Man United 3 Liverpool 1: Michael Carrick was not alone in expressing surprise when Louis van Gaal paid an astronomical fee for the young French forward Anthony Martial earlier this month. The Man United midfielder confessed he barely recognised the name of his new team-mate when his club sent a cheque for nearly £40m to AS Monaco.
The key difference now lies in the fact the veteran England international enjoyed a closer view than most as Martial announced his arrival on the Premier League scene in stunning fashion. It was a debut goal, some 21 minutes after his introduction as a second-half substitute, that drew inevitable comparisons between Martial, and Thierry Henry, the compatriot with whom he has mostly closely been compared since his signing.
Pace, power, vision and, above all, instinctive and nerveless finishing were trademarks of Henry and were superbly demonstrated by Martial as he killed off a late Liverpool rally in front of the watching Carrick, by then on the United bench after making way for Morgan Schneiderlin.
“I have to be honest, I didn’t know an awful lot, like many, but I do now,” said Carrick. “We haven’t really trained this week too much with lads only coming back from internationals. We haven’t seen an awful lot of him.
“But it doesn’t get any better than that, coming on and scoring against Liverpool like that. He has done well to get in that position and the finish was terrific, how he just slotted it home, he was so calm and composed and you can’t ask for a better start.
“He is off the mark now. He has announced himself, everyone has seen it on the big stage. It’s a good start for him. I am sure his confidence will be sky-high after that. It’s a good way to settle him and if that has raised expectations then so be it but that is part of the game.” The fact that Van Gaal agreed a basic £36.8 million fee for Martial (19), while agreeing to potential add-ons that could cost a further £22.8 million, was seen in many quarters as an act of desperation by the Dutchman who had allowed a number of forwards to leave Old Trafford in the window.
It led to the window closing with Wayne Rooney as the only senior recognised forward left on the Old Trafford books, until Martial’s arrival. A minor hamstring injury to Rooney left Van Gaal facing the prospect of starting with either his teenage newcomer or Belgian utility man Marouane Fellaini as the lone striker, the United manager opting for the latter but abandoning that experiment after 65 futile minutes.
Fortunately for Van Gaal, Martial’s late contribution salvaged his questionable tactical choices and also left the signing of the French international look less of a panic measure. “It’s a lot of money, of course it is,” said Carrick. “I suppose time will tell, won’t it? But to start like that you can’t really ask for more.
“For years it’s been midfield, people have been saying we haven’t got midfielders, there is always something you can pick on. I suppose you always want more and you want to improve all the time. It’s just typical today that Wayne has picked up a little injury and missed it, but we have won the game, won it well, so I suppose you can say we have still got options up front to come off the bench and Martial has made such an impact. I suppose you can say the future is bright.” Van Gaal, too, talked of the club’s bright future, even going as far as to suggest in midweek that he had signed Martial for the benefit of Ryan Giggs, his assumed successor, rather than himself. The veteran Dutchman is far too astute not to realise, of course, that United must record success in the short, as well as the long, term and Martial may not be granted the leeway his manager hopes in waiting for him to produce.
“It is very difficult to say,” said van Gaal when asked if Martial’s was the best goal he had ever enjoyed from a debutant. “I have made a lot of debuts possible. A lot of my debutants have scored. Patrick Kluivert, for example. That’s a good signal, nothing more. We have bought him because of his talent, but you have to show your talent at the right time on the pitch and Martial has done that in his first match. We will have to wait and see if he can be consistent and do it every game.
“You have an average from strikers of around 50 or 60 per cent every match. His average at Monaco was lower, because his finishing was not so good. But today it was 100 per cent.”
Daley Blind and Ander Herrera, from the penalty spot, gave United a commanding second-half lead before Christian Benteke’s superb volley pulled Liverpool back into contention only for Martial to settle United nerves.
Benteke’s solo genius notwithstanding, Liverpool were woeful and the absence of the injured Philippe Coutinho rendered them toothless in the extreme leaving manager Brendan Rodgers to issue an unconvincing analysis of his team’s current malaise. “It is where we are at the moment,” he said. “It’s no fault of the players, who are working very hard, and they are disappointed because they know they can play better than that.
“Over the course of the season, I’m sure they will.”
MAN UTD (4-2-3-1):
De Gea 7; Darmian 6, Smalling 8, Blind 7, Shaw 7; Carrick 6 (Schneiderlin 72, 6), Schweinsteiger 6; Mata 6 (Martial 65, 7), Herrera 7, Memphis 5 (Young 46, 9); Fellaini 4.
Subs not used:
Rojo, Romero, Valencia, McNair.
Mignolet 5; Clyne 6, Skrtel 6, Lovren 5, Gomez 5; Lucas 5 (Moreno 88), Can 7; Milner 5, Firmino 4 (Ibe 65, 7), Ings 6 (Origi 73, 5); Benteke 8.
Subs not used:
Toure, Sakho, Bogdan, Rossiter.
M Oliver 7 (Northumberland)
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved