Anthony Martial has the talent to reach Cristiano Ronaldo’s level if he puts his mind to it, according to Manchester United caretaker boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
The 23-year-old has impressed in fits and starts since moving from Monaco to Old Trafford in 2015, becoming the most expensive teenager in history in the process.
Martial had looked set to leave in the summer after falling out with Jose Mourinho, only to fight his way back into the Portuguese’s plans and last month sign a deal until at least 2024 under Solskjaer.
The France international marked his first start since that contract with an assist and a superb second in the 3-0 win against Fulham, where his fine solo goal led ex-United captain Gary Neville to compare it to a Ronaldo effort at Craven Cottage in 2007.
“Yes, it was towards the end of the game and we played a very poor game and Cristiano scored it,” Solskjaer said of his former team-mate’s goal.
“He does have similarities, of course.
“If he wants to be at Cristiano’s level, Anthony knows what he has to do. It’s up to him. He has the talent.”
Getting anywhere near those heights would be remarkable for a player that Mourinho was keen to sell in the summer.
Had the former United boss got his way, there is a chance Martial may have been lining up for Paris St Germain rather than United in Tuesday’s Champions League last-16 first leg.
“I am glad he is in my team,” Solskjaer said. “He has contributed to so many chances, so many goals. He is a Manchester United player. He excites the crowd. He excites the manager. He excites his team-mates. And he is a great character around the place.”
Tuesday’s first leg kicks off a big few weeks for United, whose hopes of progressing past PSG and reaching the quarter-finals have been bolstered by Neymar’s absence.
“When you play against the best teams, you want to play against the players,” Solskjaer said. “The crowd want to see the best players. Too bad for Old Trafford.
“I have played a couple of games when we played Real Madrid and Ronaldo and (Luis) Figo and all those were coming to Old Trafford. That gives it an extra edge.
“Unfortunately for Neymar he is injured, but of course he is a quality player. I think our right-back thinks it is not too bad he will not be here.”
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Ole Gunnar Solskajer continues to look at home as Manchester United manager, and the Red Devils got their feet under the table at Craven Cottage as they eased to a 3-0 win.
Paul Pogba thrashed them ahead when he latched onto Anthony Martial’s pass, with the provider then turning goalscorer when he collected Phil Jones’ pass inside his own half and strolled through the home defence to curl in a second.
The French connection was completed in the second half when Pogba stroked home his second from the penalty spot when Juan Mata was felled clumsily.
WHERE TO LOOK FOR LUKAKU
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to imagine Romelu Lukaku fitting into Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Man United picture.
It’s not that he doesn’t fit in. His part in the game-clinching third goal, where he outmuscled two opponents on the halfway line and drove from out on the touchline before delivering the (admittedly poor) pass that led to Juan Mata tumbling, was eye-catching.
He’s a handful and his power gives United something different. It’s just that in a side flowing forward and playing with pace, precision and cutting-edge perfection, Lukaku is always going to be on the outside looking in.
Marcus Rashford, Martial, Jesse Lingard and Pogba are the totems of Solskjaer’s simmering and refreshing brand of football. When United move the ball as rapidly and as effortlessly as they did against Fulham, the cumbersome Lukaku too often gets in the way.
He has his uses, for sure. If he trims down over the summer and gets leaner, who knows, perhaps he can still recapture his fearsome pace evidenced during his prolific Everton days.
The problem is that, under Jose Mourinho, United played to the big Belgian’s strengths. Now that they’ve returned to delivering football true to their DNA, however, it is Lukaku that must adapt, or his Old Trafford career is dead.
PRIMED FOR PSG
Oh, Tottenham will be the real acid test for Solskjaer. Well, will they be able to go to Emirates Stadium and tear Arsenal apart? They’ll have to play perfectly to overcome Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League.
Well, perfect pretty much sums up the way United are playing right now. Forget the fact this win came against relegation-threatened Fulham or that United are now set to run a gauntlet of matches, on this form they’ll give anyone a game.
Pogba leading the team like one of the best players in the world and a World Cup-winner should do; Martial frightening the life out of full-backs and displaying his world-class ability; Premier League small fry being put to the sword. This truly feels like the United of old.
Yes, tougher tests do lie ahead and PSG will give us an indicator of whether Solskjaer’s United are indeed the real deal, or just a temporary mirage. The consistency shown in the last two months though suggests it is the former.
They of course still remain some way off the elite teams in the Premier League. But when the draw was made for the Champions League before Christmas, United fans were not feeling very festive.
Now, with Solskjaer at the wheel, it feels like a few late presents could be bestowed upon supporters before season’s end.
GETTING HIS ROTATION RIGHT
Although it’s been very nearly pristine for Solskjaer so far, the one time United looked glaringly disjointed was when he made sweeping changes for the FA Cup third-round tie against Reading.
Swapping out both centre-backs for the trip to Craven Cottage, bringing in the ponderous Lukaku and lightweight Mata for Rashford and Lingard, and yet another game on the clock for Nemanja Matic seemed over ambitious from the Norwegian.
And yet he was rewarded with arguably the most complete performance of his tenure. United purred in west London, entering the Cottage and ransacking it with a display of totalitarian authority that felt out of Fulham’s reach as soon as Pogba’s pulsating shot whistled past Sergio Rico.
Diogo Dalot is still far from the finished article, but is showing plenty of promise with every assured performance at right-back. He needs to build up his defensive nous, but going forward he carries a real threat.
Lukaku cannot hope to be first choice under Solskjaer, but is a more than adequate player to parachute into the team when others need rest.
With every passing game, Solskjaer is proving himself adept tactically. He will need all his planning to be perfect next week.
The Manchester United train continues to chug on impressively under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as the Red Devils dissected Fulham, dancing to a delightful 3-0 triumph.
United opened the scoring when Anthony Martial sent Paul Pogba into the box, the World Cup-winner thundering a rocket past Sergio Rico although the keeper should have done a little better at his near post.
The visitors put their feet up at Craven Cottage minutes later when Martial went from provider to punisher, slaloming through the Fulham defence before finishing sumptuously past Rico.
Pogba got a second after the break when he swept in from the spot after Juan Mata had tumbled.
Here we rate the United players.
MANCHESTER UNITED (4-2-3-1)
DAVID DE GEA 6: A thoroughly comfortable afternoon for the captain. He held on confidently to a few Fulham attempts but his most arduous work was picking himself up off the ground from a hefty Mitrovic challenge.
DIOGO DALOT 7: Far from the finished article, but the Portuguese right-back continues to show promise. Needs to get up to the speed of the Premier League, but is growing with every performance.
PHIL JONES 7: There would have been a few winces among the away end when Jones and Smalling lined up together. But he was at his robust best, even threatening a goal with a speculative rocket and getting an assist for Martial’s goal. Two interceptions.
CHRIS SMALLING 7: Would have wanted a trouble-free performance devoid of error on his return to the Cottage, and he got just that. Dealt impressively with the physical Mitrovic. Led United with nine clearances, won five aerials.
LUKE SHAW 7: Almost every United player to a man has improved under Solskjaer. Shaw is perhaps the one who has been consistently brilliant all season. Tireless up and down the channels.
PAUL POGBA 9: Are there many players in better form across Europe? Stitched the United play together effortlessly with one-touch passes. The finish for his first was emphatic, his second sublime from the spot.
NEMANJA MATIC 5: Looked like he needed a rest and seemed hesitant, caught on the ball a few times. Still had a comfortable afternoon but wear and tear is a worry.
ANDER HERRERA 7: Has been brilliant under Solskjaer and was excellent again at the Cottage, doing his usual dirty work as well as linking play and getting into attacking areas.
JUAN MATA 6: Like Lukaku, doesn’t possess the speed on foot to start for Solskjaer. But where he is valuable is his speed of thought, able to insightfully see passes. Pass accuracy of 95.6 per cent summed this up.
ROMELU LUKAKU 5: The big Belgian is perennially cumbersome, which is why he is not a starter in the new-look United. But he worked hard and it was his initial fine work that led to the killer third.
ANTHONY MARTIAL 8: You still feel consistency is the key ingredient missing from his game. But he was certainly cooking on gas here with a goal – which was stunning – and assist, generally making the Cottagers feel uncomfortable.
ALEXIS SANCHEZ 5: One sumptuous delivery was headed narrowly over by McTominay. Otherwise, erratic. Eight passes, pass accuracy of 37.5 per cent.
SCOTT MCTOMINAY 6: Neat and tidy when he came on to relieve two-goal Pogba. Almost flicked in a fourth.
ERIC BAILLY N/A: Little more than a cameo as hard-working Herrera was withdrawn.