Following a tumultuous draw against Sheffield United over the weekend, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United will relish the prospect of a dead rubber Europa League match against Astana, where key players can rest without risking a defeat in a crucial fixture. After all, the Red Devils qualified for the Europa League knockout stage after comfortably beating Partizan last fixture.
The squad that has reportedly travelled, as per the Manchester Evening News, is littered with young talents looking to break into a relatively thin first-team squad. With a few exceptions for senior players recovering from injury, the travelling squad is almost entirely composed of academy players. Academy coach Nicky Butt has travelled, too, leaving first-team coaches Michael Carrick and Kieran McKenna with the first team.
Thursday’s match represents an opportunity to rediscover the winning momentum that served Solskjaer’s men before the international break, and for youngsters to impress and stake their claim for a greater role in the team.
A young squad has travelled to Kazakhstan for the match, so expect a lineup like the following on Thursday:
After de Gea conceded three over the weekend, he will anticipate the opportunity to rest as Kovar takes his place in the Europa League. Having seen minutes on United’s bench this season, youngster Kovar will relish the opportunity to finally play some minutes for the senior side.
Last season, Solskjaer name-dropped Laird as one of the players likely to debut over the course of this campaign. Fast-forward six months and the lightning-quick fullback is in the first-team squad, looking likely to play against Astana. Williams seems to have become United’s fifth senior fullback, meaning there aren’t many first-team games currently available for right-backs, but Laird may still be given the opportunity to impress in the first team and continue his impressive development.
Playing the final minutes of United’s draw with Sheffield United over the weekend confirms that Tuanzebe is fit to start against Astana this week. The youngest centre-back in United’s senior squad, he will likely now be the leader of the back line on Thursday.
The biggest story of the week in United-related media has been Max Taylor, who was included in the travelling squad for Thursday’s match just 13 months after starting chemotherapy. It may be a little bit optimistic to suggest the defender will start Thursday’s match, but the player’s dream debut is definitely not out of the question.
Thursday’s relatively uncompetitive fixture would be the ideal opportunity for Shaw to return from injury. United’s 2018/19 player of the season has much to prove given his long-term injury has seemingly allowed 19-year-old Brandon Williams to become seemingly United’s first choice left-back. Shaw will not only be competing with Williams, but also Ashley Young, for a place in Solskjaer’s setup long-term.
Missing out on Sunday’s match after Solskjaer decided to play Andreas Pereira in a deep midfield role, James Garner is almost certain to start this match. This is a low-stakes opportunity for the 18-year-old to assert his influence on the first-team setup and prove to the manager that he deserves minutes over the likes of Pereira and Nemanja Matic.
Injuries to Scott McTominay, Paul Pogba, and Nemanja Matic, as well as inclusions of Fred and Andreas Pereira over the weekend, make it likely that two youngsters will line up to start Thursday’s match. United fans on social media, as reported by the MEN, have been clamouring for smooth midfield operator Levitt, 19, to play for the first team. His performances at the under-23 level have led to call-ups from the Wales international setup.
One of the highest in the youth pecking order, Chong has seen sporadic minutes throughout the season and looks set to start against Astana. The Dutch winger has shown little to suggest that he could be a key figure for the first team in the future, but now has an opportunity to change that.
Juan Mata’s omission from the matchday squad lines up Angel Gomes for an earned start. The 19-year-old should be invigorated by Brandon Williams’ rise to the first team, and given that attacking midfield is as much of a problem position as left-back, will have the chance
Being the only senior forward to travel with the squad, it is a near certainty that Jesse Lingard will start against Astana. After a woeful 2019 that has not seen a single goal or assist from the United academy graduate, Lingard will be looking to finish the year with a suggestion that he can still produce the goods and be successful at United.
Scoring the equalizer for United after coming off the bench this weekend, Greenwood is a near certainty to start against Astana, especially having scored two and assisted one of United’s five Europa League strikes this season. A young striker whose left-footed striking techniques draw comparisons to Robin van Persie, Greenwood has slotted comfortably into the first team this season despite turning 18 just a month ago.
Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Kovar; Laird, Tuanzebe, Taylor, Shaw; Garner, Levitt; Chong, Gomes, Lingard; Greenwood