Solskjaer tells Martial to toughen up as Man Utd striker targets 20-goal mark

By Sports Desk February 21, 2020

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has backed Anthony Martial to reach 20 goals for Manchester United this season but wants the striker to toughen up.

Martial scored for the 14th time in all competitions on Thursday to earn a 1-1 draw in the first leg of the Europa League last-32 tie with Club Brugge.

That goal came just three days after the forward's expert header put United ahead in their 2-0 Premier League win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

No United player has reached 20 in a single campaign since Romelu Lukaku in 2017-18 and, although Marcus Rashford is on 19 for 2019-20, his back injury is likely to see him miss almost all of the rest of the season.

Solskjaer thinks Martial is showing signs of getting used to playing as a centre-forward after time spent as a winger, and he expects to see the 24-year-old keep up his form.

"I think Anthony can step up and get a few more and get to the 20-mark, definitely," Solskjaer said.

"He's got quality, of course. He's a very good finisher, he takes his chances really well, good technique in his finishing, and he's good receiving the ball at times, dropping off, he can play almost like a false nine at times.

"Sometimes, I'd like him to be stronger physically."

Describing Martial's header against Chelsea as "a 1980s centre-forward goal", Solskjaer added: "I'm encouraged by his attitude this season as well, wanting to do those things that are not natural to him. But you've got to make him a number nine again after playing wide for so many years. Marcus and Anthony have played wide until the last 12 months, really."

Solskjaer wants to see a more clinical United against Watford on Sunday, having been deeply disappointed with the performance of his players in a 2-0 defeat at Vicarage Road in December.

The United boss hopes January arrivals Bruno Fernandes and Odion Ighalo – who spent three years with Watford – will add a greater cutting edge to his side.

"That was a very disappointing game. We should have won that one. We gifted them the two goals and we had chances to pull away ourselves, but you can't win games if you don't take your chances," he said.

"I feel that with Bruno coming in, with Odion coming in, we'll get more goals. That's been lacking in the games we've lost: West Ham, Burnley, Crystal Palace, Bournemouth, we've had chances and not taken them. You can see that Bruno gives us another dimension."

United could be boosted by the return of Scott McTominay at Old Trafford, the midfielder having been sidelined since December 26 with a knee injury.

"I think he might be in the squad," Solskjaer said.

"I'm not surprised [by his quick return] because that's the type he is. He's a physical specimen, he's a leader, he never shirks a tackle and he brings everyone with him. And he can sit with Nemanja [Matic] or Fred or be one of the runners in midfield.

"We were talking here today how we don't have enough runs past the striker. He used to be a striker, so he's used to being in the box."

Thursday's draw in Brugge was another match where Tahith Chong and Angel Gomes were not involved, the youngsters instead having played in a youth game.

The future of the pair is unclear as they enter the final stages of their United contracts, but Solskjaer appears keen for them to stay.

"We're still in talks with them," he said. "Tahith scored today. He'd rather play a game than sit in the stands here, so it's making sure he's ready when he gets a chance. He played really well against Wolves in the FA Cup.

"The boys have got great attitude, they're absolutely top-class boys and we're doing what we can to keep them. In a few years, you can see them being very, very good players."

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