The Manchester United cart is coming along nicely, with most of the pieces and the wheels comprising of homemade products. 2020 may have been a woeful year for the world and football did take a massive hit in its own way. However, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer pressed on to include more academy graduates in his squad and some players reaped the benefits.
Dean Henderson is now the Manchester United number 2 in goal and competing with David de Gea for a starting spot. Teden Mengi got promoted to the first-team setup in September while the likes of Tahith Chong and James Garner are considered first-team players already, despite being on loan at Werder Bremen and Watford, respectively.
A host of youth stars got a run out against Astana in the 2019/20 season in the UEFA Europa League as Ole rested his regulars, with the likes of Di’Shon Bernard, Dylan Levitt, Ethan Laird, Largie Ramazani and D’Mani Mellor also getting a taste of what first-team football is like at Manchester United.
January beckons and with the 2020/21 season as packed as ever, Manchester United’s demotion to the UEFA Europa League has only increased the fixture congestion. However, it opens up the opportunity for Ole to test the youngsters and give them a run out in some games.
Let us take a look at three academy stars who deserve the Teden Mengi treatment. Please note that Facundo Pellistri is not included in this list as the Uruguayan is already considered a part of the first-team setup, with Ole highlighting that the winger is being played at the Under-23 level in order to help him settle down to a new continent and the changed theme of the game.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka has been suffering due to a lack of competition for places at right-back and perhaps, also a lack of rest, with Ole having no proper fall-back options apart from the perennially injured Timothy Fosu-Mensah. Ethan Laird could be that guy and more.
Wan-Bissaka has trouble being effective going forward and in terms of crossing accuracy. Laird, on the other hand, attacks with intent and is known to be decent at crossing and finding teammates. Another difference between the two is that the Manchester United academy star has a tendency to wiggle out of pressure situations while Wan-Bissaka has been known to be error-prone when closed down quickly.
Adding Laird to the first-team will give Ole’s squad a different option and added dynamism at right-back, something they seem to be missing, with Diogo Dalot out on loan at AC Milan currently. The fact that Laird seems to be connecting well with Facundo Pellistri could see him start in the Europa League if Ole chooses to start the Uruguayan on the right in the competition.
— Peter Bolton 🇾🇪 (@PeterBolton3) December 13, 2020
If you consider Wan-Bissaka to be yin, Laird is the yang necessary to balance the right-back options out for Manchester United. What Ole would hope is for the two to learn from each other and become the complete modern full-backs United are craving for.
Manchester United let Angel Gomes leave on a free transfer. But, Hannibal Mejbri’s arrival somewhat dimmed the fans’ response or outrage, with the Frenchman widely regarded as a generational talent. The former AS Monaco star had a falling out at the Ligue 1 club, much to the benefit of Manchester United, who have managed to land a future superstar by the looks of it.
Short in stature, Mejbri’s low centre of gravity helps him turn quickly and change directions and pace fast enough to catch defenders off-guard and wrong-footed. His vision and playmaking skills are exquisite and have been on display for the Under-23 squad in the 2020/21 season, with 2 goals and 3 assists in 10 Premier League 2 appearances thus far.
Since joining Manchester United’s academy, Facundo Pellistri has completed 33/45 take-ons (73%) which is more than any other academy player in the same period. Hannibal Mejbri (25/40; 63%) ranks 2nd. pic.twitter.com/Eoq3sA4s8P
— DannyUTD (@Sami_t17) December 15, 2020
Mejbri loves to take people on and could be compared to Paul Pogba in terms of desire to drop deep to get the ball and getting a run forward or finding an open teammate in attack to create goalscoring chances. With Juan Mata being able to do a good job whenever called upon, Ole can maybe tap into Mejbri and give him a chance in lieu of the Spaniard.
Above all else, Mejbri could just be promoted to the first-team setup to be inculcated within the setup and learn from Juan Mata before lining up to replace him in the squad.
The midfielder’s influence has always been overshadowed by the presence of James Garner and Dylan Levitt within the Manchester United academy setup. But, the former Linfield starlet has quietly built up a reputation for his skills and the right people seem to have noticed the same, resulting in Galbraith already receiving his senior bow for Northern Ireland.
Yet to earn his first start for Manchester United, Galbraith was part of the batch that was given some minutes of first-team action in November, 2019 against FC Astana in the UEFA Europa League.
— Ɽon (@UtdRonnie) December 13, 2020
Galbraith can boss the midfield and his transformation from being an attack-minded midfielder into a holding role in midfield makes him an ideal candidate for promotion, especially as a replacement for Nemanja Matic. Galbraith is a closer comparison to Michael Carrick than others and might come in handy for Europa League matches to provide certainty and creativity in midfield.
Garner and Levitt are garnering first-team experience out on loan and it might be time for Ole to hand some first-team minutes to Galbraith.