Anthony Martial was shipped out on loan to Sevilla last season with his Manchester United career seemingly at an end, but the Frenchman has returned to prominence in time for a Europa League reunion with the Spanish club.
An injury to Marcus Rashford means Martial will likely lead United’s attack on his return to the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on Thursday with a place in the Europa League semi-finals on the line.
Two late United own goals in the first leg at Old Trafford have left the tie against the Europa League specialists finely poised at 2-2.
Martial played a major part as United shot into a 2-0 lead thanks to Marcel Sabitzer’s double inside the first 21 minutes.
But the Austrian midfielder could be one of a number of players unavailable to Erik ten Hag for the return leg, putting pressure on Martial to step up.
Sabitzer pulled up with an injury in the warm-up prior to Sunday’s 2-0 win at Nottingham Forest.
First-choice centre-backs Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez are also missing for the trip to Spain after picking up injuries in the first leg.
The biggest blow of all, though, could be the absence of Bruno Fernandes due to suspension.
Fernandes shone as he was reunited with Christan Eriksen and Casemiro in midfield at the City Ground.
In 17 matches where all three have started, United have won 15 and drawn two.
Injury problems have also minimised Martial’s impact this season and been the story of his United career.
The world’s most expensive teenager when he was signed from Monaco in 2015, the 27-year-old has never truly realised his potential despite scoring 86 goals for the club in 288 appearances.
His time at Sevilla was even less fruitful.
Having been pushed down the pecking order by Cristiano Ronaldo’s return for a second spell at United, Martial sought first-team football in Spain, but scored just once in 12 appearances in the second half of last season.
Ronaldo’s departure last year has given Martial a final chance to rekindle his career at Old Trafford.
But fitness problems have limited his impact to just 19 appearances in United’s gruelling 51-match campaign to this point.
United boss ten Hag, though, has remained steadfast in his support as he desperately seeks a firing number nine.
Rashford’s 28 goals – his best ever return in a single season – have papered over the cracks for United.
However, the England international has spoken of his preference to start from a wide left position rather than through the middle.
Ten Hag’s patience with Wout Weghorst has also run out in recent weeks after the Dutch international scored just twice in 22 games.
“When he is fit our team plays better,” said Ten Hag on Martial’s impact.
“He’s an incredibly good player. He can link up, keeps the ball, also the pressing is good. He will score goals, he is capable of scoring goals. He can finish no doubt about that.”
Martial has netted seven times at a rate of a goal every 133 minutes under Ten Hag.
Yet, he has plenty to prove if United are to be convinced of extending his contract beyond the end of next season.
Ten Hag’s men face a huge week in their quest for a hat-trick of trophies as the League Cup winners face Brighton in the FA Cup semi-finals on their return from Seville.
Few would have imagined 12 months ago that the English giants would be relying on Martial for goals at the business end of the campaign.
But needs must for Ten Hag, offering the enigmatic Frenchman most likely his final chance to become a hero for the Red Devils.
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