He was the first player ever to score in each of his first three Premier League appearances for United whereas Casemiro began life on the bench while Scott McTominay started, Christian Eriksen’s debut was a false nine in defeat and Lisandro Martinez’s height was an issue after the 4-0 thrashing at Brentford. Now each ranks as a fine piece of recruitment. Antony may not; not yet, anyway.
Last week, as Bournemouth’s left-sided attacker aimed a series of shots at the United goal, it felt as though he was trolling United’s £160 million pair of wingers. Jaidon Anthony was displaying more threat at Old Trafford than either Jadon [Sancho] or Antony had for quite some time.
Marcus Rashford celebrates scoring with Christian Eriksen and Antony
The Brazilian’s arrival has had repercussions. Ten Hag’s striking budget is limited in January, probably only for loans, because United overspent in the summer. That, in turn, is a consequence of arguably paying double Antony’s actual value or twice what it cost Liverpool to sign Cody Gakpo, a forward Ten Hag admires.
A concern, evident from the start, is that he is too one-footed and too one-dimensional, forever cutting inside on to his left foot to shoot, like Arjen Robben in slow motion, stripped of the Dutchman’s dynamism. His goal against Everton was with his right; equally, it was an open goal from about two yards. Otherwise, his shots can be frequent but have a certain predictability.
Part of Ten Hag’s training is focused on improving the weaker foot of various players; given how rarely Antony uses his right, he has more scope for improvement than most in that respect. There was an illustrative moment in the first half on Friday: Antony escaping into space, only to be pursued by the faster Amadou Onana and, with the inevitability he would have to cut infield sooner or later. The move came to nothing.
Antony of Manchester United during the Emirates FA Cup Third Round
Which, in some respects, was typical. United’s three goals all stemmed from moves on their left, twice involving Rashford’s crosses. While Antony has played under half the minutes, of every Premier League team, United have the highest share of their attacks on the left (42 percent) and the lowest on the right (31 percent). It suggests his goal against Everton – a left-wing centre finished by the right winger at the far post – was the kind he should get more frequently; instead, it was his first from a ball from the opposite flank.
Many of United’s attacks are funnelled through Rashford; they seem increasingly reliant on him. “I am not concerned that only Marcus Rashford scores goals,” Ten Hag countered. “Also I am convinced other players – Anthony Martial, Antony, Bruno Fernandes – are capable of scoring goals.”
Antony’s best return is 12 in a season but that is not the most worrying statistic. Ten Hag was referencing Rashford when he said: “As a striker, you measure goals and assists and today he had two assists and one goal.” It was inadvertently damning of Antony, who is yet to register an assist since his Ajax days. He has created so little in the Premier League that his expected assists tally is half that of Aaron Wan-Bissaka, a defensive right-back who had played four minutes before Christmas. He ranks 17th in the United squad for expected assists per 90 minutes. Among Brazilians, Alisson and Ederson have more assists than the £85 million winger. “I really demand a lot from myself regardless what people talk about me,” Antony told TNT Sports, so he must be demanding more creativity. So, presumably, will his former Ajax manager.
Manchester United’s Antony celebrates after scoring
“Ten Hag knows me, know who I am, how hard I work. He knows I’m always giving 100 percent even when things don’t work out for me.”
And after that spectacular start, things are not really working out for Antony at Old Trafford. It may not matter when the man on the opposite wing is starring and scoring so regularly, but United may need a right-sided version of Rashford, lending goals and assists. They paid a premium price for Antony to provide them.
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