LONDON • There could be no better way for the world's most expensive teenager to announce himself to the Old Trafford crowd. With a wonderful goal against arch-rivals Liverpool, Anthony Martial immediately made himself a Manchester United hero, securing a 3-1 victory.
With four minutes left, Liverpool had just raised hopes of a comeback through a spectacular overhead kick from Christian Benteke. But Martial, on as a 65th-minute substitute, needed just 115 further seconds and his first shot for United to trump Benteke.
Receiving the ball on the left-hand touchline, he dribbled into the penalty area. The France striker outwitted Martin Skrtel, shrugged off the challenge of Nathaniel Clyne and, in a manner reminiscent of Thierry Henry, coolly dispatched a right-footed shot into the far corner at the Stretford End.
Whether or not he goes on to justify United's staggering £58.8 million (S$128 million) projected outlay, the former Monaco forward's potential was there for all to see.
"They're wondering if he spoke English - he proved he did with the ball," Henry, the former France and Arsenal striker to whom Martial is often compared, told Sky Sports.
"I love the finish, it's a great finish for me. He freezes the goalkeeper by looking up before he hits it."
United manager Louis van Gaal backed Martial to shine in England's top flight but tempered expectations surrounding the 19-year-old.
"We have scouted him and we wanted him because he's the best in his age group, he needs time," said the Dutchman. "He's been with us for three days, that is too short to judge his personality but he made a very good impression in (the) first three days, that's why I selected him to be on the bench. He scored a marvellous goal and, physically, he can play in the Premier League."
Martial, however, may not have to wait long for his full debut.
Van Gaal revealed that skipper Wayne Rooney is unlikely to play in United's Champions League opener at PSV Eindhoven tomorrow because of a hamstring injury.
Rooney's absence against Liverpool seemed to expose United's personnel flaw. Marouane Fellaini played as a makeshift No. 9 and the opening 45 minutes featured just three shots on goal between the two sides.
A half-time substitution changed things for United. Ashley Young replaced the subdued Memphis Depay and revived United from their sloth. Within three minutes, Young had won a free kick, which Juan Mata rolled across the face of the 18-yard box. Daley Blind, with a lovely left-footed shot, curled home for 1-0. An emphatic Ander Herrera penalty saw United double their advantage.
But van Gaal was critical of his side for almost allowing Liverpool back into the match, declaring himself happier with their controlled first-half showing and lamenting their failure to "kill the game".
Still, with David de Gea back in goal following the collapse of his proposed move to Real Madrid, van Gaal is hopeful that the win signals the end of their early-season difficulties.
United endured a testing start to the campaign, struggling for goals and facing criticism over their transfer dealings. They also went into the international break on the back of a 1-2 defeat at Swansea City.
"I think in a difficult period like we had in the transfer period, with a lot of problems with players who are going and coming, it is always worse with Manchester United than the other clubs," said the Dutchman, whose side climbed to second in the table, five points below Manchester City. "There is only one club better and our aim is to be the best." THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE