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Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford still key for Man United and must be patient

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Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford have a lot in common: two young, quick forwards, both exciting and, occasionally, frustrating. They would both like to play more often for Manchester United, too.

The arrival of Alexis Sanchez in January has provided more competition for places up front at Old Trafford.

For Martial, where once he was fighting Rashford for a place on the left of Jose Mourinho's front three, he is now battling Rashford, Juan Mata and, at times, Jesse Lingard for a spot on the right. Rashford is in a similar situation: his opportunities have also been restricted by Sanchez, although Rashford is seen by Mourinho as Romelu Lukaku's backup at centre-forward as well.

The United manager has maintained he will not sign another attacking player in the summer, despite Zlatan Ibrahimovic's departure to LA Galaxy, and sources have told ESPN FC that United have no intention of listening to offers for Rashford. The 20-year-old has earned Mourinho's trust far quicker than Martial, and no player has featured more often during the Portuguese's reign (97 appearances as a starter or a sub).

Martial is a different story. In the past, he has been quick to tell his side whenever he has felt it necessary. In June 2017, amid suggestions he was unhappy under Mourinho's management and could be tempted by a move to Arsenal, he tweeted "Les rumeurs sont fausses" (the rumours are false), though you didn't need to be fluent in French to know what it meant.

Nearly a year on and speculation he could leave Old Trafford is back. But this time, Martial has stayed silent.

Sources have told ESPN FC that the Frenchman has grown frustrated since Sanchez's arrival. Since the Chilean's move, Martial has started just four of United's 12 games, and he was an unused substitute during the dramatic 3-2 derby comeback at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.

Sources said it has prompted the forward take a step back from United's attempts to extend his contract. He has a deal until 2019, with the club holding an option to add another 12 months, and there were tentative discussions in December but without any significant progress. Revisited last month, there was no breakthrough then, either.

United are clear that they want Martial to stay. Still only 22, they see him as one of a core of young players -- including Rashford, Lukaku, Paul Pogba and Eric Bailly -- who are key to future success.

There is a feeling around the club that they took a calculated risk to commit more than £50 million to bring him to Old Trafford from Monaco as a teenager in 2015, and they are not about to let him spend his peak years somewhere else.

Mourinho and his staff have worked hard to add industry and determination to his undoubted talent. They inherited a player who, under Louis van Gaal, was allowed to focus almost entirely on going forward. Under Mourinho, he is expected to work harder, tracking full-backs to his own byline if necessary and pressing the ball when it comes into his zone.

Off the pitch, the upheaval in his private life has settled down, and he is expecting a child with partner Melanie Da Cruz.

"I see a great improvement in the person, in the mood, in the face, in the body language," Mourinho said in September. "I am very pleased with his attitude overall and then it's easier to play well. I can say he is training better than before, he's working harder than before."

Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford.
Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford are key to United's future.

It was in stark contrast to Mourinho's assessment last season: "Do I think Anthony is a player with great potential? Yes, I think. Do I think he can play successfully for me? Yes, I think. But he needs to give me things that I like."

Martial has, for the most part, responded to his manager's tough love.

"He's hard with all of us and he is hard with me, there is no question," the forward said in the summer. "But I know that it's for my benefit. But I also know that he really likes me as a person, so there's no issue about the discipline being for the wrong reasons. But the objective, of course, is to have all of us in good condition and being fit to play every match, and that is what I'm hoping to do."

But that is where the key issue lies: Martial wants to play as often as possible. Rashford does too, but as a local boy, his desire to play for United outweighs any personal concerns -- for the time being at least.

"We always want more and we always want to show progression individually and as a team, so the numbers don't really matter as much as the results do to me," he said recently when asked if he was proud that he had made more appearances than any other player under Mourinho.

Mourinho has been consistent in his view that there is no point keeping hold of a player who is unhappy, but Rashford is going nowhere and Martial would have to demand an exit before it is even considered.

Of the clubs mentioned as a possible destination for the Frenchman -- Juventus, Atletico Madrid and Tottenham -- sources have told ESPN FC that United are sceptical any could meet their valuation or put together a wage package to match the one Martial enjoys at Old Trafford.

They remain confident he will, eventually, decide to stay, although he is likely to ask for reassurances about his role in the future before signing a new deal. He is effectively under contract for another two years and United are not hitting the panic button just yet.

For Mourinho and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, both players remain a key part of the club's future. Martial, though, may take some convincing.

Rob is ESPN FC's Manchester United correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @RobDawsonESPN.

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