Just three weeks into the 2016-17 Premier League season, things are looking positive for Jose Mourinho and Manchester United.
Wins against Bournemouth, Southampton and Hull City mean that the Old Trafford club are joint league leaders alongside Chelsea and cross-town rivals Manchester City. The likes of Zlatan Ibrahimović, Paul Pogba and Eric Bailly have made stellar starts to their respective stints while fellow newcomer Henrikh Mkhitaryan has impressed the United faithful with a couple of lively cameos. Not only has competition for berths in the starting eleven risen exponentially, the intensity with which Mourinho has gone about building a dynasty of his own has also excited fans and pundits alike.
There have been a few blips on the way though, none more worrying than the current form of United’s No. 11, Anthony Martial.
The Frenchman enjoyed a wonderful debut campaign from a personal front under Louis van Gaal, scoring 17 goals in all competitions and playing an instrumental role in leading the club to its 12th FA Cup trophy. He was selected to represent France in the Euros on their own turf, although his appearances were limited in the tournament. While Martial may have put the disappointment of not playing as much as he would have liked behind him, his form for his English employers has declined drastically.
He started the season well, grabbing two assists in United’s 3-1 win over Bournemouth at the Vitality stadium but was ineffective against Southampton at Old Trafford five days later. Not only did he fail to exert his influence throughout the game, he also squandered a couple of reasonably simple opportunities and looked frustrated at several stages of the contest. He was hooked off after an hour against Hull City following yet another poor display and the consequences of these performances may yet be grave, given how fiercely competitive Mourinho’s squad has become.
Deployed on the left hand side of an attacking trio, Martial was prolific last season for his ability to take on defenders and dribble past them in order to square the ball to his teammates in the box. He demonstrated those qualities to full effect in several games and became a massive threat for his opponents more often than not. That menace has been absent for the entirety of United’s last two Premier League outings and while this should not come across as a major concern to the supporters and the player himself, failure to improve in the weeks to come could prompt Mourinho to relegate him to the bench and instate Marcus Rashford or Memphis Depay in his position.
It must also be noted that Martial has had issues off the pitch with his ex-wife Samantha. Some reports suggest Mourinho has spoken to the Frenchman regarding this situation and has warned him to resolve it and not jeopardize his place in the team. This may seem trivial to a few but if it does hold true, the former Monaco sensation will have to sort out his personal life as soon as possible in order to reinvigorate his season.
Given how talented and confident the youngster is, though, it is fair to assume he will be back to his best sooner than later. With Martial set to feature for France in a friendly against Italy and a 2018 World Cup qualifier against Belarus, a spell away from the hubbub of the Premier League may just help him regain his focus and usher him towards the right direction. A change in environment and crowd can foster that and this early break from domestic action might bring out the best in the French attacker.
Should things go as planned, Martial will soon find the net for United and hopefully build on the foundation he set for himself last season. If not, the wrath of Mourinho may yet motivate him to work harder and deliver regularly for his club. Uncertain times ahead for the French international.