Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is going to play the kids. 14 of the 18 man squad making the trip to Astana for Thursday’s Europa League match are teenagers with 11 having never played a first team match for Manchester United.
With United having already secured qualification to the knockout rounds, it was always likely Solskjaer would rotate the squad for this match. The winner of Group L is still to be determined, though a win over AZ Alkmaar at home in December would see the Red Devils top the group.
Senior defenders Luke Shaw and Axel Tuanzebe, fresh off of injury recoveries, are likely to start, as is starlet Mason Greenwood, and it’s hard to imagine James Garner isn’t in there right from the off. With only seven players having ever played a first team minute for the club, at least four players will definitely make their debut, likely joined by three more in the second half.
Soon to be 37-year-old goalkeeper Lee Grant could make his first senior appearance for the club, or they could hand a debut to the youngster Matej Kovar.
Included in the group is 19-year-old Max Taylor, in line for a first team debut just over 12 months since starting chemotherapy after being diagnosed with cancer.
19-year-old Max Taylor in @ManUtd squad for Astana, just over 12 months after starting chemotherapy treatment for cancer. What an inspirational story.— Simon Stone (@sistoney67) November 26, 2019
With the 11 hour flight to frigid Kazakhstan, it’s no surprise Solskjaer has chosen to leave most of his senior players home. United have a crucial Premier League match with Aston Villa on Sunday and the rest will be good for them ahead of the busy festive period.
Given his familiarity with the players traveling, it’s no surprise that Solskjaer is taking head of first team development Nicky Butt with him as part of his coaching staff. First team coaches Michael Carrick and Kieran McKenna remain behind to work with the first team on preparations for Villa.
One name that stands out in the traveling party is that of Jesse Lingard. The soon to be 27-year-old has been short of form this season, but it’s a telling sign that he’ll be boarding the plane, while the likes of Juan Mata and Andreas Pereira aren’t. This appears to be Solskjaer sending Lingard a loud and clear message.
In a squad filled with teenagers, the most notable name may be the one that isn’t there: 19-year-old left-back Brandon Williams. Williams being left at home surely looks like a sign that Solskjaer plans on starting him against Villa on Sunday and that he’s fully moved past Ashley Young in the pecking order at left-back. Whether he’s passed Luke Shaw as well now just remains to be seen.
United confirmed squad members for Astana fixture
Lee Grant, Matej Kovar, Max Taylor, Luke Shaw, Axel Tuanzebe, Dylan Levitt, Teden Mengi, DiShon Bernard, Largie Ramazani, Ethan Laird, Ethan Galbraith, Arnau Puigmal, D’Mani Bughail-Mellor, James Garner, Jesse Lingard, Tahith Chong, Angel Gomes, Mason Greenwood.