6:30 P.M. (EASTERN TIME)
Manchester, England — Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will tell you that Manchester United hasn’t had a good time this season, and one of the reasons is Anthony Martial. It was the Frenchman who scored the first goal in United’s 2-1 victory over Aston Villa at Old Trafford to set up the first challenge of the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era for the title.
Solskjaer needed another penalty from Bruno Fernandez, three good saves from David de Gea, an impressive performance from Paul Pogba and a heroic block from Eric Bailey in the fifth minute of time added to get the victory on the line, but his side is now on points with Liverpool at the top of the table after 16 games. At least in 2021 United has a chance to become champion with the number 21.
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Martial’s goal just before half-time was only his second of the season in the Premier League, after having waited until December for his first. He has played every game since last season’s relaunch project to help United reach third place and return to the Champions League. If he gets this form back in May, Solskjaer will not be able to postpone the questions about the title for long.
When a reporter asked the question at the press conference after the game: They probably won’t talk about the title, Solskjaer answered quickly and easily: You’re right. You’re right.
The Norwegian is not someone who points the finger at different players at press conferences, but Martial has been a little encouraged more than once. Solskjaer says he showed him his current stats during the games and encouraged Martial, especially last season, to score more goals as striker than he did regularly as a player at Old Trafford.
Martial’s goal – his fifth in all leagues this season – was exactly that: He walked over the nearby post, found a space between central defenders Tyrone Mings and Ezri Konsa and went into a low cross of Aaron Van Bissack. A goal from Solskjaer, Ruud van Nistelrooy or Dwight Yorke would also have been impressive and important against a team that came to Old Trafford with the cleanest record in the league.
I like diving heads, Solskjaer said afterwards. Anthony’s getting better. He’s had some luck this season – he still does – but he hasn’t had any luck. Tonight we saw a better, more confident version of Anthony.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Anthony Martial’s goal () gave Manchester United a 2-1 victory over Aston Villa. Matthew Peters/Manchester United through Getty Images
It was a difficult start to the season for Martial, who got a red card in the 6-1 loss to Tottenham Hotspur in October and suffered a groin injury in December. With three goals in his last six games, he slowly gets back on track after having scored only twice in his last 19 club and national team appearances. If he manages to get close to the 17 goals he scored last season in the league, United should win against Liverpool.
We have had several conversations and talked about the past season and how important it was then and will be now, Solskjaer said. Good players know that this form is temporary, but he has proven his class and will only get better.
It is also useful if your protagonist makes a contribution every time he or she plays. Fernandes’ second half of the penalty, after the equalizer of Bertrand Traore, was the 19th of his career. The Portuguese midfielder’s second goal in 30 Premier League matches since he joined Sporting Lisbon. No team has managed to win since Fernandez’ debut at 1. February 2020 scored more points.
After the defeat against Arsenal on 1. In November, United lost ten games, won eight and drew two, gaining 26 points from their last 30 games. The trip to Liverpool on the 17th. January already looks like one of the most important league games United has played since Ferguson’s retirement in 2013.
I’m very happy with the position we’re in. This is a big difference from 12 months ago, Solskjaer said. You could lose your chance to be in the running for the title in the first 10 games. It’s a good position, but we need to improve it. If you can win games like today, that makes a big difference.
Solskjaer has yet to admit that United will be an obstacle on Liverpool’s path to the Premier League trophy, and the match at Anfield in just over two weeks will determine whether the challenge will be short-lived or more decisive. But for now, United are at their highest level on New Year’s Day since Ferguson’s last season, and Solskjaer insists there’s still a lot to come – especially from Martial.