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David Meyler: I feel sorry for Martial but Man United need to buy a world class No.9

This week, our columnist focuses on Man United’s much-maligned striker and gives his predictions for the Manchester derby.

Manchester United forward Anthony Martial.
Manchester United forward Anthony Martial.
Image: PA

EX-IRELAND INTERNATIONAL David Meyler is The42′s football columnist for this season.

Every Friday, the former Hull City and Sunderland midfielder will give expert insight and his predictions ahead of the weekend’s Premier League action, alongside the latest William Hill prices.

In his latest piece, Meyler looks at Man United’s centre forward situation ahead of Sunday’s Manchester derby before calling the relegation six-pointer between West Brom and Newcastle United. 

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Man City v Man United, 4.30pm Sunday 

What do you do with a player like Anthony Martial? 

It is five-and-a-half years since Manchester United spent £36 million (€48m) to bring him to the club, a sum that could rise to £58m (€80m). At the time, that represented a world-record transfer fee for a teenager. 

They were signing a young French forward from Monaco, so people automatically made the comparison with Thierry Henry and wondered if this boy could have a fraction of the success the Arsenal legend enjoyed in the Premier League.

So when he came off the bench against Liverpool on his debut, turned Martin Skrtel inside out and slotted the ball past Simon Mignolet in a 3-1 win it felt like he might actually live up to the price tag.

You witness a 19-year-old produce a moment of brilliance like that and it’s hard not to set high expectations for him.

However, anyone who has watched Martial consistently will tell you he has blown hot and cold during his career at Old Trafford.

His goalscoring return for each season reads 17, 8, 11, 12 and 23. As you can see, the 2019/20 campaign was his most prolific and you got the sense that something had finally clicked with him playing centrally week in week out, but this term his performances have left many fans feeling frustrated more often than not.

So far, he has seven goals in 33 appearances and only four in the Premier League — which is an identical record to that of holding midfielder Scott McTominay.

I do feel sorry for him as I believe he’s desperate to play outside left but Marcus Rashford is one of the best in the league in that position with the likes of Sadio Mane, Raheem Sterling and Heung-Min Son. So it’s difficult to accommodate him.

Add to the mix Edinson Cavani, who joined the club back in October. He’s an extremely experienced centre forward who has been at the top of the game for a decade with Napoli, Paris Saint-Germain and Uruguay.

Cavani brings something different and is excellent in terms of his movement, his hold-up and link-up play. Martial doesn’t excel in those things and that shows that he’s probably not a natural striker.

The obvious downside to Cavani is that, at 34, he is in the latter stages of his career and won’t be able to play every game for a club competing on several fronts.

Martial also strikes you as an unusual character as he never shows any emotion — you don’t see him smile, show joy or get angry. He has always got a straight face on.

This was raised by Graeme Souness and Roy Keane in the Sky Sports studio last week, when they questioned whether the 25-year-old “loves the game”, but I do believe he is hungry and passionate about it.

For me personally, I think it is a confidence thing with Martial because there is certainly bundles of talent there.

When is the last time a Man United player won the Premier League’s Golden Boot award? You have to go back to the 2012/13 campaign when Robin van Persie picked it up as they went on to win the title under Alex Ferguson for the last time.

If the Red Devils spend big on a proven striker in the summer they would be serious title contenders because there have been plenty of games in which they dropped points by not finishing off chances.

Ruud van Nistelrooy springs to mind as the type of player they could really do with. The Dutchman was clinical inside the box and known for getting in the right areas to score tap ins.

We know Erling Haaland was being linked with United and they would have had to deal with agent Mino Raiola to buy him from Red Bull Salzburg, but I bet they wish they had now.

What that young man is doing at Borussia Dortmund right now is phenomenal. Could you imagine him through the middle with Greenwood on the right and Rashford on the left? A scary prospect and they’re all still very young.

There has always been speculation around Harry Kane and I’m not saying they could definitely get him but someone of that stature who you know is going to score 20-plus goals would be a gamechanger.

manchester-united-v-manchester-city-carabao-cup-semi-final-old-trafford John Stones scoring against Man United in the EFL Cup semi-final. Source: PA

On Sunday, United make the short trip to the Etihad to face the champions-elect. Since their 6-1 hammering at the hands of Tottenham in October, Solskjaer has re-evaluated how he sets his teams up and their last six encounters with ‘big six’ clubs have all ended in 0-0 draws with the exception of the 1-0 defeat to Arsenal.

So they have been a lot more defensively sound, but on the flipside, have also failed to score against Chelsea (twice), Arsenal (twice), Man City and Liverpool.

Their last three results in all competitions have been goalless draws too after Wednesday’s stalemate away to Crystal Palace. 

City, meanwhile, are still on this sensational winning run and will no doubt dominate the game.

United need to be solid and try to catch Pep Guardiola’s side on the counter attack. I wouldn’t be surprised if Solskjaer goes with the pace of Daniel James on the right, Rashford on the left and a return for Martial through the centre after he was dropped against Chelsea.

That’s if the Frenchman can shake off the knock that kept him out in midweek. 

Even at that, it doesn’t look like anyone can stop City at the moment and I’m expecting them to win a tight enough game — 2-1.

 West Brom v Newcastle, 12pm Sunday

Earlier in the day, there is a huge match at the bottom of the table as Big Sam and Steve Bruce go head-to-head.

West Brom know they have to win as they are more or less done if they don’t, while victory would suck Newcastle deeper into the relegation scrap.

Everything went the Baggies’ way against Brighton last weekend, and I could write a whole article on what was wrong with the decision-making behind Lewis Dunk’s disallowed goal. It turned into a complete and utter shit show.

britain-soccer-premier-league Allan Saint-Maximin is out injured for Newcastle. Source: Owen Humphreys

Newcastle losing Allan Saint-Maximin to injury until next month is going to be a massive blow for them, while Miguel Almiron will also be missed.

Saint-Maximin is an exciting player who can cause problems for opponents. If fans were allowed back in the stadiums, they would be paying to go to see him play.

The Magpies may not need to win as badly as West Brom but you can’t go into a game thinking you’ll settle for a draw.

I know The Hawthorns pitch is tight, and that could make it a scrappy game. I’m going to predict that the sides come away with a point apiece.

 William Hill odds above correct at the time of writing. New online customers get €30 in free bets when they bet €10 with William Hill. Just use the promo code H30. For all the latest prices, visit williamhill.com. 18+, always gamble responsibly. For more information, see gamblingtherapy.org    

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