This past Wednesday night against Albania, Didier Deschamps made a huge decision to swap Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann for Kingsley Coman and Anthony Martial.
For the latter, it wasn’t exactly the ideal start to his Euro 2016 campaign, as Martial was hooked off at half time by Deschamps because of his poor first half.
It was clear to all watching that Martial wasn’t quite ready for such an occasion, but what was the reasoning behind his poor performance? Tom Scholes takes a look at Anthony Martial’s game against Albania.
Too much, too soon?
Martial has only burst onto the international scene this past year, and his appearances in friendlies have been sporadic at best since making the move to Manchester United, so maybe the pressure of playing such a vital game in front of a packed out Stade Velodrome where the fans and the country were expecting a win was maybe a bit too much for him?
Sure, he plays at one of the biggest clubs in the world where expectations were high, but Martial has never been in such a pressure cooker situation like he was at the Velodrome last night.
The attacking runs that normally function well for Manchester United failed to work last night mainly because of the solidity and compactness of the Albanian defence. Martial couldn’t figure out how to adapt his game to the style and tempo of the match, as well as the disappointing quality of the pitch, and it affected him from the first minute.
A very long season for Manchester United:
Prior to the game last night, multiple media outlets in France compared the amount of games that each of the attackers have played this season, and Martial topped the list after he played 66 games this season for both France and Manchester United.
Martial’s first appearance for United came on September 12th against Liverpool, and it seemed that he played every game for the Red Devils from then until the FA Cup final in May.
Very early on in his United career, fans identified Martial as the star man, so the physical demand of being the attacking threat in a very defensive United side would have taken it’s toll on the former Monaco player.
Now, when it comes to the crunch of the European Championships Martial doesn’t seem able to keep up with the aggressive tempo. The toll of playing without a winter break for the first time in his career looks like it’s working against Martial this summer.
Not intelligent enough?
For players in the European Championships to really make a mark, it takes a lot of footballing intelligence to really make an impact. Players like Zidane who can turn the game by a simple pass know how to change their style to suit the tempo and the opposition.
Martial should’ve recognized last night that trying to run through the middle of the pitch was a losing strategy, and he should have followed the example set by Kingsley Coman on the opposite side and tried to cross the ball in, using his outstanding pace out wide.
Coman was able to recognize that he had to play closer to the touchline, and used his footballing brain to do so, whereas Martial failed to do so. Maybe it was due to Coman playing in a Bayern Munich side who come up against teams similar to Albania who place 11 players deep behind the ball, and Coman has had to adapt each and every week. Martial’s career at Manchester United has so far been with a team who move the ball slowly and allow opposition defenders to come out and now sit deep.
It will come with time for Martial, but for the here and now, it was detrimental to Martial’s play.
One of the criticisms that is leveled at Anthony Martial is that his character when things are not going his way does not positively impact his team. When he loses the ball or can’t get through the defence as was the case against Albania, his shoulders drop and he looks like he is unable to find it in his mind to dig deep and try and find a way to get through on goal.
In comparison, Coman on the opposite kept on plugging away, and continued to try to find a way to get in the cross. He never gave up, whilst Martial disappeared after being sounded out by the Albanians.
It is something that really needs to change in Martial’s game, because opposition sides will know that if they get on his nerves and rattle his cage essentially, he will flicker in and out the game and be largely ineffective, like he was on Wednesday evening.
With the performances of the likes of Coman, Dimitri Payet, Antoine Griezmann and Andre Pierre-Gignac, it seems that Martial’s tournament could be restricted to vary rare appearances off the bench.
He may get another chance against Switzerland seeing as France have already qualified for the knockout round, but, at this stage, it is very unlikely that he will start in the latter stages for France.