What do you do when your team are already through and you're sent on a 3,700-mile trip to Kazakhstan? Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s answer was to stand down his first-team troops and call on the kids… en masse.
Manchester United’s Europa League clash with FC Astana on Thursday afternoon could feature up to 10 debutants after Solskjaer decided to leave most of his regular senior players at home. The Norwegian’s 18-man squad includes only three outfield players over the age of 19, those being England full-back Luke Shaw and academy products Axel Tuanzebe and Jesse Lingard, the latter being handed the captain’s armband for the first time.
But who are the 10 youth players who could make their senior bows in Kazakhstan? While Max Taylor’s inspirational tale has already been told, there are nine others who may need some form of introduction even for a set of fans who have grown used to a burgeoning academy system. Across 82 straight years and almost 4000 games in a row, the 20-time English champions have incorporated at least one youth player into their first-team matchday squad.
Here’s the latest cluster hoping to join that long line of luminaries.
41 - Ethan Laird
Laird, an 18-year-old full-back, is one of that youthful triptych who have been guaranteed a place in the starting XI by Solskjaer, having initially been granted a place in the first-team squad in United’s previous group game against Partizan Belgrade. Noted for being blessed with exceptional pace, the bustling Englishman is likely to start at right-back.
47 - Arnau Puigmal
Spaniard Puigmal had impressed in the Espanyol youth set-up, with his stirring performance in a Med Cup match against United in 2017 earning him a move to the Red Devils. The versatile midfielder, capable with both feet, favours a central role but can also play at right-back.
Not yet 19, he is a fan of United’s record-signing Paul Pogba and described hearing the news of his transfer to Manchester as “the best moment of my life”.
49 - D'Mani Mellor
Five goals in 20 appearances (13 from off the bench) were enough to earn the winger his first professional contract in the summer of 2018. Mellor is a Manc lad and has already endeared himself to those following the academy having scored against Liverpool and been part of the set-up which won the Premier League North at under-18 level.
He is naturally right-footed but can play on either side of the park, is confident in possession and supplies more than his fair share of assists.
51 - Matej Kovar
The back-up for United’s usual third-choice goalkeeper, the evergreen 36-year-old Lee Grant, Czech Republic youth international Kovar arrived at Old Trafford at the same time as uber-expensive flop Alexis Sanchez.
The 19-year-old Kovar will be hoping his career with the Red Devils is brighter than that of the Chilean misfit. He’s already got more silverware, having been part of the United team that won the Under-18 Premier League North title, which earned him a promotion to the Under-23s set-up.
54 - Ethan Galbraith
Galbraith is a defensive midfielder from Northern Ireland, a fundamental part of the Under-23s set-up (a goal against Man City doesn’t go amiss), and has already made his bow on the international stage.
National team manager Michael O’Neill called the 18 year-old up to the senior side off the bench against Luxembourg in September. With many fans crying out for a decent holding midfielder - move over Matic, forget Fred - is Galbraith the future Manchester United yearn? Are we looking at a brand new ‘Belfast Boy’?
58 - Di'Shon Bernard
Another confirmed starter against Astana, London-lad Bernard will seemingly partner Tuanzebe at centre-back. The 19-year-old was snatched from rivals Chelsea in July 2017 and in fact went on to score against the west London club in a 4-3 FA Youth Cup win in December 2018. This season his appearances in the under-21s’ debut campaign in the EFL Trophy have both resulted in clean sheets.
59 - Largie Ramazani
The little bullet from Belgium, 18-year-old Ramazani was personally scouted by former United star and current assistant manager Mike Phelan.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was in attendance when the 5’4” winger scored twice in a 3-0 win over Sunderland’s under-23s earlier this season, and Ramazani currently has nine goals in 13 starts for Neil Wood’s reserves. One to certainly keep an eye on if he comes off the bench!
63 - Dylan Levitt
Man Utd have had success with Welsh midfielders before, haven’t they?
Bodelwyddan-born Levitt has already joined up with bonafide Red Devil legend Ryan Giggs, thanks to the Wales national team manager’s decision to select him for the squad for a number of Euro 2020 qualifiers.
Operating in the centre of midfield, the 19-year-old has missed just two games of the under-23s’ Premier League campaign, registering three goals and four assists, and has adorned the captain’s armband twice. He has been assured a place in the starting line-up on Thursday.
71 - Teden Mengi
If centre-back Mengi makes it onto the field at the Astana Arena he will break Dylan Levitt’s record for the highest shirt number in United’s history.
The 17-year old is another Manchester lad, and regularly partners Di’Shon Bernard at the heart of defence for the under-23 side with both having stepped up from the under-18s after the departures of Ro-Shaun Williams and Regan Poole earlier in 2019.