It is turning into something of a mixed bag for Manchester United this summer as they prepare for the new Premier League season.
Deals for Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane are huge statements of intent ahead of a pivotal campaign in which a serious title challenge is the bare minimum for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but it is safe to say preparations have been less than ideal.
Of the team which started against Brentford on Wednesday night only Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Mason Greenwood are expected to be near the starting line up against Leeds for the first match of the new season in two weeks’ time, leaving nine gaps for players yet to have played any minutes this pre-season.
Involvement in major international tournaments means many of them should still have a decent level of match sharpness, but after a friendly match against Preston was postponed this weekend there is now only one audition before the start of the new campaign.
A week on Saturday we will likely see a star-studded side for United’s final summer friendly fixture as Sancho and Varane look for their first minutes at the club and returning stars such as Bruno Fernandes, Harry Maguire and Edinson Cavani get valuable minutes under their belt ahead of facing Leeds.
As a result the opportunities for youth players might well be limited, for many their hopes of earning a first-team berth in the upcoming season might already be over too.
In the absence of senior stars Solskjaer once again entrusted the club’s famed youth academy with supplying players for the first-team this summer, a worthwhile experiment that has provided mixed results.
There have been glimpses of quality from attacking talents Shola Shoretire and Hannibal Mejbri, though neither shone as brightly as Anthony Elanga – who netted his second of the off-season with a beautiful volley on Wednesday night.
In midfield James Garner impressed again but still looks some way off the first-team frame, offering a reality check as to how far many of these hopefuls still have to go if they are to ever make it at Old Trafford.
Joe Hugill will likely return to the U23s after gaining valuable senior experience this summer, but could return for a first-team debut in the League Cup before the end of the year.
Many of the youngsters were being lined up for loan exits this summer even before a ball had been kicked, now there might be even more temporary departures given a lack of playing time ahead.
Will Fish will join up with Stockport County ahead of a season out on loan while Teden Mengi, Dylan Levitt, Ethan Galbraith and Facundo Pellistri are also set for similar exits.
United deserve huge credit for giving valuable experience to so many exciting talents this summer, but with one fewer friendly to play much of their opportunity might now be gone.
Solskjaer has certainly been given food for thought, though the team selection against Everton in eight days’ time will likely reveal which youngsters have any chance of breaking into the first-team next season.
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