Will Solskjaer turn to youth for Europa League last 32?

After a two month break, the Europa League returns on Thursday night.

Manchester United are in Belgium to face Club Brugges in the first leg of the last 32 knockout tie.

It is going to be really interesting to see whether Ole Gunnar Solskjaer turns to youth, as he did in the group stages of the competition.

While Brandon Williams is pretty much a weekly starter at this point, Solskjaer’s stance over four of United’s other young stars remains uncertain.

Photo by Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images

Where do they stand?

Mason Greenwood finished the group stages as United’s top goalscorer in the competition with four goals in five starts.

He was an unused substitute on Monday night against Chelsea, which may or may not mean he is being saved to start in Belgium.

Angel Gomes, Tahith Chong and James Garner all spent time with the first team in the mid-season trip to Spain.

Garner started two Europa League matches, Chong two and Gomes three.

All three have barely been used in the Premier League, and their use here depends partly on how they impressed in Spain. None of them were on the bench at Stamford Bridge.

Garner was denied a late loan move on deadline day, indicating United do have plans for him, while Chong and Gomes’ contracts are winding down.

They will hope for some involvement on Thursday night, at least a place on the bench.

Photo by Tom Purslow/Manchester United via Getty Images

Philosophy vs practicality

It’s crunch time now, and the time for experimentation could be over.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be caught between picking his strongest available team and trusting the young players who played a role in helping United win the group.

Options include Garner over Matic, and one of Gomes or Chong out wide if United play 4-2-3-1, instead of Dan James.

It’s likely Bruno Fernandes gets a start and United select a strong team. But there also has to be one eye on Sunday’s Premier League match with Watford.

Solskjaer has to decide what is more important, with key players featuring against Chelsea. He should be getting used to managing his squad by now.

With a second leg at Old Trafford still to come, don’t be surprised if there are one or two surprises.

Greenwood is a strong contender to lead the line, with Odion Ighalo working to full fitness and Anthony Martial potentially saved for Sunday.

The striker scenario alone is a juggling act, before you mix in the other youngsters in midfield and attack and their situations.

Solskjaer has created memories in this competition for the youngsters he has picked. Particularly the many who featured against Astana. Now is the chance for him to really be brave.

Gomes, Garner and Chong could find themselves ignored altogether, but if along with Greenwood they are involved, this tie could further define Solskjaer’s legacy at United as a manager who put his trust in youth.

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