Football Manager 2016: Getting the best out of Anthony Martial

Anyone who has played Football Manager 2012 or subsequent editions of the game will have heard of 19-year-old French striker Anthony Martial long before he was thrust into the spotlight of the European transfer market following his £36 million move to Manchester United in September. I, for one, first became aware of his immense potential when he became a star for my Manchester United side in FM2012, and he has been a key member of most of the teams I’ve managed since, leading the line and relentlessly plundering 25+ goals a season.

Seeing as Martial is one of the undeniable wonderkids in Football Manager, and Manchester United — already arguably the most popular club to manage in the game — has a squad brimming with world-class young talent in Memphis Depay (find out HERE how I’ve managed to make Memphis a Manchester United legend in FM16!), Luke Shaw, Andreas Pereira, James Wilson, and Adnan Januzaj, to name a few, I anticipate FM2016 will see a surge in the club’s popularity. Therefore, I thought fellow FM fanatics out there would be interested to know how I feel Martial should be utilized to help bring the best out of him; what follows are some thoughts on what formations, roles and tactics suit Martial best, collected and compiled based on my experiences managing him for my all-conquering United and Wigan Athletic sides.

At age 18, FM2015

Strengths: Dribbling (13), First Touch (14), Finishing (13), Acceleration (16), Agility (14), Natural Fitness (14), Pace (15), Composure (12), Decisions (12), Determination (13).

Weaknesses: Crossing (9), Aggression (9), Bravery (8), Concentration (9), Positioning (6), Teamwork (9), Jumping Reach (10)

Martial is more of an individualistic player, highlighted by his poor team-related Mentals, and could do with extensive training in Positioning and Concentration; his Technical attributes progress naturally. Martial’s highly developed Physical and internal-Mental attributes (that is, those that do not involve interaction with others and ability to fit into a team) make him capable of dropping deep in between the lines or drifting into the inside channels to participate in build-up play.

Tactics: Formation and Team Instructions
In my experience, Martial is not ideally suited to a lone-striker system, and needs either a target man to feed off or a similar, highly technical and mobile strike partner to link up with. Given his proclivity for drifting into the inside (left) channel to get on the ball, I find he works best in a system without wingers, especially inside forwards, since this creates larger spaces for him to drift into.

In an FM2012 save with Man United, I played a 4-2-3-1 system, with Martial up front behind a central attacking midfielder and two wingers. His performances were pretty average, and he tended to get isolated up front, with his inability to play as a target man denying the team a focal point. His effectiveness also varied significantly based on the types of wingers I used. When I used either Erik Lamela or Adnan Januzaj as an orthodox, touchline-hugging left winger and Stephan el Shaarawy as an advanced playmaker on the right wing, Martial did well, scoring approximately a goal every other game, since he had a little more space to drop into between the attacking midfielder and left-sided winger, where he thrives. Also, the crosses from both flanks gave him a lot of service. However, when I switched Lamela/Januzaj and el Shaarawy to the inside forward role on the opposite flank, Martial’s performances deteriorated significantly, with his goal ratio dropping to about one in four. Inside forwards tend to work best with a centrally-positioned target man to feed off, and Martial is pretty incapable of playing in that role.

From my experience, the formation that can maximize Martial’s potential is something along these lines:

The first team squad.
A two-striker system with wing-backs and an attacking midfielder

A highly compact defensive and midfield with very specific player roles (ideally a combination of a ball-winning midfield enforcer and a deep-lying playmaker in the middle of the diamond, supported by attacking wing-backs who provide the width and overlaps, allow the front three — in United’s case, any combination of Martial, Depay, Juan Mata, and Wayne Rooney — to play with much more creative freedom.

Using the first screenshot of my 2-3-2-1-2 wing-back-and-narrow-diamond system I used at United for reference, I would play Martial as the left-sided striker in one of a number of roles I’ll discuss shortly, with Rooney next to him as a Defensive Forward; I used Rooney in this role to great success, with his fantastic work rate allowing the team to press the opposition in their defensive third, win the ball and immediately launch counter-attacks. Having a hard-working striker like Rooney also complements the lower off-the-ball work rate of Martial.

Behind them, I’d play an attacking midfielder as opposed to wingers, simply because having Martial drift out to the left and Wayne Rooney (or Memphis Depay in a role similar to Martial’s) would create space for a mobile attacking midfielder to make penetrating runs down the middle. I used Juan Mata as an attacking midfielder in this system to great success; the Spaniard scored 21 goals and made 18 assists in 36 games in one Premier League season, at an average rating of 7.65.

The team instructions.
The team instructions.

The team instructions are also incredibly important for the success of this tactical setup, and the combination I used in FM15 would cater to Martial’s strengths almost perfectly. With high-tempo ball circulation focused on working the ball into the box and allowing players to run at the opposition, as opposed to clearing it to the flanks and repeatedly pumping the ball into the box, this combination would focus on providing players like Martial the ball at every opportunity. Getting the wing-backs to make overlapping runs, thus dragging full-backs with them, would also create that extra yard of space for Martial to work with. An extremely expressive system with high pressing by the defensive forward, aggressive closing down and prevention of short distribution from the goalkeeper push the opposition’s defensive line a few yards back towards their own penalty area, giving the strikers more time on the ball, while also positioning United’s attackers in one-on-one situations on the counter.

The creative freedom for the three attackers in this fluid, attacking system was proved by the statistics from my first season with United in the Premier League: Wayne Rooney (23), Juan Mata (21), and Robin van Persie (17)/Santi Mina (14) plundered 75 Premier League goals between them. With Martial (and Depay) providing mobility and dribbling ability, I would expect them to thrive in this system. I also used Martial to great effect in this system in another save, playing him alongside Thierry Ambrose (currently at Manchester City’s youth academy) in my all-conquering Wigan side, with both strikers scoring 20+ goals in the one season they played together. It helps that they were supported by the likes of Rafinha, Shaqiri, Rakitic, and James McCarthy.

Section-wise breakdown of the pitch during the 4-1-2-1-2 (diamond-wingback-half-back) setup.
Section-wise breakdown (with player movement) of the pitch in the 4-1-2-1-2 (diamond-wingback-half-back) setup.

In summary, this system would be my best bet for a Manchester United side looking to get the best out of Martial, Depay, Mata, and Rooney. Quite frankly, any other systems that replicate the attacking three would work; I prefer a narrow diamond because of the extra man it provides in midfield, creating a highly compact unit perfect for quick ball retention and forward distribution, and the wing-backs provide the attacking impetus that full-backs cannot.

Player roles
I’ve already hinted at the roles that suit Martial, and more importantly the ones that don’t; with a set of attributes as well-rounded his, Martial can play in pretty much every position except for Target Man, where he is let down by his less-than-average Jumping Reach (10), Aggression (9), Bravery (8), Heading (11), Positioning (6), and Teamwork (9).

Some of the roles in which Martial has excelled for me are:
Advanced Forward: Allows Martial to be the spearhead of the attack with the freedom to move into channels and get into one-on-one situations.
Complete Forward: Again, the role allows Martial to effectively dictate his own positioning and movement, choosing either to drop deep or stay further up as a focal point for forward passes to run on to. The role requires highly-developed attributes across the board, and Martial ticks most boxes.
False Nine: The key positional feature of this role is the striker dropping deep, playing almost as an attacking midfielder. Martial’s work rate isn’t great, but he has done well in this position simply because of the large spaces between the opposition’s midfield and defense he can run into when given the ball on the counter. Again, it emphasizes the creation of one-on-one situations with a yard or two of space to run into, especially when the opposition pushes the defensive line up the pitch.

Martial’s suitability to roles that allow him to drop deep into gaps between midfield and defense and drive at the opposition’s defenders was on display during United’s 3-2 victory against Southampton, where Martial scored two goals, but put in two very different performances either side of half-time. In the first half he was played as a target man of sorts, a focal point for Mata, Rooney, and Depay, and was constantly isolated and outmuscled by Fonte and Yoshida. In the second half, he played in a deeper role, almost like a false nine, and combined more effectively with Depay and Mata. His second goal of the game was a direct result of him dropping deep, pulling Southampton’s defensive line up the pitch, and then using his physicality and explosive burst of pace to exploit the gap behind them. Even his goal against Liverpool at Old Trafford was an example of him drifting into the inside left channel and isolating defenders in one-on-one situations.

This is a screenshot of Martial at age 26; I believe this was taken from an AI-managed save, so you’ll notice that while he has improved in just about every aspect of the game he’s already good at in 2015, he’s still lacking in Aggression and Positioning, while his Bravery, Concentration, and Work Rate can be improved. Thus, I’d suggest focusing on these Mental attributes in training.

At age 26, FM 2015

2 thoughts on “Football Manager 2016: Getting the best out of Anthony Martial

  1. You keep pointing to his low positioning. Could you elaborate on that please because I thought the positioning stat was for defensive positioning and off the ball was more for attacking? and then anticipation decides how quickly they react to get in the position?


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