Charlie McNeill states case for Manchester United first team chance

Manchester United’s goalless draw against Watford highlighted the club’s lack of forward options beyond a 37-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo.

With Edinson Cavani injured, Anthony Martial out on loan, and Mason Greenwood discarded, United are unexpectedly flat at the position.

It left many to wonder, isn’t there anybody in the academy who can follow Anthony Elanga’s lead and step up and help?

Photo by Tom Purslow/Manchester United via Getty Images

The cautious assessment would be to say, no, United’s young forwards are not quite ready. But in 2016, Marcus Rashford did not ‘seem’ ready, before he was thrust into action in an emergency and scored four goals in two games.

Last night Charlie McNeill stepped up to state his case with a very well taken goal after good work from Zidane Iqbal.

He struck powerfully past an onrushing goalkeeper, and earned praise from MUTV pundit Febian Brandy, who said: “. Charlie McNeill in the box there takes one touch, puts it through a player’s legs and lashes it home, great goal.”

While his night ended with a miss in the shootout which hit the post, that is no referendum on talent, just ask Anthony Elanga.

McNeill should have had a penalty at the end of normal time when he was fouled inside the box and the referee ignored it. United ended up losing the game on a shootout after a 2-2 draw.

McNeill’s prolific record

McNeill’s goal was his third goal in five UEFA Youth League games. This season he has three in four in the FA Youth Cup too, four for the under-23s in the league and one in the EFL Trophy.

That’s 11 goals in all competitions in 2021/22, to add to the 25 he scored last season for United’s under-18s side.

You could rightly argue McNeill needs to develop physically, as 99 per cent of players his age do. Not every youngster is built like a bull like Wayne Rooney was when he was a teenager.

What McNeill does have, is excellent finishing instincts, combined with fresh energy and an eagerness to impress.

Isn’t this exactly what Manchester United need to help Cristiano Ronaldo, particularly towards the end of games when he team are dominating and just looking for somebody to prod in a winner?

McNeill was not the only player to shine, with Alejandro Garnacho particularly lively, and Hannibal also a driving force from midfield.

United’s academy is stacked with talent right now, with the under-18s in the semi-finals of the FA Youth Cup.

United may have opportunity to experiment

The first team have a number of tough fixtures upcoming, against Manchester City, Tottenham, Liverpool, Leicester and Everton and Arsenal in the Premier League, then add in the Champions League second leg against Atletico Madrid.

No, we are not proposing putting McNeill in for those games. But these fixtures could see United fall apart and drop right out of top four contention.

During these fixtures in the first half of the season, United gained seven points out of a possible 18.

This is quite possible again this time, and if that happens, a Champions League place through the top four will be gone.

Photo by Tom Purslow/Manchester United via Getty Images

At this stage it really will be time to experiment, and what’s the harm in giving Charlie McNeill, or Hannibal, or Alejandro Garnacho an opportunity?

If Edinson Cavani is still not fit by this point, or has gone down injured again, United may have little option.

McNeill is still borderline whether he is ready, but last night’s UEFA Youth League game was a test, and he passed it with flying colours, stepping up against strong opposition to score a vital goal.

Thoughts? Comment Below
Dan is still wondering what would have happened if United had kept Juan Veron...