A youthful looking United welcomed Astana to Old Trafford in the Red Devil’s first Europa League game since winning the competition two years ago.
After a slew of injuries forced United into a number of changes in the starting 11 against Leicester over the weekend and with many players still being eased back into training after returning from injury, Ole Gunnar Solskjær looked to the products of the academy as United opened their Europa League campaign.
The future looks bright
With Greenwood, Gomes and Chong playing in an attack spearheaded by Marcus Rashford, United’s front line was all a product of a proud academy system that has always provided a route to first team football for its graduates. Elsewhere on the pitch Axel Tuanzebe started in defence, another academy graduate that looked to make his mark on the first team. The inclusion of these youngsters in the starting 11 not only proves the club’s commitment to providing a platform for young talent but also shows the quality of development within the youth system.
Don’t write off players just yet
In recent years we’ve started to question the club’s recruitment in terms of the quality of player being brought in. We’ve seen players come in on big money and struggle to get into the teams under the very regime they were brought in and this has led many fans to turn on players and write them off as surplus to requirement. However the match against Astana may have shown that we shouldn’t be too quick to write players off, and one player in particular stood out in that aspect against Astana and that was Marcos Rojo. The Argentine defender has struggled to make an impact at United with injuries plaguing him throughout his time with the club but his performance against Astana proved that there is a player in there that’s willing to give his all for the club when given the opportunity. This is a characteristic that seems to have been lacking over the past few years at United and it was a pleasant surprise to see the hunger and determination from a player that so many had written off.
An identity is being (re)born
Since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement many would be hard pressed to state what kind of identity United played with under the various regimes that followed. An argument could be made for Jose Mourinho’s time at the club being a very defensive minded approach but even then it seemed disjointed most of the time and didn’t seem to fit the squad of players that he had. Now under Ole, the club seem to finally have an identity. It’s clear to see the manager trying to implement the same structure in the club that existed under Sir Alex. A fast paced, high tempo style of play that looks to help talented youth flourish alongside the stability of senior players.
Mason Greenwood has the world at his feet
At 17 years of age, Mason Greenwood is looking like every bit the world class player so many are touting him to become. Having scored the only goal of the game against Astana, Greenwood continues to make his case for a regular starting place in the first team. With quick feet, intelligent positioning and a clinical eye for goal there is no doubt the young English striker has a promising future ahead of him. Praise from the manager stating that he is one of the best finishers he’s ever seen and with Michael Owen giving him glowing praise after the Astana game , this too would have seen a rise in the youngsters stock.
Rashford needs to step up
The one negative that could be taken away from the game was Marcus Rashford’s inability to convert his chances. Having been given the duty of leading the attack against Astana, it would not seem unjust to suggest that Marcus Rashford could have and probably should have put the game to rest early on. After having several goal scoring opportunities in the early stages of the game , Rashford failed to convert them against, with all due respect, a team that would struggle to survive in the Premier League. With young Mason Greenwood proving his quality and his readiness for regular first team football, it’s time Rashford steps up and proves that he is the main man for United upfront or his place as a regular first team starter could be in contention.