The ball is in Anthony Martial’s court

Ryan Benson

When Jose Mourinho was appointed Manchester United manager in May last year, we all knew that somewhere along the road there would be rows, bust-ups and potential departures as a result, with everyone’s favourite Portuguese egomaniac coming back to Premier League football.

Initially Juan Mata appeared to be the prime candidate, and speculation was rife about the Spaniard’s future, having previously fallen well out-of-favour under Mourinho at Chelsea despite thriving – a situation which ultimately led to his United switch.

After Mourinho put Mata’s mind at rest, new signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan was the next to be the subject of rumours. A poor performance in the Manchester derby in September resulted in the Armenian being dropped and the coach was very public with his opinion of the player’s style and slow adaptation.

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But that subsided eventually, with Mourinho deciding Mkhitaryan was ready (or gave in to fan demands; you decide) and he has generally been a success ever since.

But one player has struggled for consistency all season so far and is currently enduring something of a frosty relationship with Mourinho; Anthony Martial.

One of few highlights of last season for United, Martial has generally looked a shadow of his former self during the current campaign and is becoming an expensive problem for Mourinho. Signed in a £36million deal which could end up being worth £57.6m, the Frenchman has not even looked close to justifying those figures since the summer.

He has put Mourinho in a difficult position; considering how expensive Martial was, he is expected to play most weeks by both fans and the club, yet he simply hasn’t been good enough to warrant a regular spot, scoring just twice in 13 in the Premier League.

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Initially Mourinho received criticism for Martial’s reduced playing time, likening the situation to the one which saw Mata bizarrely frozen out at Chelsea. But this time, the former Real Madrid coach’s actions are justified and necessary – if anything, this is the sort of uncompromising management that United fans were crying out for under David Moyes and Louis van Gaal.

Martial wasn’t involved at all – he didn’t even travel – for United’s 1-1 draw at Stoke City on Saturday. He was completely dropped from first-team reckoning, something which reportedly angered him.

Apparently a lack of explanation for his absence left Martial fuming with Mourinho, but the fact he even needed one shows that the 21-year-old’s head really is in the clouds.

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Six days earlier, Martial was woeful against Liverpool and hooked after 65 minutes for Mata. But, according to reports, the issue with his performance against Jurgen Klopp’s men came down to the fact that not only did he fail to make an impression, but he struggled against an 18-year-old rookie in Trent Alexander-Arnold.

The Liverpool right-back should have been in for a long day on his first Premier League start, but Martial was sluggish and ineffective against him. Mourinho is correct to expect more from the France international.

Only a few weeks ago United insisted he would not be available for transfer – permanent or loan – and they will likely repeat their stance in the face of more rumours now, which means it’s up to Martial to change his own attitude and fortune.

But will Mourinho get a Mkhitaryan-like response? If he does, United will take some stopping.

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