of Chris Smalling. Ashley Young was pushed up as a wing back – but played most of the time as a winger in the Swansea City half. Both Bastian Schweinsteiger and Ander Herrera offered cover for Martial and Young who were both encouraged to get at their full backs and put in crosses.

United players average position against Swansea City

Ashley Young was excellent throughout the game and was a constant menace on United’s right hand side – assisting Martial for the first goal. Young hasn’t always been a first choice amongst United fans, but since Louis van Gaal has taken over at the club – United’s number eighteen has been an exceptional professional, who has played in a number of different positions. He was exceptional in the second half of last season and if it wasn’t for the heroics of David De Gea throughout the season, would surely have won Manchester United player of the year last term.

It is arguably that he may have felt hard done by having lost his place to new signing Memphis Depay for the opener against Tottenham back in August – having been exceptional on United’s left hand side. However, he has continued to play wherever the manager asks him to – but his delivery from wide areas is something that United need to capitalise on. He was unlucky to go off injured, however Louis van Gaal later revealed it was due to stiffness having played a lot of match lately. Credit should be given to Young for his versatility and professionalism, it is now down to van Gaal to ensure that Young can get into that area more often.

Wayne Rooney surpasses Denis Law’s goal scoring record

Wayne Rooney has now scored 238 goals for Manchester United, which puts him in second place behind Sir Bobby Charlton – who is currently on 249. The United captain also surpassed Andy Cole to become the second highest goalscorer in Premier League history and is now on 188. Rooney has a way to go yet to surpasses Alan Shearer’s 260 Premier League goals and will unlikely ever get near Jimmy Graves’ all time English football record (top flight) of 357 goals.

It’s amazing, and at the age of 30 years. You have to say, of course, now we are playing much more matches but it is still a fantastic achievement.”

– Louis van Gaal on Rooney hitting 238 goals

Rooney was good yesterday, after what has been a difficult season. He has been accused of being off the pace, poor first touch and having very little influence on games. He did very well against Chelsea and was unlucky not to win the game late on – when he really should have scored. His goal against Swansea City was world class; up there with what the likes of what Roberto Baggio or Romario used to do. Martial made the goal, but Rooney still needed to be smart enough to dispatch the ball past the anticipating Lukasz Fabianski.

The finale was of stark contrast to earlier games in the season, when Rooney would look a spend force. Following the game against Leicester City, we suggested that Rooney needed a break out of the action – as Ferguson used to do with many of his stars around the winter period. Louis van Gaal did withdraw Rooney, but cited that the skipper had picked up an injury. His decision to put Rooney on the bench against Stoke City may have been van Gaal’s way to suggest Rooney needs to improve on his performances – but the rest has surely done him well and hopefully his goal is a springboard to push United on this season.

Diagrams provided using – FourFourTwo Statszone

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