Tahith Chong played the perfect game at the perfect time for Manchester United’s under-23 side on Monday night.
Chong has not featured for United since late September after struggling in his starts at Old Trafford against Astana and Rochdale.
Not every young player can make an instant impact, and it would be a mistake for anybody to write the talented young Dutchman off.
United recognised that it wasn’t quite clicking for the 19-year-old and sent him back to the under-23s to rediscover his confidence.
It worked for Scott McTominay at the start of 2019, and it might be working for Tahith Chong too.
After McTominay’s confidence was lost under Jose Mourinho at the end of 2018, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer dropped him down to under-23 football to get back on track.
It worked, and McTominay is a first choice starter and among the team’s top three players this season so far.
Chong was named as captain for Manchester United’s under-23s against Middlesbrough on Monday night.
United wanted him to assume some responsibility and play like a leader and he did precisely that.
While Arnau Puigmal caught the eye with a stunning free-kick to open the scoring, Chong played a part by winning the set piece in the first place.
He provided the assist for the Spaniard’s second, interchanging passes to lay the ball on a plate for Puigmal to sweep into the net.
Middlesbrough came back into the match in the second half, pulling a goal back to make it 2-1 before Chong took over.
The Dutchman scored two goals to seal a 4-1 win, one which was a deflected cross, and his second was an excellent opportunistic finish with his left foot.
This was a great way for Chong to build up his confidence and he now has four goals and two assists in three under-23 matches this season.
Chong’s performance will not have escaped Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s eye ahead of Thursday night.
United have a home fixture against Partizan Belgrade, and if Chong was borderline to make the matchday squad, this should tip his cause.
A lack of creativity in the first team has been clear and Chong is one potential solution we have available.
Even if he does not start against the Serbians, it would be good to see the teenager get some minutes off the bench in the Europa League fixture.
This was an important step in Chong’s efforts to crack the first team.
He was challenged to make an impact for the under-23s and he has done that. Now he has to show he can influence a first team game.
If he can shine in the Europa League, a proper Premier League chance may come his way.
Chong has clearly got something but he looked nervous in his opportunities at the start of the season.
United have done well by him since, and now is the time to bring him back into the first team squad to see if he can harness his talent.
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