Football may be on hiatus right now, but Manchester United’s players will already be looking ahead to next season with baited breath.
Whatever the rest of this campaign has in store, 2021 looks set to be an exciting year for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men. It could also be the period when a precocious youngster finally finds his feet.
Tahith Chong’s raw talent is undeniable. But his performances in a United shirt have been bit-and-miss to say the least. While the Dutch winger shone for the second string, his first-team outings did little to justify the hype.
That was until back-to-back assists in Europa League clashes with Club Brugge and LASK. The latter may have been behind closed doors, but Chong had the bit between his teeth during a 14-minute cameo. He also looked a different player against Brugge two weeks previous.
Where before Chong ran into blind alleys or picked the easy ball, suddenly he was hugging the touchline, beating his man and selecting the right pass (as his two assists testify).
Despite that mini-resurgence, Chong will know his United chances will be slim next season. For that reason, a loan move is likely following his recent contract extension.
With that deal running until the summer of 2022 (with the option of a third year), the United youngster will know next season is huge for him. He needs to go to a club where he can hone his talent, play regularly and, hopefully, return to Old Trafford as something akin to the finished article.
Wingers are, by their very definition, frustrating beasts. But consistency and learning to utilise their pace are key . Even the best can anger as much as excite, with Nani a perfect example. But Chong is a long way off that quality.
If he ever wants to get there, 2021 is likely to be key. And United need to make the right call about his next (albeit temporary) destination.