The Red Devils put in arguably one of their finest performances of 2019 in winning 3-1 at Norwich and the French forward was right at the heart of it
After Anthony Martial celebrated his return to the starting XI with the only goal of the game in Manchester United’s Europa League win over Partizan on Thursday, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer suggested the Frenchman was just what the Old Trafford side needed.
A hamstring injury had kept the former Monaco man out of action for nearly two months after he had made an encouraging start to the season, with the No.9 scoring twice and creating another in United’s opening three Premier League games.
Physical misfortune then struck, though, and United proved to be a hugely underwhelming outfit going forward without Martial, failing to score more than once in a game ever since the 23-year-old got sidelined.
That unimpressive stat didn’t change in Thursday’s victory in Serbia, but Solskjaer had seen enough to suggest Martial might just be the man to get United back on track.
“Now Anthony has been back, he got a goal, and I’m sure we’ll see us improve as a team with Anthony in the side,” the Norwegian told reporters.
“He does give us something different.”
Sunday’s trip to Norwich was the ideal opportunity for Martial to give Solskjaer more reason for optimism after a few difficult weeks and he did not hesitate to do just that.
The France international looked lively right from the off and was unlucky not to get an assist to his name when Tim Krul denied Marcus Rashford after a clever pass into the area, before the Dutch goalkeeper pulled off a miracle save to deny Martial himself from the following corner.
Some awful defending from Todd Cantwell then handed Scott McTominay the opener, the holding midfielder pouncing on a poor touch from the Norwich man .
United fans might have feared that was it when it came to goals, but there was more to come this time around and Martial was right at the heart of it.
He beat a number of opponents in midfield just minutes after the opener and then found Dan James with a sublime through round ball that eventually led to the questionable penalty that was missed by Rashford.
The enigmatic attacker then did well to shrug off his direct opponent after a clearance from Harry Maguire, putting James to work, who in turn set Rashford on his way to making it 2-0 with a phenomenal pass.
All that was missing at that point was a goal and he got a chance to add his name to the scoresheet when United were awarded another penalty after VAR intervention.
Krul was having none of it, however, as he made his second penalty save of the opening 45 minutes to keep his side’s chances of getting a result alive.
Martial was denied once more early in the second half, but there was no stopping him in the 73rd minute as he dinked a shot over Krul after a sublime assist from Rashford to make it 3-0 before Norwich scored a late consolation.
Although it’s too opportunistic to suggest United’s problems are all over following Martial’s return to action, it’s easy to see why Solskjaer has been so happy to have him back.
The forward continually looked to get involved in the game, dropping deep to collect the round ball, worrying defenders with his movement and taking on opponents with his dribbling skills.
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Rashford and James looked liberated again alongside the former wonderkid, the duo having struggled in recent weeks as United lacked a proper striker.
It’s now up to Martial and United to build on Sunday’s performance in the weeks to come and ensure the display at Carrow Road was not a one-off.
If they do that, top four and a return to the Champions League might not be so unrealistic after all.