To compound the injury woes of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Manchester United’s two finest young midfield talents have been ruled out. Dylan Levitt and James Garner both made their debuts in 2019, one in South London and one in Kazakhstan.
Knocks and illness keep both from being an option to replace the injured Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay.
Are Ethan Galbraith and Arnau Puigmal, the understudies to the understudies, ready for a first-team chance in January?
Saturday’s game against Wolves is a tough one. United have a torrid record at Molineux recently and few will be confident of arresting that poor run in the FA Cup Third Round.
Puigmal and Galbraith likely won’t be involved then. But the pair are well-rested and injury-free of late, having played their last game in December before youth football took its winter break.
Puigmal and Galbraith have trained with United first team
Both have trained with the first team on a semi-regular basis. Puigmal, in particular, is one who has come into form. The Catalan joined from Espanyol a few years back after impressing in the Mediterranean International Cup. United fought off interest from FC Barcelona.
He’s been played at right-back frequently by United’s coaching staff who sought to improve his defensive abilities. But Levitt and Garner’s ascension into the first team has allowed Puigmal an opportunity in the under-23s central midfield. He’s looked good.
Many United fans will have seen Puigmal’s name after a brace against Middlesbrough at the start of November. One of his goals was a sensational free-kick that made headlines.
United in midst of midfield injury crisis
The real question, at least for the start of 2020, is whether Puigmal is ready to step up and replace one of Pogba or McTominay. In a game such as Saturday’s against Wolves, the answer is no.
Throwing him in at the deep end, given his limited playing time in central midfield over the last two years, would be risky. But he’s an industrious and technically gifted midfielder. Alongside an in-form Fred, and perhaps Nemanja Matic too for some protection, Puigmal could do well.
United have games against Norwich City and Burnley after the Wolves tie, either side of a trip to Anfield.
Fred, Matic and Andreas Pereira will need resting or rotating at some point in the January schedule. Puigmal can be relied upon as a bench option at least.
Galbraith more ready than Puigmal for chance
Ethan Galbraith is perhaps more ready for a chance. He made his first-team bow in Kazakhstan as a substitute for Angel Gomes.
Like Puigmal, United signed Galbraith in his mid-teenage years. He arrived from Northern Ireland and penned his first contract in a backroom at Old Trafford in the presence of Nicky Butt.
He’s a wonderful midfielder to watch and he became one of the few players in history to make their international debut before their United debut.
At 18, he came off the bench for Northern Ireland. Experience is hardly a problem for Galbraith, who once scored a crucial goal against Man City to win the under-18s the Premier League North title.
Like Puigmal, Galbraith is hard-working. He’s a little better suited to come into this United side, though. Galbraith enjoys going to ground, stretching out a leg and making a tackle.
It’s a trait that earns him a couple of bookings but that’s an inevitable, and not overwhelmingly negative, consequence. He’s comfortable on the ball and can split a defence in two.
Of the two, Galbraith would be a better shout for a first-team chance this month.
Ultimately, it’s a fantastic opportunity for one of these two players, or even the older Ethan Hamilton, now back from loan, to be given a chance. United do have the games where it’s a possibility and their midfielders will need to be rested.
On a personal level for Galbraith and Puigmal, it’s a rare chance where Garner and Levitt, who remain ahead of them in the pecking order, may not block their path.
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