José Mourinho kept good on his promise to play the kids in Manchester United’s last league match of the season, fielding the youngest ever United starting XI in the Premier League era. Only Phil Jones, Eric Bailly, Paul Pogba, Wayne Rooney, and Jesse Lingard of the regular seniors started against Crystal Palace, with four academy graduates making their full debut.
With just fifteen minutes gone, one of those debutants made a dream impact. Paul Pogba’s raking through ball found Josh Harrop on the left of the box. The young attacker cut inside to beat his man, before showing enough confidence to ignore Rooney open in space to take the shot himself. He rocketed it past the goalkeeper to put United in front.
Less than five minutes later, Pogba turned from provider to finisher. After a rapid counter attack, Lingard’s square ball found Pogba arriving at the edge of the box, and after the Palace defender failed to clear, Pogba coolly slotted past the goalkeeper for United’s second.
With the pressure off, and driven by Pogba’s dominance in midfield, the young Reds were playing with freedom and confidence, and continued to attack Palace at will. After so many turgid league performances at Old Trafford this season, the positive play of this young team was a welcome relief for watching fans, even if there was nothing at stake.
Just before half-time, Pogba got the chance to soak up the adulation of the home crowd, as he was withdrawn for Michael Carrick. Right after that, it was Lingard’s turn to be taken off, with Anthony Martial coming on his place.
The second half continued in the same vein, with United’s reserves showing no sign of nerves. Chances were harder to come by as the game went on, as the team settled into a controlled, professional performance. Palace were now seeing more of the ball, but the only real threat was in the form of Wilfried Zaha, who Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Axel Tuanzebe were managing to mostly contain between them.
With just two minutes of regular time to go, there was a symbolic changing of the guard. Making perhaps his last ever competitive start for the club, Wayne Rooney was withdrawn to warm applause. In his place came 16 year-old Angel Gomes, who became the youngest player to represent the senior team since the legendary Duncan Edwards.
Mourinho’s first league campaign has been something of a disappointment overall, but this was one of the more enjoyable wins this season, with the added bonuses of providing a glimpse of the future.