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Time for mind games is over, Jose, Martial deserves central role

Mourinho revels in drama

In every walk of life, people go about their day jobs in a completely different manner to their counterparts in exactly the same role, and football management is no different.

Some coaches like to keep their cards close to their chest, believing the internal affairs of their respective clubs, and the relationships present within, should stay strictly behind closed doors.

Mauricio Pochettino is very much of this ilk. He deals with his players his way, and doesn’t feel the need to tell the media his every move.

The opposite of such an approach is embodied by Jose Mourinho. Most soap operas don’t house the level of drama that the Portuguese revels in with certain players. We know every aspect of Luke Shaw’s struggles, whether Marcus Rashford is doing enough, or whether Anthony Martial’s attitude is up to the acceptable standards.

“We are together for almost 10 months,” Mourinho said in two weeks ago. “The same way I know the players much better now, the players should know me much better.”

“Do I think Anthony [Martial] is a player with great potential? Yes, I think. Do I think he can play successfully for me? Yes I think. But he needs to give me things that I like.”


Martial rises to challenge

Calling out your players, throwing down the gauntlet, whatever you want to call it, sometimes does reap rewards, with Martial’s performance at Burnley as impressive as we have seen from the talented Frenchman all season.

He completed more sprints than he had in any game all season, was the fastest player on the pitch by some margin, and put in an all-action display that Mourinho had been crying out for. This was the Martial of Liverpool debut fame back in full flight. So, you’d think, with that challenge accepted and emphatically answered by Martial, Mourinho would be glowing with pride that this embryonic talent had done as he was told? Not entirely.

“He has to understand what we need from him but it’s not just for us but it’s also for him,” Mourinho after United’s win at Burnley. ”If he wants to become a very special player – he can do that – then he has to go in a certain direction and today he showed this attitude and appetite.”

The response from Mourinho didn’t suggest Martial had made a lasting impression. Against Manchester City in the drab derby clash last week, Martial was effectively an auxiliary left-back, stifled as the Portuguese played for a point.

Then, against Swansea at the weekend, Mourinho’s tactics failed to get the best out of the Frenchman once more, as Rashford was again preferred as the central striker. Just two points and one goal later, Mourinho will surely be thinking of returning Martial to the No 9 role for the trip to Celta Vigo in Thursday Europa League semi-final.


Europa League the priority?

With their league form so flat, and tough trips to Arsenal and Tottenham to come, Mourinho cannot really take any risks with the Europa League, as it represents United’s best route back into Europe.

Rashford has had very little joy down the middle in the last couple of games. Yes, he won the penalty against Swansea at the weekend, but he offered very little threat in front of goal, mustering one shot all game.

Since his rampaging display against Chelsea, Rashford has scored just once. Obviously, still very much an fledgling hope, this is not cause for concern, but with such an important game in Galicia ahead, Martial looks like the safer option, even if just on the evidence of the Burnley game.

It is a pivotal time for Martial and Mourinho’s relationship. The Frenchman has responded to Mourinho’s challenge once already. Now, in a much more pivotal encounter, given the responsibility again, Martial might just save United’s, and Mourinho’s, season.

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