Anthony Martial key to Manchester United’s top-four hopes, says Ten Hag | Manchester United

Erik ten Hag believes Anthony Martial is vital to Manchester United’s hopes of a top-four finish and winning trophies, and says the club are trying to understand why the centre-forward suffers continual injury problems.

Martial made only a second start and sixth appearance in Thursday’s 4-2 Carabao Cup win over Aston Villa, scoring United’s opener for his fourth goal of the season. Ten Hag’s team have managed only 32 goals in 26 games and the manager was asked whether keeping Martial fit was key.

“Yes, definitely,” the manager said. “In the front line, the availability of the players is a concern for us. We have too many games like Newcastle United – Marcus Rashford is ill then, and we had to play some other games too where we have [to adjust] our offensive line. So if he [Martial] can’t be fit it is really difficult to get in the first four.”

Martial has also been injured in previous seasons. “Of course we analyse that – what can we do to change that,” Ten Hag said. “We made some measures to do that as it is always when you are often injured – illnesses too – there is a reason. Sometimes it is bad luck. He was really in a good way in pre-season and then in last 10 minutes versus Atlético Madrid [in pre-season] he got an injury and that threw him back.”

Ten Hag’s other main centre-forward options are Cristiano Ronaldo, who was ill on Thursday, and Rashford but he stated Martial was his preferred choice. “He plays very well in a lot of aspects of football. I am happy with that, except his availability. But we have others. When we play with Marcus Rashford as the 9 we have a good part of the game.

“We have Cristiano and we have options there but quite clear to my way of playing, I like a player like Anthony. He can hold the ball, he can finish and is a good presser.”

Jadon Sancho also missed the Villa game because of illness. The winger has been in uneven form, with three goals and an assist in 14 appearances, and was not selected in England’s World Cup squad. “He was up and down – some really good performances – but the last weeks he struggled with illness and then it is normal that you don’t get the nomination,” Ten Hag said.

Antony is a doubt for Sunday’s trip to Fulham but Ten Hag said the Brazil winger would “definitely not” miss the World Cup.

Donny van de Beek made a third consecutive start against Villa and Ten Hag indicated the No 10 would not go on loan in January. “A loan doesn’t make sense. Either he finds himself or he proves himself in this atmosphere or he goes but for me there is still a way for him,” the manager said. “But it is not going to be easy as the competition here is strong.”

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