Joe Riley can make the grade at Manchester United under Jose Mourinho

Joe Riley rose to face in the Manchester United Academy getting his chance in the first team under then manager Louis van Gaal during the 2015/16 season. Luke Shaw was injured and Van Gaal needed some options on the bench with Riley deemed ready to take his chance. The 20-year-old was part of the travelling squad in the 2-1 defeat to FC Midtjylland in the UEFA Europa League on the 18th February 2016, not getting a chance to take part in the match. Just four days later Riley did replace fellow Academy graduate Cameron Borthwick-Jackson in the 3-0 Emirates FA Cup victory over Shrewsbury Town at New Meadow. His full debut came days later against Midtjylland in the 5-1 thriller in which another Academy graduate Marcus Rashford stole the headlines. Riley was not given a chance thereafter, playing in the then U21 league, now the U23 Premier League and last season, albeit from January, was loaned out to Sheffield United where he suffered an injury, ending his season after just two appearances.

Riley is a decent left-back and has proven this throughout his time in the club’s Academy. He can also play in midfield and has been used as a wing-back or even a winger, given that he has the pace and ability with the ball. Playing at left-back seems to be his favoured position though, but that could well change if he is granted the chance anywhere else on the pitch, solidifying his performances and proving himself in that position. With the left-back position being a problem at United, perhaps Riley has the chance to leap ahead of Luke Shaw after his turbulent three years at the Old Trafford club. Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and even Demetri Mitchell could offer competition in that role also, both making their debuts with Mitchell breaking though for the last Premier League match of the season, a 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace at Old Trafford just days before United lifted the UEFA Europa League in Stockholm, Sweden.

Riley’s strengths seem to be his pace and ability with the ball, his weaknesses being the fact he does not have much experience, especially in a first team environment. His loan spell at Sheffield United during the second half of last season should have given him something to build his rise into United’s first team, should that be an option for him, but his injury, which literally ended his season was a big blow in curtailing that for him, meaning he will need to start again this summer in a big to resurrect his career, something all young players will need to do once they have overcome a serious injury. Riley has not been all that lucky with injury, perhaps not on the same scale as the likes of Will Keane and James Wilson, but still enough for a young player to get through.

In order for Riley to be granted the chance in the first team under Jose Mourinho, he will need to first overcome his injury and prove his fitness. He will then need to perform to the expectations of the manager in the reserves, or even out on loan if that is the plan for the player before the end of the transfer window at the end of August. If Riley starts to demonstrate the signs which Mourinho will be looking for, continuing to do so at a consistent level, the player could find that he may be given a chance in the first team just like Joel Pereira, Axel Tuanzebe, Scott McTominay, Demetri Mitchell, Angel Gomes and Josh Harrop were last season. Riley seemed to thrive during the 2015/16 season, before his injury, earning that chance in the first team in order to impress the manager. There is no reason why he cannot get to that place in his career again.

The only thing which stands in Riley’s way at this present time is Luke Shaw, United’s seemingly first choice left-back. His three-year stay at Old Trafford has not been the best with injury and a lack of fitness showing the bad side of his career. The fact he was open to criticism was also a factor during the past season, which should have given the player the fire and determination to prove the manager wrong, which he did start to do, but suffered another injury, therefore a setback in his United career. Shaw will need to kick on from the last three seasons as I am not sure he will be given another chance after this one. If it does not work out for him, Mourinho will need to have a plan B in his mind and it is likely that Riley, Borthwick-Jackson or even Mitchell could all be a part of that plan B.


Riley should be able to make it in the game, but whether that is at United or not remains to be seen. I don’t think Mourinho has seen enough of the 20-year-old in order to allow him to leave the Old Trafford club permanently, but if he does not start breaking through, a future away from United may be more likely. The injury he suffered last season, no matter how frustrating it was will have set his development back a little, but with determination and perseverance, Riley should have what it takes to show the manager what he is capable of. The Premier League 2 may not be where the player develops based on the lack of competition, so perhaps a place in United’s squad, or even a loan spell will help him more than playing poor football in an U23 league screaming for an overhaul again.

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