Connect with us


Analysis: How Antony’s key attribute can help Manchester United score more goals



| Last Updated:


Credit: ITV Football

In Manchester United’s 3-1 win against Everton in the FA Cup, Antony scored his first goal since the last time he faced the Merseyside team, back in October.

It was a perfect start to life at Old Trafford for the Brazilian-born winger, who found the net in each of his first three Premier League outings. Whilst the goals have dried up since then, we’re seeing the 22-year-old offer something quite unique for a forward player who is raw and can still evolve so much of his game.

Take his goal on Friday evening, for example. Antony finished off a brilliant move that started with Anthony Martial and led to Marcus Rashford providing a perfectly accurate low-cross for the right-sided winger. All in all, it doesn’t seem like Antony did the hard work for this goal.

Now, let’s look a little bit closer.

As eluded to previously, United’s No.9 dropped deeper to link the play and kickstart an attack. Antony identifies that there will not only be space to exploit against the backline but also that, without Martial there, United need a presence in the centre as Rashford drives into the final third.

“He knows very well that I might go to take the ball at someone’s feet, and he will run deep. It’s that kind of little connection that helps,” said Martial of Bruno Fernandes last month – but this time it was the Brazilian identifying the space.

Once Rashford had carried the ball into the danger area, Antony had himself positioned between two Everton defenders. Focused on his teammate, he was prepared to either dart to the front or back post once the delivery came in. Again, his occupation of the Everton backline cannot be understated in this move.

Here’s where the Brazilian’s positional sense and movement inside the area really come into play. His short, yet subtle burst two or three yards to his right was made after he knew that Rashford would be playing the ball across the goal, rather than cutting inside and producing one of his trademark dangerous shots/crosses that we’ve seen many a time before. It might seem insignificant, but it was his know-how inside the area that allowed Antony to be in the right place at the right time to finish easily.

“I think it was great,” said Erik ten Hag when asked his assessment of the goal by club media. “Of course, great action from Marcus Rashford on the left side, [but] we don’t often reward the movement from players.”

The Dutchman clearly appreciates the finer details, and that’s exactly why he brought the £85 million player to Manchester. “With the first goal he was in the right spot, but it was great movement to be there,” the United manager added.

It’s quite strange to see a young, exciting winger have such excellent intelligence and movement inside of the opposition area. It’s more understandable, and necessary, when considering the improvements Antony needs to make with the ball at his feet; he’s too one-footed and one-dimensional. But there aren’t many 22-year-old wide players around with better space intelligence (without the ball) than him.

It’s difficult to acquire praise for such attributes as they don’t always end in a goal and it’s less attractive than almost any positive on-ball action that you can make. It’s certainly just as important, however.

For United’s second on Friday, Antony again showed his understanding of space and movement inside the area. The winger is right up against Vitalii Mykolenko and the rest of the Everton backline whilst Rashford had the ball on the left again. He’s the furthest one forward but expects space to be exploited elsewhere. His French counterpart begins his movement toward the six-yard box and Antony, in turn, gives the Everton wingback a small shove which allows him to bounce quickly into the space just in front of the blue wall.

This time, however, Rashford did not send the ball into the box on the first attempt and instead, left Séamus Coleman twisted inside out after coming back onto his right, just before checking back onto his left foot to cross.

By now, the Everton line had dropped into their six-yard box and there was minimal space for the Brazilian to be found on the penalty spot. He notices this and darts into the space created by Martial following his previous run.

The ball is eventually forced in through a Conor Coady own goal but there are many positives to these smart movements by Antony, not least that it keeps the opposition defenders occupied whilst havoc (Rashford) is happening elsewhere.

Against Wolves, Antony had a poor overall performance but continued to find valuable pockets of space when United were attacking. Once this clicks, we could see the Brazilian score some admittedly underwhelming on the eye, yet crucial, goals.

It’s not only in these positions where Antony can benefit his team through off-ball movements. We only need to look at Martial’s goal against Nottingham Forest to see how he impacts the game spatially when United are in transition.

A familiar sight sees United’s no.10 driving in transition from the left. Another familiar sight: Antony’s burst to occupy the last line.

This, albeit simple, yet, direct run into the heart of the Forest defence left ample space for Martial to work with when receiving the ball on the edge from his English teammate. He made no mistake with a low, hard finish in the wet Manchester weather.

It’s going to be a hard task coming into the most competitive league in the world as a young player, who has an £85 million target placed on his back, but Antony is offering United a whole lot of good and not much bad right now.

He might not be worth his price tag (but then again, who is nowadays?) but presents a balance, both defensively and offensively, that The Reds have lacked for years. If he’s able to polish his game one-on-one and continue to find those dangerous positions in the final third (and sometimes use that other thing that is used for standing) then his United career will only go one way.