Dan James has struggled at Manchester United since that blistering start. And Thursday’s Premier League clash showed how hard it is for him to make an impact these days.
With time running out, and the Red Devils leading 3-1 against Sheffield United, James was stripped off and ready for some much-needed action.
Yet a late second for the hosts saw a quick rethink from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. James was told to sit down and Scott McTominay came on his place.
That was no surprise. United needed to shore things up as the Blades pushed for an equaliser. But it was another blow to James, who would have hoped to run at a tired back line.
What James’ quick shift from late substitute to unused showed is that United are unlikely to call on him unless a game is done and dusted.
After all, the £15million signing (BBC) is lightening quick rather than a no-nonsense wall in the mould of McTominay.
What the future holds
James looked set to become one of United’s smartest ever signings when he scored three goals in his first four Premier League games. But things have not gone to plan since.
Now very much a fringe player, the Welsh international has managed just six appearances in all competitions this season. He hasn’t tasted league action since October and it will be interesting to see what happens over the festive period.
There are unlikely to be too many occasions when United are coasting given the nature of the league. So it will be interesting to see if James is called on when a game truly needs changing or seen out rather than enjoyed.
James is still young and has the potential to be a United star. But Thursday’s missed opportunity could be a sign of things to come.
For now, this is one United player whose minutes are limited by skill-set and necessity.