A year on from Astana, how have Solskjaer's Manchester United youngsters fared?
It’s a year since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer put on a starting XI with an average of age of just 22 years and 26 days against Astana in the UEFA Europa League. An unfortunate own goal from Di’Shon Bernard gave Astana a memorable win but the experience was an overwhelmingly positive one for Manchester United’s young talents.
Jesse Lingard and Luke Shaw offered experience in the youthful line-up, as did Lee Grant in goal. The real interest was on the academy graduates who benefitted from United’s early qualification for the knockout rounds.
After the game, Solskjaer told MUTV that “some of these [players] might benefit from going out on loan.” That has proved true. Four of the starting line-up have taken loan moves for the 2020/21 season. How have they fared and where are the rest of their teammates from November 28th, 2019?
Have Manchester United youngsters enjoyed success out on loan?
“You can see the way we dominated midfield, with Jimmy Garner and Dylan playing together,” a pleased Solskjaer said in spite of defeat. James Garner joined Championship side Watford on loan while Dylan Levitt has been getting minutes elsewhere in London with Charlton Athletic.
The midfield pairing, who have played with each other since they were eight, were probably the most impressive performers of the night in Kazakhstan.
Garner had a good season for United, playing four times in the Europa League and once each in the Premier League and EFL Cup as a substitute. It was in the under-23s where he began to show great goalscoring form, often as captain of the side. That earned him that loan move to Watford and he’s done well.
He’s played 11 times in the Championship and has contributed one assist. Six of those appearances were from the start. Garner has the faith of Watford’s coaching staff at the moment. He’ll need to continue to improve his game to make sure that remains throughout the season.
Levitt, meanwhile, has struggled for minutes at Charlton. HIs manager, Lee Bowyer, explained the situation recently.
“Dylan hasn’t done anything wrong,” Bowyer said. “He hasn’t had as many minutes as he’d have liked or we’d have liked him to have, but the middle of the park is probably our strongest area.”
Charlton took Levitt on the recommendation of Nicky Butt who said “he’s the best passer we have at the club”. It’s been a struggle to show that so far but Levitt is highly-rated, including by Ryan Giggs, manager of Wales. That’s resulted in four appearances for the national side since his debut in September.
Tahith Chong out on loan in German Bundesliga
Elsewhere on loan, Tahith Chong went out to Werder Bremen. He needed space in which to flourish. That wasn’t happening at United. At Bremen, he’s been a rotational option for the Bundesliga side, with three league starts and five cameos off the bench. He’s had moments of brilliance but isn’t a regular member of the team yet.
“Everyone is very accommodating to me, and I have made friends here. I can’t judge what people expect,” Chong said to SportBild.
“I’ve been here two and a half months now; I have to learn a new language and get used to the game.”
The final loanee is Di’Shon Bernard who, despite scoring an own goal, received praise from Solskjaer after the game. He’s at Salford City and has five appearances to his name so far. In a 2-1 win against Morecambe, Bernard assisted both goals from centre-back.
Angel Gomes excelling in Portugal
Angel Gomes was a famous departure from United. He started the game in Kazakhstan in a rare chance but failed to truly shine. Now on loan at Boavista, having signed permanently for Lille, Gomes is having a fantastic time in Portugal and has received support and advice from Bruno Fernandes.
Largie Ramazani was an electric Belgian winger but left United after the club refused to bow to his demands for guarantees of game time and wages. Ramazani joined UD Almería and is slowly making himself a regular in the LaLiga2 side.
In terms of the first team players involved that night, Lee Grant remains United’s back-up goalkeeper. Luke Shaw is out with injury but had been finding his best form for years. Jesse Lingard is very much a back-up option for Solskjaer but stayed at the club this summer despite many predicting a transfer away.
Axel Tuanzebe is finally getting back into the United fold after a long-term injury. Mason Greenwood has come under fire in recent weeks after acting irresponsibly in the summer.
Solskjaer has defended the England striker but an illness for Greenwood in November hasn’t helped. He came back into the team recently against Istanbul Basaksehir and will now be seeking goals to change the focus.
Galbraith shining but Laird and Bughail-Mellor struggle with injury
The final three academy graduates to mention are Ethan Galbraith, Ethan Laird and D’Mani Bughail-Mellor.
Galbraith has become a regular in the Northern Ireland senior squad. He’s also been the best player for United’s under-23s this season. Galbraith is a joy to watch, with fantastic timing and composure to his passing.
Ethan Laird has faced more injury issues which is a great shame for such a talented full-back. If he can’t avoid injury this season, he’ll need a great slice of luck to make it at United.
The talent is clearly there which makes his situation even more frustrating. He’s only managed two under-23 appearances this season.
20-year-old Bughail-Mellor, meanwhile, is also out long-term with an ACL tear.
Grant; Laird, Tuanzebe, Bernard, Shaw; Levitt, Garner; Chong, Lingard, Gomes; Greenwood
Subs: Ramazani, Bughail-Mellor, Galbraith