Throughout the previous season, Manchester United had their fair share of problems with getting goals from their strikers. Problems were everywhere, from Cristiano Ronaldo’s bitter half-season before getting sacked, to Wout Weghorst coming on loan from Burnley after shining in the World Cup quarterfinal against Argentina. But probably the most consistent problem throughout the campaign was Anthony Martial’s inability to become a reliable striker from which Erik Ten Hag will finally manage to get the best out of. While there were a couple of points in the season when there was some promise that the Frenchman could at last be the player everyone expected him to become, those points would quickly be followed by the same old issues – his injuries.
Anthony Martial made a total of 29 appearances in four different competitions and that number does not look so bad without context. But the fact he had spent mere 1,442 minutes on the pitch highlights the problem – on average, he was on the pitch for a little under 50 minutes in each of those 29 appearances. That he managed to scored nine goals and add three assists is a pretty good return for a player which sustained five different injuries, which had made him miss a total of 27 matches. First there was the hamstring right at the start of the season, then there was Achilles irritation, then it was back and then it was hip. There was also a problem in January 2023, about which we did not get enough information.
His ability to score goals even when coming off the bench managed to give him a statistical output in the past 12 months which would make the likes of elite strikers blush. But that is why stats alone are never good – context is always necessary. For example, he managed to get 0,45 non-penalty expected goals per 90 minutes, and 0,24 assists – enough to put him in 77th and 92nd percentile among all top five European leagues’ forwards. He was also great in terms of his pass completion rate (92nd percentile) and progressive passes (3,13 per 90, or 87th percentile). Even 1,44 successful take-ons per 90 minutes brought great value. But when a player is out for more than half the season and only features in as many minutes as 16 full 90-minute matches, the problem is not the player’s output, but unavailability.
And this brought same old questions of Anthony Martial. That there is some potential has been clear for years, but the Frenchman is now soon to turn 28 and could it be that this is just the best Man United will ever get from him? While there is the nagging feeling that there must be more, which he manages to show on scarce occasions, there is a good reason why such question is followed with ‘but is the best he will ever be’? Martial was given chances by Ten Hag but he once again failed in taking them. Maybe this is the end of the road for the Frenchman at Old Trafford? Maybe he will be given some new opportunities next season. But if he is, for Man United it will be crucial that that happens when the first-choice striker is unavailable and not because the squad is once again light with the number of good attacking options.