Manchester United put their youth on show Thursday afternoon in the Europa League vs FC Astana. Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer named a starting lineup that had an average age of only 22 years and 26 days, the youngest ever for the club in a major European competition.
That number is especially impressive considering 36-year-old Lee Grant was starting in goal, and 26-year-old Jesse Lingard was captaining the side, with both of them bringing up the average as a result.
The Red Devils did go on to lose against FC Astana, but this fixture was much more about the performance of the team than the final scoreline.
Many players on the field were members of the academy making their senior debuts, while others were recent graduates who were trying to make their case for more minutes in the Premier League.
One example of the latter was Tahith Chong, who many had high expectations for going into this season. He hasn’t delivered when given the chance, however, with Thursday being yet another poor showing from the youngster. With reports linking Chong to a move away from the club, some United fans have already given up on him fulfilling his potential at Old Trafford.
It all started so brightly. Signed from the youth academy of Eredivisie side Feyenoord, the Dutchman almost instantly became someone to watch out for.
He was easy to spot on the field due to his large afro, and his skills on the ball kept all eyes on him. Dancing past defenders on a regular basis, Chong became an internet sensation, with many clips of him going viral during his time at the youth level.
Fans were waiting to see when he’d make the jump to the first team, hoping that his ability would translate at the senior later. He was a part of the preseason squad during the summer of 2018, and made a few appearances over the course of the following season, famously coming off the bench to help United beat Paris Saint-Germain in the UEFA Champions League.
With former youth boss Solskjaer now permanently in charge of the first team, Chong was seemingly set to become a constant presence for United.
Failing to deliver
That hasn’t happened, as the Dutchman has actually featured more for the academy side this year. He’s only played for about 25 minutes in the Premier League this campaign, and his two Europa League appearances came against Astana, where he was hauled off at the hour mark on both occasions.
His most recent showing on Thursday was a microcosm of his United tenure so far.
Chong is involved during games, getting the ball plenty of times, but he never really does anything with it. His famed dribbling ability has now let him down, as most defenders are able to take the ball off the Dutchman with relative ease. Chong isn’t an excellent passer either, only capable of playing a teammate who is close by and in space.
His biggest weakness at the moment seems to be his lack of an attacking instinct. Playing on the right-wing, Chong is usually high up the pitch. The problem is that Chong fails to find space in the right areas, as he’s either too far wide or too close to others in the middle of the park.
Everything came to a head around ten minutes into the second half. With the Red Devils already up 1-0, they were looking for another goal to put the game to bed. Luke Shaw did well to play a low pass across goal, picking out Chong at the back post for a tap in into an empty net.
That was not what happened. Instead, Chong leaned way too far back, hitting his shot well over the crossbar instead. It was a shocking error from the player, and his misery was only compounded when Astana scored an equalizer moments later, eventually going on to win the game themselves. His miss was all people wanted to talk about after the game, as it made most of the headlines afterwards.
An unclear future
That was the last straw for many United fans, who have soured on the player in recent times. Things off the pitch haven’t helped Chong either, as many reports are linking him with a move away from the club. His contract is set to expire at the end of the season, and it’s unclear if he’ll sign an extension before it runs out. He’s said that he wants to keep his options open, with Juventus now a potential landing spot for Chong if he decides to move on.
If you told United fans only a year ago that Chong would be leaving soon, they would be gutted, as the expectations were that he would be a star at Old Trafford for the foreseeable future. However, the public opinion on him has changed greatly since, as many now don’t think he’s good enough to cut it at United.
Luckily time is still on his side, as Chong will only be turning 20 years old in December. He’s got to start impressing soon if he wants to prove those doubters wrong, though, and another disasterclass like his showing versus Astana won’t do him any favours.
More chances will come for Chong, and he just needs to start taking them.