Manchester United FA Cup Team News: Could Young Star Thwart Chelsea Threat?
With Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard out for the next few weeks making an unenviable run for Manchester United interim manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer even more difficult, the first hurdle in a Takeshi’s Castle-esque obstacle course sees a rematch of the last FA Cup final perhaps providing the opportunity for the unleashing of some of the Red Devils’ prestigious youth talent.
The last of the FA Cup Last 16 fixtures sees a mouthwatering matchup between Chelsea and United at Stamford Bridge, with Solskjaer’s side wanting to avoid a repeat of the result at Wembley last May; a 1-0 win for the west London side in what became Antonio Conte’s last competitive game in charge of the Blues.
In doing so, Solskjaer may call upon talented youngster Tahith Chong, who has travelled down to the capital with the rest of the United squad and is likely to make the bench at the Bridge.
Chong previously featured in the third-round tie at Old Trafford, a 2-0 win against Championship strugglers Reading, although it was apparent to most in attendance at the Theatre of Dreams that the occasion proved a tad daunting for the Dutchman.
He did, however, receive the backing of his boss, operating deeper than his favoured position on the wing;
“He had two or three really good moments, as you do when you’re young,”
Solskjaer said (via the MEN).
“You don’t run the game as a first performance for a 19-year-old.
“But he got the crowd going, and has shown one or two glimpses of what he can do, he has in training anyway.
“And the game wasn’t won, it was 2-0 and was still go out there and perform. It’s not like it was 4-0 and it’s just a party, so he did well defensively as well and I think he’ll remember this for a long, long time.”
That ‘long, long time’ memory may be boosted sooner than anticipated in part due to to United’s unwelcome injury list, and his presence in the XI - whether starting or more likely than not from the bench - could benefit one particular player who may be given the burden of the spearheading the attack.
Romelu Lukaku may only have returned one goal less than Manchester darling Marcus Rashford, and have a better shot on target percentage than the Englishman (74% to 60%) this season, but is still weighed down by that brobdingnagian price tag that continues to hang over his head, and something resembling a collective groan has echoed around the fanbase if he’s preferred on the team-sheet.
In the fourth-round win over Arsenal, Lukaku did show his quality with two impeccable assists, with Alexis Sanchez showing a glimpse of his mercurial talent in a different shade of red in a two-pronged attack. A similar set-up could be expected on Monday evening.
Chong operating on the opposing wing to Sanchez and acting as provider to take advantage of Lukaku’s imposing size and height advantage, may underline Solskjaer's decision to bring Juan Mata further in.
Mata doesn’t favour a place on the wing, despite being deployed there sporadically, operating far more creatively behind the attacking line as a playmaker in the regarded ‘number 10’ role, his selection a likelihood with Solskjaer wary of the upcoming Liverpool test at Old Trafford this weekend.
Chong has a tally of seven goals in 15 appearances for the Under-23s side this season, and been provider for three as well as proven to be a dead-ball specialists, something he could no doubt argue with Juan Mata and Marcus Rashford when/ if they appear on the pitch together.
The FA Cup tie between Chelsea and Manchester United kicks off at 19:30pm (GMT)