As Manchester United aim to maintain their 100 per cent start to life after José Mourinho, Saturday’s FA Cup third-round fixture against Reading at Old Trafford on Saturday presents temporary boss Ole Gunnar Solskjær with the opportunity to rest key players and blood some youngsters.
The former United striker has already endeared himself to the Old Trafford support by instilling an attacking style of play in just four games in charge, and he has signalled a commitment to adhere to the club’s tradition of nurturing young players by involving some academy-bred prodigies on first-team matchdays.
With the Royals – who are struggling at the bottom end of the Championship this season – next up, there is no better time for Solskjær to integrate a handful of young hopefuls.
Here, we take a look at five young players ready for a senior chance against Reading.
Gomes became the first player born in 2000 to play in the Premier League when he came off the bench to make his senior debut against Crystal Palace on the final day of the 2016/17 season, but he has featured only twice more at first-team level since.
The most recent of which came in the 3-1 win over Huddersfield Town on Boxing Day, Solskjær’s first home game in charge of United, which suggests the 18-year-old will get chances under the caretaker boss.
The visit of Reading on Saturday could be the perfect opportunity to give Gomes, long identified as the jewel of the Red Devils’ academy, a first start.
The fact the London-born teenager stands just 5ft 3ins meant he was perhaps unlikely to ever make a sustained senior breakthrough under Mourinho, despite the departed manager handing him a debut, as the Portuguese coach famously prizes physical robustness.
But what Gomes lacks in size, he more than compensates for with intelligence, close control and assuredness. Coming through the ranks as an attacker, seen most regularly in a No.10 or wide attacking role, the youngster’s maturity on the ball and incisive passing has been evidenced of late by a switch to a deep-lying playmaker’s remit at youth level, cleverly constructing play from the base of midfield.
He is unlikely to feature in such a role for the first team just yet, though, with deployment on the flank likely seen as a less of a risk. But, with his pace, ability to interchange slickly with colleagues and eye for goal, Gomes offers plenty to get excited about higher up the pitch.
Dutchman Chong’s first-team debut is overdue. The winger has been with the club since he was signed from Feyenoord as a 16-year-old in 2016 and has consistently impressed.
Now a year on from his comeback from a serious knee injury, Chong became a regular at under-23 level in 2018 and demonstrated impressive leadership upon making the progression from the academy side, with some calling for him to be made captain of the second-string.
Chong’s potential has been recognised within the club, with the youngster training with the seniors and even travelling with the first-team for the recent victory over Newcastle United, but he is yet to see senior action.
In ten outings for United’s under-23s in the Premier League 2 this season, Chong has scored four goals and registered one assist, while in the UEFA Youth League he has been directly involved in four goals (two goals, two assists) in five appearances.
With pace to burn, a fan-pleasing work ethic and the ability to strike the ball powerfully and accurately with his left foot, the teenage winger is seen by many as the long-term solution to United’s problem right-wing position.
Having turned 23 on New Year’s Day, many would have expected Pereira to have made more of a first-team impact by now, with the Belgium-born Brazilian playmaker a previous standout at youth and reserve level for United.
Pereira has two full seasons or regular senior football under his belt thanks to loan spells in La Liga with Granada and, last term, Valencia. After impressing once again in pre-season this summer, he started United’s first two games of the current campaign, but was withdrawn at half-time of August’s defeat to Brighton & Hove Albion and has made just one start since, in a Champions League dead rubber against Valencia.
The dead-ball specialist operated as the deepest central midfielder for United in their past two summer tours of the United States and that’s where he began the current season. But with Valencia, he was employed wide in a 4-4-2 and he graduated through United’s ranks, after joining from PSV in 2011, as a No.10 or wide attacker. At this stage, it seems the position-shifting might have hampered his progress.
There is no doubt about Pereira’s talent, though. A gifted and ambitious passer, the one-cap Brazil international is creative and can threaten goal from distance, whether from free-kicks or open play. At youth and reserve level, he also proved adept at timing entries into the penalty area to score, an aspect of his game de-emphasised by recent positional changes.
Striker Greenwood only turned 17 in October, signing his first professional contract the day after his birthday, but already fans are itching to see the Yorkshireman at first-team level.
Expectations are high for the forward who appears to have outgrown under-18 football this season, scoring almost at will for United’s academy side. Physically mature for his age, genuinely two-footed and appearing to possess an impressively cool temperament, Greenwood is widely regarded as one of the best emerging talents in Europe.
A hat-trick against holders Chelsea in the FA Youth Cup last month showcased the full gamut of Greenwood’s skillset. Combining speed, intelligent movement and the ability to finish calmly and accurately with either foot, the young attacker is a frightening proposition for defenders.
With his upright running style and textbook ball-striking technique, Greenwood in many ways recalls images of former United favourite Robin van Persie, and is proving to share the Dutchman’s eye for goal, too: he already has 23 goals to his name this season, across matches at under-18, -19 and -23 level.
Although patience will be key for the young striker, one of Solskjær’s first acts upon assuming the United job was reportedly to tell Greenwood to “be ready” for the FA Cup third-round visit of Reading.
Along with Greenwood, Garner was named among United’s substitutes as they travelled to Valencia for their final Champions League group game this season, remaining unused.
Still only 17, the young central midfielder has stood out for his composure and leadership in the youth ranks, exercising responsible positioning and sound use of the ball.
Garner has trained with the first team numerous times already, despite having only signed his first professional contract in May, and has captained England at under-17 level.