While Manchester United’s fate in the Premier League has been decided for some time, a 2-1 defeat to Leicester City at Old Trafford finally confirmed the inevitable: city rivals Manchester City would be the Premier League champions in the unprecedented, COVID-19-affected 2020-21.
With United aware of their unlikely chances at lifting the silverware this year, they decided to field somewhat of a ‘B’ team against The Foxes, with a couple fringe players involved in the starting eleven, including debutant Anthony Elanga.
It was a defeat for the Red Devils, but ahead of United taking on Liverpool later this week, what could fans take from the game?
Greenwood epitome of maturity up front
Though the likes of Nemanja Matic, David de Gea and Juan Mata were all involved, the most experienced player on the pitch looked to be the man leading United’s line: Mason Greenwood.
The striker looked calm and sharp in front of goal, netting United’s equaliser with a superb effort from inside the area; it arguably had no right to find the net, but it slotted in at the far post, leaving Kasper Schmeichel with no chance.
Greenwood has enjoyed an exciting run in the last few weeks, with six goals in his last seven games, and could well force himself into Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s starting eleven for the foreseeable future.
Edinson Cavani may well have earned himself a new contract this week, but for Greenwood to develop, Solskjaer may well operate with Greenwood and Cavani as alternate starting centre-forwards next season.
Solskjaer will be looking to bolster United’s attacking options for next season, and the addition of a winger like Jadon Sancho could allow for Greenwood to become a first-choice striker, through the middle, for the Red Devils next year.
Greenwood was up against a three-man defence in Leicester – and was outstanding both in attack, tracking back and in holding up the ball.
The striker was substituted in the second half over fitness concerns: whether he plays against Liverpool on Thursday evening is debatable but he certainly enjoyed a strong evening against Leicester.
Henderson absence was conspicuous
It was De Gea who started in goal for the Red Devils on Tuesday evening, but the absence of first-choice keeper Dean Henderson was notable.
Henderson’s ability to command his box and claim balls from crosses into the box was missed, especially on Leicester’s winning goal that saw Marcus Rashford lose his man in Çağlar Söyüncü, who was able to head home with ease past De Gea.
The defence was unorganised at times, and while the absence of Harry Maguire could be to blame, the centre-half duo of Eric Bailly and Axel Tuanzebe struggled to keep the Leicester attack at bay.
Some of the defence struggled to keep up with Leicester’s quick passing game from the likes of Youri Tielemans and Wilfred Ndidi, notably Brandon Williams, whose lack of game time at the top level was noticeable.
A neat debut from Elanga
The fourteenth man to debut under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was Swedish forward Anthony Elanga, whose talented record for the U23 side saw him earn a first start for the Reds.
While the winger struggled to make too much of a mark, à la Marcus Rashford, he still managed to make a few strong runs into the area, contributing to the attacking play in a dynamic front-three.
Alongside Greenwood and Amad Diallo, the Red Devils provided a brief glance into their long-term future, and with the right time to develop, the three men who started up front for United could turn out to be a very talented unit.
Elanga most likely won’t start again for United this season, but could appear from the bench in some cameo roles. A loan move could be on the cards, but regardless of where the Swede ends up, a talented future is possible for the Reds.