Manchester United kept their ambitions of putting forward a title charge this season alive at the weekend by beating Southampton 3-2 at St Mary’s.
The Old Trafford outfit continue to look far from the finished article in the final third, but the introduction of Anthony Martial is clearly a real positive for Louis van Gaal’s men.
Despite the extortionate transfer fee that United shelled out to bring the young French forward to Manchester still being questioned, the potential and current ability that the ex-Monaco man has displayed is there for all to see.
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Having scored three goals in two games, playing a considerable role in back-to-back wins for his side, Martial has quickly fired himself to become United’s top scorer for the campaign.
However, potentially the biggest plus point that the gifted youngster could be set to bring to United is helping to get the best out of Wayne Rooney.
The club captain has had a decidedly slow start to the new campaign and looked way off the pace against the Saints, with Martial’s goals papering over the cracks of the Englishman’s performance.
But, more importantly, the Frenchman’s presence means that Rooney can now move position and play in a deeper role where he can exert more influence.
In Van Gaal’s 4-2-3-1 formation, the former Everton prodigy was being deployed as the furthest man forward and charged with leading the line.
This is a position that Rooney has successfully occupied in the past, but it appears that as time ticks on the veteran is more suited to a support role.
The England international does not possess the pace off the mark to threaten in behind opposition defences and as such United’s attack becomes more predictable as a result.
Martial is bursting with acceleration, which will naturally lead to United’s opponents dropping slightly deeper to cope with the 19-year-old’s potential for getting through on goal.
Rooney will be the chief protagonist to benefit from Martial playing on the last line, as space will become available in front of the opposition rearguard for him to utilise.
The United captain’s versatility has been an impressive element of his time at Old Trafford and there is no doubting that he still can play as a traditional number nine – Van Gaal would not have let Robin van Persie leave the club otherwise.
But, as the Red Devils’ lack creativity and incision in the final third, Rooney could well be the man to inspire his side from the number ten role, floating in behind Martial and picking the ball up in pockets of space.
This position arguably suits Rooney best as it affords him the opportunity to both create and score, leaving Martial to chase lost causes, harry centre-halves and stretch defences.
Form is temporary and class is permanent; United fans will be confident that Rooney will be back to his best soon.
However, it is Martial’s presence as a mobile and purposeful centre forward that can help to unleash Rooney in a deeper role as United strive forward in their quest for silverware.