Manchester United are hoping to have both Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial back fit by the time Premier League football resumes against Crystal Palace at the weekend after both players were forced to miss international games with France due to injury.
In short, the duo have become so important to United in recent weeks that any success the team might achieve in the remainder of the 2018/19 season and beyond is likely to stem from them and their growing on-field relationship.
After speculation about his future at the club exploded earlier this season, remaining rife even now, Pogba appears to have finally settled down a little more since the start of October and has been putting in more reliable performances as a result.
He bossed the second half of the comeback win over Newcastle that appears to have acted as a turning point in United’s season, while his performances since were crucial in getting further positive results against Chelsea, Everton, Bournemouth and Juventus.
The fact that the World Cup winner was absent in the Manchester derby was a major reason why United struggled to gain a foothold in the game. Had he been there, as was the case last season when Jose Mourinho’s team delayed City’s title celebrations by winning at the Etihad Stadium, the game would almost certainly have been a much closer contest.
Martial scored in the 3-1 derby defeat to continue his recent purple patch, but his overall contribution was down on what it had been in the preceding weeks. That is because he didn’t see enough of the ball as City were so dominant. Pogba might have changed that.
Having joined United from Monaco as the then most expensive teenager in the world in 2015 – a £36m deal potentially rising to £58m – and finished his debut year as top scorer with 17 goals in all competitions, Martial has come storming back as United’s most potent attacking threat after a poor second season in Manchester and a mixed 2017/18.
Martial’s penalty against City was his sixth Premier League goal of the season, all scored in the last five games alone. He hasn’t been able to stop scoring since the comeback win over Newcastle, the same game run by Pogba in the second half, and has been personally responsible for netting over half of the 10 Premier League goals United have scored as a whole team during that time.
Martial is a confidence player and it is something he has plenty of right now. His ability to run at defenders will always create chances, while he seems to gradually be learning how to be in the right place at the right time to score.
Pogba is crucial in bringing the best out of his fellow countryman if he can control a game and use his vision and ability to pick passes into dangerous areas. Equally, if Martial has an opportunity to commit a defender and lay on a chance for a teammate, a player like Pogba arriving in the penalty area from deep would be perfectly placed to capitalise.
That was all missing against City last time out, but United fans can cling to growing optimism that this a blossoming partnership that will kick-start this season and form the basis of a newly successful side in the next few years as well.