Last season, the likes of Marcus Rashford and Timothy Fosu-Mensah managed to break into the first team with a series of excellent performances that helped Manchester United to the FA Cup title. Cameron Borthwick-Jackson was also a key part of the first team at the end of the season, starting at left-back ahead of Matteo Darmian in Luke Shaw’s absence and making a massive impact before moving out on loan to Wolves.
United’s youth academy is well-stocked with talent ready to break out into the first team, and with a few of them making debuts last season, and with some of United’s depth stars underperforming at this moment in time, some of United’s hidden gems could be set for a breakthrough. Here are the five main squad players who could be replaced by youth members within the next season.
Antonio Valencia, 31, Right-Back
Valencia started this season in great form, but quite often it doesn’t last, and at right-back, his great spells of form can quickly change. At the end of Louis van Gaal’s first year at United, Valencia quickly downturned and was the sole reason for a couple of key goal concessions on United’s behalf. In addition, the youth academy has many promising fullbacks coming through, not least Borthwick-Jackson. Even if his form doesn’t take a downturn, he will likely experience a massive physical decline after turning 32 and his revelation will only last an extra year.
Likely Replacements: Joe Riley, who can play in either full-back position, has trained with the first team under Mourinho, and could be in line to join Fosu-Mensah and Borthwick-Jackson as senior fullbacks (though the former is expected to become a midfielder).
Marcos Rojo, 26, Left-Back
Rojo looked absolutely abject for United against Feyenoord in a match that summarized his two-year spell at the club. He has some potential at centre-back, but he’s comfortably the fifth-choice in that position and will probably see no time there this season. After being sent off in the Copa America Final for Argentina, being involved in many disciplinarily poor situations off the pitch and looking relatively injury-prone throughout his time at United, Rojo’s United career seems completely doomed.
Likely Replacements: Valencia, Shaw, Darmian, Fosu-Mensah, and Rojo are United’s senior fullback options, and if Rojo and Valencia are gone there would be only one likely replacement (Riley, for argument’s sake). Borthwick-Jackson could also return soon, and take his place in the first team because he’s the most talented of the group from what I’ve seen.
Phil Jones, 24, Centre-Back
Phil Jones could still make a good career out of his talent, but he’s under far too much pressure to succeed at United and, as a result, his body is letting him down. At a club in the mould of Stoke City, a side to whom he was linked on deadline day, Jones could finally make good of his undoubtedly solid potential. However, it seems he can’t do it at United, and with a line of solid centre-backs coming through from the academy, he is holding the senior side back in a way.
Likely Replacements: Axel Tuanzebe is a glimmering light of a defender in the youth academy right now, and Jose Mourinho has stated his immense belief in Tuanzebe’s quality on multiple occasions, even allowing him to have a cameo in United’s pre-season. Ro-Shaun Williams is also greatly talented, but probably a little bit too young to become a first-team regular as yet.
Ashley Young, 31, Winger
Young has been a good servant for Manchester United since joining in 2011. However, he seems to be slowly declining in importance to the squad, as the only outfield player failing to start one of United’s first six games (barring Phil Jones, who is injured) of the season. He will be 32 next summer, and as a squad player, he doesn’t have an outstanding quality to remain at that age. He’ll be remembered fondly at United, but he has nothing more to offer and it was a surprise to see him remain with Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s arrival anyways.
Likely Replacements: Adnan Januzaj is the greatest candidate to replace Young, with Jose Mourinho stating that the Belgian is part of his plans next season. However, it is arguable that he isn’t a youth player anymore, so the top candidate is Andreas Pereira, who is currently on loan at Granada gaining key experience. Mourinho is also a fan of Pereira, saying he would be in the squad if there was room for him at this moment in time.
Michael Carrick, 35, Midfielder
After 10 years at Old Trafford, it seems Michael Carrick is in his swansong year at the club. Starting just 1 of United’s first six games this season, it seems Mourinho is trying to faze him out of the club’s plans, but he remains a vital presence in the dressing room and will be for the rest of the season. However, at the end of the season, Carrick will likely bid farewell to the club at which he won everything possible.
Likely Replacements: The obvious candidate is Timothy Fosu-Mensah, moving into midfield with Riley and Borthwick-Jackson joining the fold as fullbacks. However, he is already a senior player. If Fosu-Mensah moved into midfield, the top candidate to “replace” Carrick would be a right-back, and I think Tyrell Warren is the best option (he could also emerge as a central defender with Blind moving into midfield). I’ve seldom seen him myself, but Nicky Butt and Jose Mourinho are impressed with him, and Mourinho promoted him to the first team (briefly) for United’s pre-season friendly against Wigan.