Manchester United suffered their first defeat of 2019/20 Premier League against Crystal Palace at Old Trafford last weekend. Their poor showing highlighted a few of the deficiencies within the club’s squad for the season. Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has backed the squad’s younger players, both in his team selection as well as in the transfer window.
He has managed to reap some rewards thus far, particularly as league debutant Daniel James, 21, has scored twice in front of the Stretford End. Solskjaer is working closely with his former teammate Nicky Butt, who is now United’s head of first-team development. Butt effectively operates between the Norwegian and reserve team manager Neil Wood.
The purpose of his position is to help the managers nurture the club’s talented youngsters and identify pathways into the first-team, which have been created by the club being unable to secure replacements for now-departed players. Throughout United’s history, players have always been pushed up the first-team as soon as they were deemed ready.
The club’s under-23 side finds itself brimming with teenage players, while the under-18s have fielded players as young as 15 in recent times. Solskjaer has enabled the first-team to follow this trend, having fielded starting XIs with an average age of 24 for the first three matches of the season.
Despite the youth of these players, there is still plenty of quality in these teams, although this needs to be accompanied by consistency in the near future. Solskjaer also needs the full backing of those above and around him, in addition to that of the club’s supporters. Combine the youth of his team with his new style of play and it’s quite clear that there are going to be a number of unfavourable results this season.
Ally that to his inexperience as a manager at the very top level and it starts to look like it could be a while before proper success comes back to Old Trafford. That being said, Solskjaer’s long-term thinking and investment in young players is likely to leave the club in a much better position at the end of his tenure, whenever that may be.
Ironic as it may seem, this is similar to what former manager Louis van Gaal did, although Solskjaer has managed to get his team playing some exciting football at the same time. During van Gaal’s tenure, the Dutchman was able to phase out some of the clubs older and underperforming players, giving chances to a number of young players.
Unfortunately, many of these players haven’t kicked on, but the likes of Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford and Andreas Pereira are now prominent members of United’s first-team. Axel Tuanzebe is well on his way to emulating them while Timothy Fosu-Mensah could do the same, provided his return from injury goes according to plan.
Getting unwanted players out the door has long been a problem for United, who have handed out one too many lavish contracts and extensions in recent times. Solskjaer is now in the hot seat and is looking to essentially reset this squad, keeping only those he can rely on along with those he can still improve.
His rebuild of United isn’t exactly going according to the plan of the club’s supporters, which may or may not coincide with Solskjaer’s own plan, but it is a start. There are still a few days left in the European transfer window for Solskjaer to try and find the right balance for his squad.
Written by Shiven Nayager