After ending the 2020/21 season in fine form, Anthony Elanga will be looking forward to Manchester United’s pre-season more than most.
For United’s under-23s, the first team, and Sweden’s under-21s, Elanga ended the campaign with five goals in his last five games in all competitions.
On a hot streak, Elanga, 19, will be determined to make his mark in pre-season, just like Mason Greenwood did in 2019.
The parallels are there. Greenwood ended the 2018/19 season as top scorer for the under-23s and made his first team debut at the end of it.
Elanga top scored for the under-23s this past season, a lot less prolificly than Greenwood, but he did miss nearly three months of action with a collarbone injury. He too made his debut for the first team at the end of the campaign, and even got on the scoresheet against Wolves.
Pre-season represents a chance to break through
United’s 2019 tour of Australia, Singapore, and China gave Greenwood his chance to impress. Had he not looked comfortable, he would have been sent on loan or back to the under-23s.
Greenwood grabbed the opportunity by scoring an opening goal in a win over Leeds United, before netting a winner against Inter Milan. A star was born.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer knew at that moment that Greenwood had what it took to be part of his first team set up for the 2019/20 season. He ended the campaign with 17 goals, a record equalling return for a United teenager.
The summer of 2021 will give Elanga his chance. There is no overseas tour, but that may be a positive as there is less distraction. Instead he will get the chance to play in front of crowds at Old Trafford.
After games against Derby and QPR, United face Premier League opponents Brentford and Everton. If Elanga can make his mark he can lock up a spot in the squad for the 2021/22 season.
Elanga has been working hard. A video posted to his Instagram over the weekend highlighted how he has been working on his conditioning in the gym and on the training pitch. He seems determined to grab his opportunity.
A win either way
There is no shame if Elanga does not quite manage to have the impact he dreams of. Even a successful pre-season might not open the door to the first team in the way he hopes.
United’s attack has more options than ever with Jadon Sancho set to join. Unless a departure happens like Anthony Martial or Dan James, Elanga might find it tough to get the minutes he needs.
So it is quite possible United’s coaches decide the best option for speedster Elanga is to send him out on loan, to play a year of senior football and come back even stronger next year. On the other hand, a possible operation for Marcus Rashford may determine that he has to stay.
Elanga’s job is to make United feel like he absolutely has to stay at all costs, and show he is first team ready now, and cause the coaches to adjust plans in order to fit him in. The next few weeks will be crucial, and it will be no surprise at all to see him follow in Greenwood’s footsteps.
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