Eric Devin looks at how the departure of Anthony Martial from AS Monaco and the arrival of the player at Manchester United will cause changes in personnel and tactics at both clubs.
Given the fee, even at its lowest estimate, Monaco had no choice but to sell Martial, netting a stunning profit in just two years’ time.
Even if he does succeed at the very highest level, his talent always meant that he would have soon departed anyway, given the club’s lack of ambition with regards to retaining their best players. Or, at least ambition on the scale of Manchester United.
Monaco will simply continue to churn through young talent in Martial’s wake, the struggles of France’s other top clubs aside from Paris Saint-Germain once again giving them a fairly robust opportunity to finish in the top three again.
Even with that being the case, however, his departure has left the team in the lurch more than a bit.
Martial’s pace and one-touching finishing made him perfectly suited to spearhead Leonardo Jardim’s counter-attacking 4-3-3, and the other major summer arrivals (Ivan Cavaleiro, Adama Traore, Rony Lopes, Thomas Lemar, Fabio Coentrao, Stephan El Shaarawy) seemed also to be in that mold, as all are fleet of foot, with many able to operate in multiple positions. Yet none of these, with the possible exception of El Shaararwy, have the ability to act as a centre forward.
In terms of proper forwards, Guido Carillo was brought in from Estudiantes, where he had a decent, but not impressive goal-scoring record. Lacina Traore remains with the team as well, but the towering Ivorian has always been a bit of an enigma, having struggled with injury since his arrival from Russian side Anzhi two years ago.
Neither, however, have the mobility and energy to get the best out of Monaco’s wide players, as their rather static presences will likely crowd the area for wingers cutting inside and the likes of a Lemar or Adama Traore running upfield with the ball at their feet.
Unless Jardim intends to rely on El Shaarawy playing as more of a false nine, there will be some necessary tactical tweaks forthcoming. As an aside, given El Shaarawy’s past goal-scoring exploits, while it does seem tempting to play him in that role, given the Italian’s injury history and the fact that his best scoring came while used wide on the left, there are too many potential stumbling blocks.
Monaco’s best approach is to play something that’s closer to a 4-2-3-1, something that will rob them of the ability to play on the counter as finely as they did last year, but will still allow the team to be fairly dynamic.
With Adama Traore using his dribbling ability to get forward as one of the two central midfielders, with Joao Moutinho or Thomas Lemar ahead of him and Cavaleiro and Bernardo Silva operating in wide areas, the team would thus have template that would allow for maximum rotation, as El Shaarawy and Nabil Dirar could readily be deputies for the wingers. Mario Pasalic showed in the Champions’ league that he has a nose for goal, allowing Jardim to rest Traore as well.
With two players for every position, the club would thus be able to balance its European and domestic commitments without overtaxing their young squad. Admittedly, the club’s diminished ability to play on the counter means it is less able to grapple with the very top clubs, but that’s not likely to be much of an issue in the Europa League.
Thus, despite not returning to the Champions’ League, and losing one of last season’s top scorers, there are still more than enough goals at Monaco (especially when compared to the rest of Ligue 1) to allow the club to move on from Martial’s departure without being dramatically affected.
But what about Manchester United?
While Monaco, admittedly with some help from their fellow European contenders’ profligacy, will likely carry on the same trajectory without Martial, his new club will need similar subtle shifts in tactics.
Wayne Rooney has demonstrated thus far that given the number of matches he has played over the past fifteen-odd years, he no longer has the pace and energy to be a number nine. While he remains a fine player capable of scoring goals, battling hulking centre backs on a weekly basis is a sublimation of his talent.
With Martial leading the line, Rooney can act as a second striker/playmaker, much as he did with Dimitar Berbatov a few years ago.
Rather than the languid Bulgarian, though, the pace and energy of Memphis Depay on the left and Martial ahead of him will allow Rooney more space on the ball, making pace on his part less of a necessity.
The right wing role is still somewhat of a question mark, but Juan Mata appears ready to shoulder the burden there, at least until a more suitable option can be found.
With Rooney occupying the centre of the park and Depay and Martial buzzing around him, Manchester United can be a much more dangerous proposition going forward with Martial in the side, whether he is scoring himself or opening up space for the midfield three.
Part 2 of 4.