The consensus among Manchester United fans being interviewed around Old Trafford before Monday’s 3-0 win over Stoke City seemed to be fairly clear: Alexis Sanchez would be a welcome addition at the Theatre of Dreams, just so long as it isn’t at Anthony Martial’s expense.
And the Frenchman followed up with another excellent performance as if to underline the need for Jose Mourinho to consider potential signing Sanchez as an option in any attacking position other than Martial’s left-wing slot.
While Jesse Lingard went into Monday night with eight goals in his last 10 games, it is Martial who is most heavily backed by United fans to become a key figure for the club for years to come, and against Stoke he showed just how important his extra dimension to his side’s play can be.
The 22-year-old provided a constant outlet for United on a night when they were largely short of their best and also delivered the glorious second goal which ended the game as a contest.
On the day that Henrikh Mkhitaryan was omitted from the squad amid talk of him being used as a makeweight in the deal which would see £35m Sanchez signed from Arsenal, Martial showed that the faith shown in him of late by Mourinho is well earned. Whereas at the season’s start it was Martial struggling for a starting spot and the Armenian shining, their fortunes have quickly reversed.
After a difficult second term at the club on and off the field, Martial is enjoying arguably his best spell as a United and has now been selected to start nine of the last 12 Premier League games. That may not seem a lot, but given the fierce competition provided by Marcus Rashford on the left flank it is a sign of just how far the former Monaco star has come in the last few months.
Martial was not the only Frenchman warming up the crowd on a freezing night in M16, with Paul Pogba adding two more assists to his record in a display of real flair and vision as Stoke wilted in front of their new manager, Paul Lambert.
First he played the ball wide for Antonio Valencia, who cut in onto his left foot before unleashing the kind of stunning drive few would have believed the Ecuadorian had in him on his weaker side. Then, after a period of real verve from the visitors, Pogba showed great vision in sweeping Romelu Lukaku’s infield pass into the path of Martial, who lashed home a crisp effort from 20 yards to settle the contest. Martial later teed up Lukaku to turn and fire a third past Jack Butland.
If there was one thing United need more of it was the kind of dynamism Sanchez is capable of adding to a team’s play in the final third. But if and when the time comes for Mourinho to include the Chilean’s name on his Manchester United teamsheet it appears increasingly likely that it will be alongside that of Martial rather than in place of it.
There’s just no replacing Martial right now.