Although Marcus Rashford’s superb recent form will be getting many of the headlines, especially after last night’s performance against Chelsea, there is no doubt that Anthony Martial‘s return to fitness has been the key component in United’s revival.
Simply looking at the statistics for this season, with and without Martial, it shows the vital role that the Frenchman plays under manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Their win percentage with him is 57% this season, and without him, it is 25%.
That stat, by itself, though, doesn’t necessarily show his influence on the team. However, if you look at the chance creation numbers, with and without the 23-year-old, you can begin to see why he is such an important player.
United have played 15 games this season in all competitions. In the eight games they played in Martial’s absence, their expected goals (xG) was 1.35 per game. In the seven matches when he played some part, the xG rises to 1.77.
While that may not appear a big difference, it is important to remember how xG is calculated. The stats from Wyscout we are using usually assess 0.2 or above as a big chance and that means Martial inclusion leads to at least two more per match.
Having someone like the Frenchman in the team, therefore, makes it more likely that United will get goals, whether he is on the scoresheet or not.
The Norwich game, in particular, was a case in point. Although he was ostensibly playing as the number nine, his movement means he usually gets touches right across the width of the pitch in the final third.
It makes him very hard to mark for opposition defenders and opens up space for the likes of Marcus Rashford and Daniel James to venture into.
Without Martial, Rashford was very easy to mark upfront as there was very little threat from other United players. The reintroduction of United’s no.9 has made things more complicated for opponents.
In addition to the movement, the France international’s understanding with Rashford to play quick one-twos can also be very important, as we saw for the third goal against Norwich last weekend.
Having to rely so much on one player for their attacking play does demonstrate a serious lack of depth in forward areas, though, and Solskjaer will want to rectify that in January. Even so, he will be very glad that Mourinho didn’t get his way on forcing the player out of the club last year. He could be the key to securing a top-four finish this season.