Manchester United go into their final Europa League group match against AZ Alkmaar knowing it’s a group winner decider. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has to balance this with a desire to give his youngsters another opportunity to impress.
The Red Devils’ academy stars were unlucky to come away from their testing trip to Kazakhstan with nothing. The team dominated possession in spells and will no doubt come back from the experience stronger.
After Alkmaar were held to a 2-2 draw with Partizan Belgrade, it means that if United avoid defeat against the Dutch side on December 12th, Solskjaer’s side will win the group.
Speaking to the club’s official website, Solskjaer said: “We want to win the AZ game as then we win the group. I think it’ll be a mixed team as some of these players played really well tonight.
“You’ll probably see some of them again. Of course, with a home game, it’s easier to play and with less travel, so you will see some more first-team players.”
Winning the group means United will be be seeded, along with the four third-placed teams from the Champions League with the best group records, when the draw for the round of 32 takes place.
How important that is in the Europa League is debatable. Having gambled once, Solskjaer should do so again, and be confident that United’s first choice side can beat whoever we are drawn against over two legs in February.
Here are the players that could feature against Alkmaar.
After an impressive debut, Laird has further staked his claim to be Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s understudy.
The 18-year-old was a constant attacking threat against Astana and will be eager for more first team action.
His performance should now mean that similar to Brandon Williams, if Wan-Bissaka is either suspended or injured for Premier League matches, he gets the nod ahead of the likes of Ashley Young and Diogo Dalot.
With upcoming home clashes against Alkmaar and Colchester United to come next month, Laird has the chance to follow in the footsteps of Garner and Williams and integrate himself in the first team matchday set up on a permanent basis.
Dylan Levitt and James Garner
United fans will be hoping that the home game will bring another chance to see the Garner and Levitt partnership at the heart of our midfield.
The talented duo looked like seasonal pros the way they were knocking the ball around with ease against Astana, the hosts were chasing shadows at times.
Playing with each other since the age of 7, they know each others games inside out and are always demanding the ball, they want to make things happen, which is refreshing to see.
The pair aren’t afraid to bring an element of risk to their passing and they are very good at negotiating tight spaces when it looks like they are going to be crowded out.
Manchester United need to tie Gomes down to a new deal and he needs games in his favoured number 10 role.
There were some good moments from the 19-year-old, who was playing out on the left-hand side due to Jesse Lingard being deployed behind Mason Greenwood.
It is abundantly clear the talent he possesses with the ball at his feet and he feeds off quick one and two touch interplay passing.
The glaring miss from Tahith Chong came after Gomes’ clever return pass released Luke Shaw.
He nearly brought United level with a tremendous curling free-kick.
Solskjaer has to give Gomes the chance against Alkmaar in the number 10 position. It made sense giving Jesse Lingard the opportunity to regain some confidence against Astana, but Gomes on home soil in that role could be a frightening prospect if he is unleashed.
The best case scenario for the club would be that Gomes commits his long-term future to the club and then in January he goes out on loan and plays regular first team senior football.
It should be a formality that Greenwood leads the line against the Dutch outfit.
The striker would have been disappointed not to continue his impressive scoring run after finding himself in some good goalscoring positions.
The 18-year-old is getting plenty of game time and that will only enhance his development.
Gomes in behind Greenwood is a partnership United supporters have wanted to see for a while and this would be a great way to sign off to group stages.
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And if United really want to be bold and gamble, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer should look at introducing these two as well.
Lee Grant was given his second appearance for United against Astana, but it should be Kovar who is given the nod against the Dutch side.
The young Czech’s performances this season have been hugely impressive, there have been a couple of mistakes, but that’s the life of a goalkeeper.
Seeing Kovar playing in the Europa League could be a glimpse of what the future holds after David de Gea.
United need to look forwards not backwards, Grant has had his appearance, but Kovar’s development will significantly benefit from being tested on the big stage.
The 19-year-old has particularly impressed in the EFL Trophy, with a number of crucial saves against senior sides.
Kovar is a talented shot stopper and extremely composed and confident when it comes to his distribution, he is certainly a ball-playing goalkeeper.
It was Mengi’s under-23 centre-back partner Di’Shon Bernard who was given his debut against Astana with Mengi having to watch from the bench.
Mengi will be hoping he is given his senior debut against Astana and possibly partner Axel Tuanzebe.
At the age of 17, Mengi is already dominating aerial duels and physical battles against senior players, an opportunity to make his senior debut under the lights at Old Trafford in a European game is an occasion he would relish.
His next taste of senior football will come against Tranmere Rovers in the next round of the EFL Trophy.
Like Kovar, if he doesn’t start, he should still get a place on the bench against AZ
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