For Bruno Fernandes and Odion Ighalo, the break enforced by global pandemic is a personal, if unimportant, blow. Both had been in great form. But for some of Manchester United’s younger players, the pause in action offers great opportunities.

Time to bulk up for United kids

United’s cohort of talent in the under-23s is an exciting one. Seven players have made first team debuts under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer this season, adding to the three from last campaign.

But for too many of those potential stars, strength in the senior game is a problem. James Garner, for example, comes with the required composure, vision and technical ability, but must bulk up in the gym.

“He’s just got to be patient because he’s a very good player who will hopefully have a long career at Manchester United,” Nicky Butt said when asked about Garner recently.

“There’s no rush with him. He’s still growing, still got to build himself up in the gym and naturally grow.”


Angel Gomes is referred to similarly, with Butt admitting that “he has to get the right niche at the right time.”

Chong and Mejbri must also get stronger

Those two are not alone. Tahith Chong has thrived in the under-23s where he’s afforded greater time and space than in senior football. To make it in United’s first team, and that is the challenge now that Chong has penned a new deal to stave off interest from abroad, Chong has to get bigger.

ASTANA, KAZAKHSTAN - NOVEMBER 28: Tahith Chong of Manchester United in action with Dmitri Shomko of FK Astana during the UEFA Europa League group L match between FK Astana and Manchester United at Astana Arena on November 28, 2019 in Astana, Kazakhstan.
(Photo by Ash Donelon/Manchester United via Getty Images)

His close ball control and good footwork means he can escape sticky situations. a lot of the time. But when he’s bombing down the wing against a stronger full-back, he struggles. Training against Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw would help him there, and it will.

But for Chong, and Garner and Gomes, this is the opportunity to dedicate themselves to bulking up. If they do so successfully, it will be in time for the backend of the 2019/20 season, depending on whether the campaign is resumed or not.

At a younger level, Hannibal Mejbri suffers from similar weaknesses to Gomes. Both can have a tendency to drift out of games and be outmuscled if their technical ability can’t save them. Mejbri could do with this opportunity to improve his strength.

Laird has spoken about the benefits of enforced breaks

Ethan Laird spoke about this subject in 2019. He’s a talented young right-back who, were it not for injuries, would have a few first-team games under his belt. During one of his spells on the touchline, he focused on his body and speaks positively about the experience.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MARCH 11: Angel Gomes and Tahith Chong of Manchester United in action during a first team training session at Aon Training Complex on March 11, 2020 in Manchester, England.
(Photo by Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images)

With the country’s population staying at home for the foreseeable future, it will be slightly harder to train at home. These young players don’t have the enormously expensive and wide-ranging facilities of football’s star players. So United will be looking at solutions for home workouts.

That may involve resistance bands, personal dumbbells and lending equipment. But a key part will nutrition where United’s staff will be eager to get the young players into the routine of good eating, as most will already be. Given they are not training, diets will have to be adapted accordingly.

A window to recover from injury

Back to Laird’s injury issues. The Englishman has been plagued by them for the last three years and thus, in spite of his blatant talent, has missed out on first-team opportunities. Before the suspension of football in mid-March, Laird was injured again. Otherwise he may have started in games such as the Europa League drubbing of LASK.

LEIGH, ENGLAND - MARCH 02: Axel Tuanzebe and Timothy Fosu-Mensah of Manchester United walks off after the Premier League 2 match between Stoke City U23s and Manchester United U23s at Britannia Stadium on March 02, 2020 in Leigh, England.
(Photo by Ash Donelon/Manchester United via Getty Images)

This break allows Laird’s body to relax, recover and be ready for either the end of this season, or the start of the next. The same is true for two other under-23s defender: Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Axel Tuanzebe.

Both played together in a recent match and are fit for the first team again. Nevertheless, this break offers them a chance to recover fully and they will be desperate for the resumption of the season.

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