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Romelu Lukaku injury hands Anthony Martial chance at Manchester United

Anthony Martial opened the scoring for Manchester United on New Year's Day in their 2-0 win over Everton at Goodison Park. The Frenchman's strike was top quality, with him perfectly curling the ball in to the top corner of Jordan Pickford's net.

He immediately turned and ran towards the noisy away end, grabbing the United badge on his shirt and kissing it, almost jumping in to the crowd.

Martial has started just 11 Premier League games this season, making a total of 19 appearances, yet has seven goals and three assists to his name. This works out at a goal or assist every 92 minutes he's been on the pitch, which is a good return.

The forward struggled in his first season at United under Jose Mourinho, leading some reports to suggest he would be sold last summer when the manager was looking for a bargaining chip in his bid to sign Ivan Perisic from Inter Milan. The deal never materialised and Martial has started this season showing the form that made him so popular in his debut campaign at the club.

Yet for all the praise that has come Martial's way, people still question his happiness at the club. He doesn't smile enough or celebrate wildly enough to prove that he's glad to be at Manchester United, according to some.

Martial's first goal of the season came on the opening weekend against West Ham seven minutes after he was substituted on. His teammates crowded round him but his expression remained unchanged. Phil Jones was seen laughing, grabbing the player's face and telling him to smile.

Ahead of United's 0-0 draw against Southampton in the final game of 2017, Gary Neville addressed a crowd at Hotel Football during the prematch meal. He too claimed he didn't think Martial looked happy at United.

However, Martial has already explained this reaction to goals. In November, following his great goal-scoring streak, he gave insight into his manner with an interview with SFR Sport.

"I'm really focused on my football and I'm happy to play," he said. "Really, if you see me in a group, you'll see I'm one of the first guys to laugh. Off the pitch, I'm a bit shy, I don't show my emotions that much, but I'm happy, even if you don't see me smile, I'm still happy. Maybe on the pitch it's because I'm focused. I'll try and smile more, but it wouldn't be natural if I forced it."

His celebration at Goodison Park appeared entirely natural. Given a rare opportunity to start up front following Romelu Lukaku's injury in the 0-0 draw with Southampton, Martial was able to take full advantage of his chance and show the manager what he is capable of.

Before Lukaku's injury, Mourinho explained the striker's lagging form with exhaustion. Lukaku had previously played every minute of Premier League football up until that point.

Anthony Martial's fine goal sent Manchester United on their way to victory at Everton.

When pressed on whether the striker would be rested soon, Mourinho insisted that he couldn't do that due to Zlatan Ibrahimovic's struggles to return to full fitness.

But when you have Martial and Marcus Rashford in your squad, surely it would have made sense to give Lukaku a game off and try out one of these youngsters instead?

Lukaku's break was forced, but Martial has shown that he can come up with the goods in the Belgian's absence. On the back of some disappointing results and performances, Martial's goal was vital and his cool demeanour, which may mean he doesn't smile as much as people want, allowed him to thrive under the pressure by getting the goal United needed.

Of course, this isn't the first time we've seen this. Martial made his debut from the bench in 2015 against rivals Liverpool and scored his first goal within minutes of coming on to the pitch.

In injury time against Everton in the 2016 FA Cup semifinal, he fired United in to the final when racing behind their backline before delivering the coolest of finishes.

Last season, United were losing 1-0 to Middlesbrough with five minutes to go, before his equalising goal sparked the 2-1 comeback. This season, he scored the winner against Tottenham 10 minutes after being brought on for Rashford. He has shown time and again that he can perform under pressure.

Martial is still only 22 and has the makings of a great striker. Having done the business at Goodison Park, he should hopefully be rewarded with a start this week in United's FA Cup game against Derby. If he is again successful in front of goal, he should be providing Mourinho with food for thought.

Lukaku isn't the only player United have capable of leading the line and Martial needs to prove that consistently so Mourinho can utilise his options more effectively in the remaining months of the season, allowing the Belgian to rediscover his earlier form when he was fresher. All eyes will be on Martial this Friday.

Scott is one of ESPN FC's Manchester United bloggers. Follow him on Twitter: @R_o_M.


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