Neil Humphreys: Anthony Martial makes the difference for Man United
Man United's French forward shows consistency with direct involvement in 6 EPL goals this term
Manchester United remain a confusing work in progress, but one position finally looks secure.
Anthony Martial was born to lead the line at Old Trafford.
|(Andreas Pereira 17, Davy Propper 19-og, Marcus Rashford 66)||(Lewis Dunk 64)|
The Frenchman's finesse in an otherwise patchy line-up makes him a rare beacon of hope for the Red Devils. He's a flashback to forwards past at the Theatre of Dreams.
United's 3-1 win over Brighton and Hove Albion was occasionally stodgy, but the lean, swift Martial offered an intriguing mix of athleticism and intelligence.
Of all the emerging talents in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's youthful line-up, the thinking forward up front looks the smartest bet.
Two assists added to Martial's growing tally and underlined his increasing dominance.
Without him, United might have lurched towards another draw and another unwelcome post-mortem into Solskjaer's methodology.
Martial isn't just making a difference. He is the difference. The 23-year-old has now been directly involved in six goals in as many English Premier League starts this season.
More impressively, he's been directly involved in 12 goals in his last 13 starts at Old Trafford across all competitions, with six goals and six assists.
He's as classy as he is crucial, which makes those habitual wanders to the wilderness in the last couple of years all the more bewildering.
With three EPL assists this season, he already has one more than all of last season. The two campaigns are night and day.
If nothing else, Solskjaer deserves credit for waking Martial from a long slumber. The rest of the squad will need a little more time.
Martial and Marcus Rashford's interplay, particularly in the second half, were tantalising glimpses of what United may become. But the current side are still a bit of a slog.
Watching United lose is always a dispiriting experience, but a victory is not quite a ride on a roller-coaster either.
Like bland music on a middle-of-the-road radio station, the Red Devils are just there, inoffensive and mostly innocuous. They do the job, but little more than that. Even their first-half goals were uninspiring.
In the 17th minute, Andreas Pereira over-hit a pass to Martial. Cutting inside from the left, Martial shaped to shoot, but slipped a return pass to Pereira.
The Brazilian's effort was neither a shot, nor a cross, but caught a fortunate deflection to confuse the goalkeeper and spin away into the opposite corner.
It won't be a contender for Goal of the Season, but it was the perfect goal of their season: messy and not entirely deserved, with Martial making the key contribution.
Their second was hardly an improvement.
Just two minutes later, Fred's whipped free-kick caused a flurry of scuffed headers and elbows in a cluttered box before trickling over the line, via an unseen Davy Propper body part.
An own-goal and a lucky goal were United's highlights as Brighton somehow morphed into the superior side, despite a two-goal deficit at Old Trafford.
Despite the scoreline, Solskjaer's youthful side rarely looked comfortable, allowing the Seagulls to flutter forward.
When the visitors pulled a goal back in the 64th minute, via Lewis Dunk's thumping header, no one could feign surprise.
Pascal Gross' corner-kick somehow eluded anyone in a red jersey, before meeting Dunk's forehead. United's poor defensive record continues, with only two clean sheets in 23 league matches.
Fortunately for the hosts, Brighton hit the snooze button during their celebrations and allowed Martial to cut a neat pass back for Rashford, who smashed in off the crossbar.
United had restored their two-goal advantage in less than two minutes and finally closed the door on an unlikely comeback.
Old Trafford rarely witnessed champagne football, but at least the fizzing Martial always sparkled.