A big contrast.
There was a moment, halfway through the second half of Manchester United‘s dismal defeat by Sheffield United on Wednesday night, that summed up the stark contrast between Bruno Fernandes and Anthony Martial.
It is difficult to argue with the assertion that Fernandes has been United’s standout performer this season.
It is also difficult to argue that the Portugal international is prone to the occasional stuttering performance.
On Wednesday, Fernandes was one of several United players who failed to meet the relatively high standards they have set in the league this season.
The 26-year-old failed to register a shot on or off-target (all three of his attempts were blocked). He was also unable to open up a stubborn and well-organised Blades defence.
Difference in work-rate
However, when all else fails, Fernandes will run himself into the ground for United, an attribute that is looked upon by supporters with as much admiration as a defence-splitting pass or a matchwinning free-kicks.
In the 68th-minute of Wednesday’s game, with the score at 1-1, Martial drifted in from the left and attempted to find Edinson Cavani on the edge of the box.
However, the Frenchman’s errant pass found Ethan Ampadu, who proceeded to fly through the United midfield.
Martial’s reaction to losing possession was to stand practically still, watching as Ampadu cantered towards the United half.
Fernandes, however, decided to make life difficult for the young Welshman, matching him stride for stride before executing a well-timed tackle to regain possession for United.
Of course, Martial seemingly learned little from that passage of play as, five minutes later, he again lost possession and failed to show any urgency in tracking back as Sheffield United built the attack that ultimately produced their winning goal.
Of course, Martial was certainly not the only United player who failed in his duty. But it was certainly an alarmingly lifeless display from a player who has failed to replicate last season’s impressive form.
Speaking in his post-match press conference, Solskjaer stressed that the entire United team deserved criticism for their performance while adding that Martial would not be ‘exempt from that’.
“I think the whole team will probably get criticism tonight and myself as well,” he said.
“I don’t think Anthony is exempt from that.
“We all should be criticised because we didn’t perform. Anthony is working really hard in training, working on his finishing and movement. I’ve got no qualms that he will come good.”