With victory all but in the bag, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took the opportunity to introduce one of Manchester United’s brightest young talents for the final stages of last week’s Europa League last-32 first-leg win over Real Sociedad. Despite only having seven minutes to make an impression, Amad Diallo caught the eye.
The 18-year-old might be in line for a start in Thursday’s second leg at Old Trafford. In fact, the margin of the first-leg victory could tempt Solskjaer into handing opportunities to a number of his young players, not just rotating his squad, but reaffirming his commitment to bringing through the next generation.
Of the young players currently at the club, Diallo is the closest to the first team. The former Atalanta winger was signed for a reported fee of between €25 million and €40 million in January and has been fast-tracked into Solskjaer’s senior squad on the back of a series of impressive performances for United’s Under-23s.
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Diallo is something Manchester United otherwise lack - a natural right winger. With this in mind, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Solskjaer has been so willing to get the teenager involved so quickly after his January move.
Shola Shoretire was also on the bench against Real Sociedad, but had to wait until the Premier League win over Newcastle United to get his first taste of senior team action when he was introduced for the final stages. He is another youngster who could be given more time to prove his potential on Thursday night.
With Edinson Cavani out injured, Solskjaer might not want to risk Anthony Martial or Marcus Rashford ahead of the Premier League clash against Chelsea on Sunday. This could see Mason Greenwood given an opportunity in his preferred centre-forward role, although the 19-year-old has already proven his worth as a senior squad member.
A first-team opportunity would be more valuable to Ethan Galbraith, the teenage midfielder drafted into Manchester United’s Europa League squad this week. Solskjaer could use the second leg against Real Sociedad to test whether the Northern Irish youngster can cut it at such a high level.
United aren’t exactly awash with central midfield options and so there is scope for Galbraith to make himself a squad figure with the 19-year-old also capable of stepping into central defence. Like Diallo, Galbraith has impressed for the Under-23s of late and has earned his chance in the first team.
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Axel Tuanzebe and Brandon Williams might also be in line for starts, with goalkeeper Dean Henderson widely expected to feature again having played the full 90 minutes of last week’s first leg in San Sebastian. For Henderson in particular, this could be another valuable opportunity to prove he deserves to stay in the first team with David de Gea under continued scrutiny for some of his recent performances.
Not since 1937 have Manchester United selected a matchday squad without an academy graduate. Solskjaer has a responsibility to keep this run going, with the academy so central to what United are about as a club.
“When you sign for Man United, whether you're five, six, 10, 14, you have a chance to make dreams come true and long may it continue,” Solskjaer said ahead of the second leg against Real Sociedad, offering up Rashford as the prime example of what young players can achieve at Old Trafford.
“Through the history of Man United we have proven and shown many times that we can develop our own, local ones, homegrown ones.”
Thursday could offer a hint of what the future might hold for United, and which youngsters are ready to continue the club’s rich tradition of youth development.
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