Six U21 players who will gain the attention of Erik ten Hag this season, if they have not already

These players starred in the 2-1 victory over Carlisle United in the Papa John's Trophy on Tuesday evening

Manchester United’s U21s started their campaign in the Papa John’s Trophy on Tuesday evening, beating Carlisle United 2-1. United got the victory through goals from Charlie McNeill and Omari Forson with the duo scoring either side of Jamie Devitt’s equaliser. 450 United fans travelled to the Cumbrian town for the match and they were rewarded with a win.

United will also face Barrow AFC and Fleetwood Town in their group in the competition, playing away from Manchester against each side. The Old Trafford youths sit at the top of the table after one match and look like the team to beat in that group this season. United were one of a few Premier League clubs to win their matches.

Erik ten Hag looked towards the youth during his first pre-season tour this summer and after matches like this, he will be keeping an eye on the more talented players in the U21 squad in view of promoting them to the first team at some point in the future, or even including them in the squad for the UEFA Europa League. Here are six players to watch out for.

Charlie McNeill

The 18-year-old opened the scoring for United 40th minute of the match, assisted by Alejandro Garnacho, who has already had time in first team training under Ten Hag. McNeill, formerly of Manchester City’s academy, showed United’s travelling fans just what he can do in front of goal as Garnacho squared the ball into him. This season will be a big one for him.

It has been reported that the 18-year-old scored more than 600 goals whilst at City, so he has an eye for them. Since signing for United, he has 43 goals to his name, playing at U18, U19 and U21 level for United, also adding 14 assists to his tally. In a few years time, as long as he continues to develop, he could be a great player to watch at United.

Kobbie Mainoo

The 17-year-old had the first shot of the game against Carlisle, forcing the goalkeeper to stretch to make the save. The England U17 international was a name on everyone’s lips throughout the match though. His intensity throughout was top notch and he is bound to be a player that Ten Hag watches ahead of a view to get him developing in the right manner.

Mainoo broke into the U18 squad last season, scoring two goals in United’s run to lifting the FA Youth Cup for the first time since 2011. Mainoo has made 47 appearances at U18, U19 and U21 level for the club, scoring four goals and three assists so far. If he develops well, he could well get a chance in the first team this season, which would be good to see.

Bjorn Hardley

The 19-year-old defender who is somewhat of a utility player, able to play in either of the centre-back positions, also at left-back, has been around the U21 for the last few seasons. He has made a total of 63 appearances at U18, U19 and U21 levels, scoring two goals and two assists so far. Hardley took his chance well against Carlisle and could well be a player to watch.

He was one of the loudest voices on the pitch against the League Two side and was relaxed on the ball. Ten Hag will need to keep an eye on the next players to come into the first team in his defensive ranks, not that the left-back position needs any strengthening, but in the middle of the defence, reinforcement will always be required. He’s definitely one to watch.

Zidane Iqbal

The 19-year-old midfielder was one of the stand out players of this summer’s pre-season tour of Thailand and Australia, getting many minutes on the pouch both with and without midfield partner Charlie Savage. He already seems to be a player in Ten Hag’s plans and it is only a matter of time before he is called into action. He’s already playing for Iraq at international level.

Iqbal is going to be a star in the game if he continues to progress in his game. Against Carlisle, his best moment was when he toe-poked Omari Patrick’s cross which ended up cutting out a chance for the home side early in the match. His possession was great too, but not the best aspect of his game. At youth level he’s made 43 appearances, scoring 11 goals and two assists.

Alejandro Garnacho

The 18-year-old was named the Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year for the 2021/22 season after guiding United to an FA Youth Cup victory over Nottingham Forest, although that was not all he did last season. He’s a quick-paced left-winger who can pick a pass, also having an eye for a goal. He’s made 52 appearances at youth level, scoring 22 goals and 11 assists.

That might have been a problem but Ten Hag still has him around the first team, which is a great sign for him. Ha dazzled against Carlisle and was unlucky not to get a goal himself. He is surely a shoe in for the Europa League squad this season and could get minutes in the Carabao Cup too. Playing and training around Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo could wash off on him.

Omari Forson

The 18-year-old is a prized asset at United and has bags of talent, which he has shown so far this season. The scorer of United’s second goal, which turned into the winner showed just what he can do on the pitch. The attacking midfielder has three goals and one assist in five appearances already this season, so Ten Hag will have his eye on him.

During his time at United, Forson has made 55 appearances at youth level, scoring 14 goals and 13 assists, playing at U18, U19 and U21 level. This season will see him try to claim his place in the first team, which is something he is capable of. He could find himself in the Europa League squad at a push and he will have earned that, if he gets there.

Written by John Walker

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About John Walker 1766 Articles
I support Manchester United, the greatest English football team to have ever existed. Bruno Fernandes is the latest in a long line of players with great ability to play for the club. I idolised Bryan Robson, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, and Eric Cantona growing up.