Manchester United youngsters stepping up

With preseason training already in full flow and Manchester United’s first preseason match imminent, Jose Mourinho’s squad of 27 are looking to impress ahead of a promising season for the club. Among those players will be the five youngsters hoping to make a big enough impact to force their way into the thoughts of the coaching staff for match-day one and throughout the season.  Chances can be scarce at clubs of this size but fortunately for United youngsters, there is a history of youngsters being given opportunities to breakthrough and that hasn’t changed under the current manager.  Over the years the circumstances under which youth team and reserve players have been called up for the first team have differed; some players were called up early in cup competitions, some players have come on late with the result no longer in doubt, some players get call-ups late in the league season when the team’s position is secure, while others are called on out of necessity in the face of mounting injuries.

Speaking to MUTV, having returned from a year-long loan at La Liga side, Grenada, the Andreas Pereira has already stated his intent to, ‘Get an important role, help my team-mates and to impress the manager.’ As one of very few bright sparks in a disappointing team last season, Pereira impressed with his dribbling, crossing and delivery from set pieces. His productivity was stunted by the sub-par play of his teammates and the Brazilian must be excited to play with teammates the calibre of the current United squad. Moreover, Pereira will have to adjust to playing for a winning side having started 34 times for the relegation sufferers.

Pereira has competition from Anthony Martial, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Juan Mata, Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard for the left and central attacking midfield positions. It could be argued, however, that Pereira has a better crossing ability than all of the aforementioned players and that could prove valuable in taking advantage of new no.9, Romelu Lukaku’s heading ability. Alternatively, Pereira could push for a place on the right-hand side of midfield, where there is a little bit less competition and his delivery from wide positions would be more natural as a right footer. Having already played a season of first team football in a top European league, it is likely that Pereira is seen as the most ready to play for the first team and will likely appear early in the League Cup and FA Cup.

Axel Tuanzebe started the last four Premier League games for Manchester United and although these were fixtures deemed less important by Jose Mourinho, Tuanzebe acquitted himself well at right back in a man-marking job on Alexis Sanchez and in defensive midfield. Tuanzebe can take extra satisfaction from the fact that neither position is considered the young centre back’s the best position. In fact, the 19-year-old has already expressed a willingness to play in any position in order to get playing time for the first team. Tuanzebe’s run in the team came at a time when Antonio Valencia was being rested for the UEFA Europa League final and other important players were being rested for the same game. Going into the new season, Mourinho has a plethora of centre back options currently at the club having brought in Victor Lindelof to reinforce the position.  United have had a number of injuries at this position in the past and a number of young players have been given the chance to perform there in recent years.  Mourinho also had Tuanzebe pulled from consideration for England’s U-20 World Cup campaign as he had plans to play him in the final fixture of the season and admitted to having plans to play Tuanzebe in the coming season. Add this to Tuanzebe’s ability to play at right back and defensive midfield, it is likely that the youngster gets opportunities to play for the first team next season, in his favoured position or otherwise.

Demetri Mitchell the converted left back impressed fans in his first team debut for Manchester United against Crystal Palace. Speaking to the official Manchester United website about the 20-year-old, treble winning left-back Denis Irwin rightfully acknowledged that ‘left back is a spot where so many players played last season’. This could be looked at as an obstacle for the youngster; with a number of players able to cover that position, but Mitchell could take up the challenge with none of the five senior players yet to nail down the position. As a former left-winger, Mitchell is comfortable getting forward and has adapted well to having to get up and down the flank as a reserve. With Darmian and potentially Tuanzebe providing backup to Antonio Valencia at right back next season, Mitchell could provide the attacking influence that Mourinho will be looking for on the left flank should Luke Shaw again struggle to nail down the position. A strong performance in pre-season could be just the thing to convince Mourinho to make Mitchell a part of his plans for the new season.

Scott McTominay was another player to make his first start for Manchester United against Crystal Palace and the 20-year-old is hungry for more. He had problems with injuries as he tried to navigate a drastic growth spurred through his late teen years; now the all-action midfielder stands at an imposing 6’4″, a factor that Mourinho values. Another positive for McTominay is that the First team squad only has four recognised central midfielders and with a potential move to three in midfield McTominay could consider himself in with a chance of making it to the bench often this season.  Unfortunately, the midfield man may not quite be ready for the first team and it is more likely that Mourinho plays a player that he already trusts, out of position, rather than playing McTominay in an important fixture.

Mourinho has already revealed his plans on how much he intends to play Joel Pereira in the three initial pre-season games and has spoken highly of the Portuguese keeper in the past stating that Pereira will be, ‘the best Portuguese goalkeeper of the next generation’.  Pereira will feel confident and comfortable knowing he will have these opportunities to impress the manager and force an opportunity ahead of the new season.  Having made a 10-minute cameo against Wigan in the FA Cup followed by a 90-minute performance in last season’s final match, Pereira has already shown signs that he is confident enough to command his box and play under the pressure that being a Manchester United goalkeeper comes with.  Pereira is in a difficult position regarding playing time next season as United have two excellent goalkeepers ahead of him. Should neither goalkeeper leave; any appearances Pereira does make for the first team will likely be out of necessity, due to injury or for his development as both appearances last season were.

How and when these players get their opportunities is out of their hands but what they do with their chances is in their control and all five will hope to be at the top of their game when the manager comes calling.


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