Anthony Martial scored a goal and set one up in a practice match against Burnley in midweek. It was enough to convince Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to recall him into Manchester United’s starting line-up.
It took just 58 minutes for Solskjaer to substitute Martial, and the striker was fortunate not to be hooked at half-time.
Barring a first half header which was cleared off the line, Martial contributed nothing of note.
Before he was substituted, Martial managed only 13 touches.
Needs to offer more
Martial at his best is capable of being an excellent link-up player, helping others to join the attack, and able to go past players and take them on.
There was none of that at St Mary’s with a tepid, lifeless performance from a striker starting his first competitive game since March.
And that is part of the problem, a large part. Martial is lacking full fitness and sharpness.
It’s part of the reason why it is important not to be too judgmental, and appreciate strikers need time to get into a rhythm.
Last April at home to Brighton, Edinson Cavani put in a disappointing performance, in which he managed just 17 touches in 81 minutes.
As we noted at the time, Cavani was out of match practice after a few weeks out and international duty, and needed game time to get back to his old self.
The very next game, Cavani burst into life, scoring a diving header away at Tottenham, and going on a run of games which saw his goal record go from single figures to finishing the season on 17.
The question is whether Solskjaer will stick with Martial and give him the opportunity to improve next week, or send him back to the bench.
With Cavani getting fit again, and admittedly lacking match practice, there will be more competition for Martial, and it may be simpler to just start Mason Greenwood up front again.
Solskjaer admitted before the game that his decision to select Martial was a bit of a gut call, because he had done well against Southampton last season at home.
The gamble to start the Frenchman did not pay off. Martial will get more opportunities this season, but time won’t wait forever, and this was a missed chance for him to get his season started well.
If he gets a chance next week, he has to do better.
Have something to tell us about this article?