Analysis: If you’re good enough, you’re old enough!

That was a breath of fresh air, wasn’t it!

Manchester United’s youngest ever Premier League side beat Crystal Palace comfortably at Old Trafford, thanks to a debut goal from Josh Harrop and a strike on the counter-attack from Paul Pogba.

Ahead of the Europa League final on Wednesday night, Jose Mourinho handed four young players their full Manchester United debuts, with more academy graduates hoping to make an appearance from the bench. Joel Pereira, Demetri Mitchell, Scott McTominay and Josh Harrop all made their debuts, while Axel Tuanzebe started his first game at Old Trafford and Timothy Fosu-Mensah returned from injury to start at right back.

As the final game of the season it is hard to really decipher what this result and performance means in a wider context. There were some good performances, some great individual moments, but the most pleasing aspect will be how the young players adapted to first team football at Manchester United.

Axel Tuanzebe has now started four Premier League matches in a row, each time out of position. Today he was the anchor in midfield, responsible for the way United would build up possession and play out through midfield. In 90 minutes, Tuanzebe completed 62 passes, more than any United player on the field. What’s more is he achieved a pass completion rate of 100%, never giving the ball away once and always finding a way to develop the attacking phase of United’s play.

Axel Tuanzebe completed every single pass he attempted against Crystal Palace. Credit: Squawka.

What we have seen is a young footballer who has developed into a calm, assured young man who is capable of handling the pressure of playing for a club like Manchester United. Today we saw his ability to get on the ball, find his teammates in the right areas and allow the attacking talents of Pogba, Lingard, Harrop et al to shine.

One debutant grabbed his chance today and flourished. While Josh Harrop may grab the headlines for his stunning goal, but Demetri Mitchell was excellent playing on the left-hand side of the back four.

First and foremost, Mitchell offered Manchester United a lot of energy up and down the flank. His enthusiasm and positive aggression to constantly play on the front foot gave United a different dimension in attacking positions. As an alternative to Matteo Darmian and Daley Blind, Mitchell is a much better attacking proposition, with only Luke Shaw able to offer the same intention in the attacking third of the pitch.

Demetri Mitchell showed great attacking ambition on his Manchester United debut. Credit: Squawka.

Once he crossed the halfway line, Mitchell was also able to show good quality in possession of the ball. He completed 85% of his passes this afternoon and created two chances, including an excellent long pass that almost set up a wonderful Wayne Rooney goal.

He also showed good quality in possession of the ball, creating two chances. Credit: Squawka.

With speculation surrounding the left back position, Demetri Mitchell’s audition could not have come at a better time.

One of the older, more experienced players on show today was Paul Pogba. Despite being an academy graduate himself, Pogba also cost Manchester United £89million to bring him back to the club last summer. His first season has been wrought with criticism, most of which has been unfair and unjustified. Today though, he was superb.

He only played 44 minutes before being substituted, but he ran the show while he was on the pitch. Pogba completed 92% of his passes, created two chances, provided a marvellous assist for Harrop’s goal and scored United’s second to cap an excellent counter-attacking move.

Paul Pogba ran the show before being substituted in the 44th minute. Credit: Squawka.

Playing in a slightly more advanced role this afternoon and with less defensive responsibility due to the energy and discipline of McTominay and Tuanzebe alongside him, Pogba showed his true class as a creative talent. His pass for Harrop was a perfectly executed, perfectly weighted through ball with the outside of his foot, he moved the ball quickly, was always positive in his efforts to influence each attacking phase and was a shining light for United this afternoon. Just three days before a major European final, Pogba’s return to form is a welcome one.

An honourable mention has to go to Josh Harrop. Perhaps the lesser known of the debutants, Harrop scored a hattrick last week for the Under 23’s to catapult himself into contention for today and he wasted no time in announcing himself on the Premier League stage.

Josh Harrop scored a wonderful goal on his debut. Credit: Squawka.

His pace and movement were only bettered by skill on the ball and a powerful finish. He offered United energy, positivity, intelligent movement and real quality on the ball, but it was his goal in the 15th minute that will steal the show. A truly wonderful moment for a local lad come good. Even if that is Harrop’s only appearance in a United shirt, it will be a truly memorable one.

Today we saw the introduction of youth. Twelve members of the first team squad had graduated from the academy, without even mentioning Marcus Rashford who was not involved today, proving once again that Manchester United value and appreciate their youth more than any other club in this country. As Wayne Rooney departed the Old Trafford pitch, perhaps for the last time, he was replaced by Angel Gomes, a 16-year-old prodigy who has everything it takes to become a great United player. How fitting that one career should be coming to an end just as another is beginning.

With such a bright future for the likes of Harrop, Mitchell, Gomes, McTominay and Tuanzebe, United must ensure there is a platform for them to succeed. Winning the Europa League final and guaranteeing Champions League football is the only way to do that.


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