Manchester United don’t want to be in the Europa League, though they have become a little more familiar with UEFA’s second-tier competition in recent years.
Nevertheless, this is the first time since the 2019-20 season that they’ve entered the Europa League in the group stage and there were positives to take from that campaign.
Those positives generally revolved around United being able to give young players the chance to impress.
Tahith Chong, Axel Tuanzebe, Angel Gomes, Brandon Williams, James Garner, Largie Ramazani, Ethan Galbraith, D’Mani Mellor, Dylan Levitt, Ethan Laird and Di’Shon Bernard all got opportunities to play in that group stage, with many of them making their debuts.
Granted, a scan of that list doesn’t show many players who’ve gone on to become regulars at United – a few remain at the club but are either down the pecking order or unlikely to have long-term futures, while Garner recently joined Everton and Gomes and Ramazani are impressing elsewhere in Europe.
United allowed a lot of players to leave the club on permanent deals and loans in the most recent transfer window, so there is every reason to expect any youngsters given chances in the group may not be familiar faces.
Ahead of Thursday’s group opener against Real Sociedad, Stats Perform takes a look at the young talents who might emerge for United over the next few months.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) September 7, 2022
On the fringes
United fans will hope the Europa League final provides them with an opportunity to see Facundo Pellistri in action. The Uruguayan winger joined the club nearly two years ago but hasn’t played a single minute of competitive action, and neither of his loan spells at Deportivo Alaves were particularly impressive.
He caught the eye in pre-season last year but was still shipped out – he made a couple of appearances this time around before suffering an injury, which also ended any plans for another loan spell.
Determined in attack
Hungry in defence
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) July 20, 2022
But if there’s any South American winger likely to stake his claim for more first-team minutes, it’s Alejandro Garnacho. The 18-year-old has already played for the senior side, including once this term, and has been a regular among the substitutes for Erik ten Hag.
An explosive, direct winger, Garnacho appears to be one of the most talented players to come through at United in recent years.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) May 28, 2022
Such statements had been reserved for Shola Shoretire until fairly recently. The gifted – albeit diminutive – forward became United’s youngest ever player in European competition (17 years, 23 days) when appearing against Thursday’s opposition in February 2021, so he still has time on his side, but he hasn’t really kicked on since in terms of collecting first-team minutes.
Having said that, United reportedly shelved plans for him to go on loan just before the transfer window closed, with Ten Hag apparently keen to keep him around until January – perhaps an opportunity or two is around the corner?
Out to make a name
It’s fair to say United have a lot of promising talent coming through at the moment. Among those yet to play for the senior side, Kobbie Mainoo looks the biggest prospect of them all.
Only 17, Mainoo is an elegant playmaker who possesses exceptional technical attributes – he ran the show as United’s Under-21s beat Carlisle United’s first-team 2-1 in the EFL Trophy last week and has been training with Ten Hag’s main squad ahead of Thursday’s match.
Mainoo’s by no means the only midfielder exciting people at Old Trafford, though. Isak Hansen-Aaroen courted attention in pre-season when a pre-match photo showing his impressive tattoo collection went viral on social media – at the time he was 17, though there is no 18-plus restriction on body art in his native Norway.
Unbeknownst to many of those sharing the photo, Hansen-Aaroen is an extremely gifted and versatile player capable of featuring in midfield and attack. He’s quick, a wonderful dribbler, creative and difficult to knock off the ball. He’s clearly already got Ten Hag’s attention as he featured briefly against Rayo Vallecano in pre-season – a competitive debut certainly isn’t out of the question this season.
Former Manchester City youngster Charlie McNeill is another who has been training with the seniors this week. Something of a goal machine at youth level, the 18-year-old is a well-rounded striker who works hard and possesses strong associative attributes. Given Anthony Martial’s continued absence, McNeill could be an understudy to Cristiano Ronaldo in Europe over the next few weeks.
Charlie Savage, son of former Wales international Robbie Savage, made his first-team debut under Ralf Rangnick last season – as did Zidane Iqbal. The two midfielders both have plenty of potential, with the former possessing some of the bite his dad was renowned for, and each will be hopeful of kicking on after a brief introduction to senior football in 2021-22.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) June 28, 2022
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