Connect in the back of the net

In the run up to Manchester United’s game at Southampton on Sunday, manager Louis Van Gaal claimed that he wasn’t worried about Wayne Rooney’s lack of goals. Rooney, who as the Dutch coach acknowledged is on course to break the club goal-scoring record, hadn’t scored for 10 league games and as he returned from injury at St Mary’s he conjured a lethargic, passive display to extend his drought to 11.

“It does not matter to me who is scoring” said Van Gaal who watched Anthony Martial and Juan Mata find the net on the south coast to overcome Southampton 2-3.

The 64 year-old cracked a self-satisfied smile when asked about Mata’s goal, coming after a 44 pass move he said was indication that his philosophy is working, and he would have been pleased about the impact of the teenage Martial as his side overcame a difficult game against a side managed by his long-term rival Ronald Koeman.


Concern over Rooney and the United backline

Van Gaal had to be concerned over the form of Rooney though as he looked sluggish throughout. Shifted back into the number 10 position in support of Martial following a barren run at centre-forward, the game again seemed to pass Rooney by.

Fortunately for Rooney, who had to ask who the French striker was when he signed on deadline day, and Manchester United the 19 year old Martial was on hand to seize the headlines with two goals to see off an impressive Southampton who riddled United’s vulnerable defence with problems throughout the first 30 minutes.

With Daley Blind at centre-half and Marcos Rojo at left-back looking particularly uncomfortable, the Saints’ quartet of Dusan Tadic, Saido Mane, James Ward-Prowse and Graziano Pelle terrorised United’s back-line but only had Pelle’s strike to show for a period of sustained pressure before Martial was handed his chance to draw United level.

How Southampton would have wished they had Martial’s dead-eyed coolness on their side. A striker who possessed the balance to leave Virgil Van Dijk helpless as he swivelled, the technique to dig the ball out his feet and the composure to drill the ball emphatically past Martin Stekelenburg.

A horrid back-pass from Maya Yoshida may have presented Martial with the golden chance to make it two in the second-half but he still had to apply the finish. As Stekelenburg bore down to narrow the angle, Martial opened up his body and nonchalantly caressed the ball into the bottom corner.


Pivotal moment

The game’s pivotal moment came when Pelle held off Blind to find just enough room on the edge of the box to unleash a shot that hit the post. Already 1-0 down, United had been afforded an almighty let off but if that chance had fallen to Martial, it is doubtful he would have been as forgiving.

With a facial expression that seems void of emotion it makes you wonder if the £36 million price-tag and the pressure of taking on United’s goal-scoring mantle has even registered with 19 year-old Martial who has hit three goals in three games for his new club. Urgency or panic appears not to be in his vocabulary, a player so laid-back he almost missed the team bus when on Champions League duty in Eindhoven.

His instinct draws him out to the channel between centre-half and full-back where he can drive towards goal with the irrepressible confidence and skill that twisted Martin Skrtel inside-out for his goal against Liverpool.

Against Southampton he took up a similar position on the right and no defender could get near him as he carried the ball towards the box. Only Memphis Depay’s hesitance stopped the move, a symptom of a failure to yet fully synchronise with his teammates.


Calm and unflappable

For now he appears to be operating on his unflappable calmness and a faith in his own talent, like the game comes so naturally to the striker who will back himself to do something great whenever he gets the ball.

As Claudio Ranieri, Martial’s former coach at Monaco, and France under-21 coach Pierre Mankowski say, it is like the striker has been blessed with a talent that is innate.


Caution must be urged

Three goals have come in just 115 minutes of Premier League action but with United having been here before with wondrous teenage talent only to see it suddenly burn-out, caution has to be urged.

Van Gaal has already said the fee handed to Monaco for Martial, an initial £36 million rising to £58 mil, is “ridiculous and that he was signed for his future successor. The Dutch manager must be careful not to get so carried away from the Frenchman’s immediate impact he strays away from that initial standpoint.

It would be dangerous to expect the 19 year old to take-over from Rooney as the main striker so soon, but Van Gaal will be aware that if Rooney’s current malaise continues he will be left with no choice.


Must avoid another Macheda-like scenario

Scoring three goals in his opening two games is an achievement shared with Federico Macheda and the fate of the Italian since then presents United with an ominous message to avoid burdening Martial with such heavy pressure so soon in his Old Trafford career.

Though such is the Frenchman’s certitude of his own vast abilities he may not even notice any expectation that is beginning to grow.


Written by Adam Gray

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250

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