Tahith Chong is no stranger to obstacles and difficult periods but the Dutch winger has been Manchester United’s worst player in recent games against FC Astana and Rochdale.
Normally so confident and direct in his play, Chong is playing without the verve and fluency that has excited regular watchers of United’s youth sides. However, abuse and over the top criticism on social media is unnecessary and not what United and its supporters should be about. Support the kids, support the team. Maybe reap the rewards.
Chong will continue to play because Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has faith in his abilities and knows that some young players take time to come good. But the question should be asked as to what’s gone wrong with Chong?
A lack of space
Chong’s running style is beautiful to watch. He glides over the pitch and before you know it, he’s entering the penalty area to score or assist. But United fans would be forgiven for thinking differently. He’s hardly shown such qualities in the first team.
The intensity of youth football in England is world-renowned, but in comparison with senior football, it remains some way off. The space allowed to Chong has been minimal in games against Astana and Rochdale. He’s lost possession too frequently, made poor decisions and rarely found a good pass.
His best cameo of the season was against Leicester. As a late sub, he helped to see out the win for United with his pace. He stretched the Foxes. But in that game, Brendan Rodgers’ side was targeting an equaliser, leaving gaps behind them that Chong could exploit. He didn’t lose possession once at Old Trafford that day, but against Astana and Rochdale, he did so on a total of 11 occasions.
Ultimately, young players are even more susceptible to dips in confidence than their senior teammates. United are in woeful form. Chong is not the only under-performing player and the environment, or at least the run of results, is hardly conducive to a young winger playing without fear.
The pressure is on at United. Few young players are ready to step up and match such a task. They need a side that’s balanced and successful to develop quickest.
Of course, that evidences a key difference between Chong and other talents. He’s not at the level of the very best; those who can come in and do their bit whatever the form of the others on the pitch. Mason Greenwood has scored twice in two starts. Ansu Fati is making headlines at Barcelona. Ryan Giggs provided magic moments in the ’90s, and Adnan Januzaj did it in David Moyes’ short time in charge.
And therein lies a key point. Chong’s inability to shine in his first two starts for United this season means little for his long-term prospects. Januzaj left United as a disappointment. Chong may make it at United.
The chances are low, as they always are, but some of the best players take time to develop. Just ask United’s captain on Wednesday night, Axel Tuanzebe, who has come back ready for the first team after a spell at Aston Villa.
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