Manchester United‘s preparation on the pitch for the upcoming season has been… iffy. The postponement of a clash with Preston North End due to a coronavirus scare within the United camp means that The Reds currently have just one more match planned before the Premier League opener against Leeds United in two weeks.
There have been few of the United players that you and I would regard as ‘starters’ in the pre-season games thus far, meaning that many of those ‘starters’ would have just one warm-up game before the shackles of the Premier League are unleashed upon them, and past experience (12 months ago) tells us that it might not be a fun experience.
However, there’s usually a silver-lining in these sorts of situations, isn’t there?
United have been able to showcase some of their best young talent in games against Derby, Queens Park Rangers and Brentford and although Ole Gunnar Solskjær‘s men have won just one of those encounters, there have been many who have caught the eye of United supporters.
Shola Shoretire and Facundo Pellistri linked up to score United’s second against Derby. Shola played a lovely pass into the Uruguayan, who finished well. The pair then got an assist each in the loss against QPR. Yet, it’s clear that while talent is clear to see; both still need further development if they’re going to be regular members of Solskjær’s squad forthcoming. That is no slight on two players who are just 17 and 19 years of age respectively.Embed from Getty Images
However, there is a youngster who is starting to politely knock on Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s door, with the intention to say: “I’m ready”. That player is Anthony Elanga.
The 19-year-old Swede made his first-team debut at the twilight stage of last season, making two Premier League appearances; scoring on the last day of the season against Wolves.
He might’ve been introduced sooner if it wasn’t for a fractured collarbone, an injury that he suffered against Leicester City U23s back in January. He had notched eight goals in 16 games beforehand and also grabbed himself four assists too.
Preferably a left-winger, Anthony Elanga can also play through the centre. He possesses immense speed and acceleration, often opting for quick one-twos with his midfielders (usually Hannibal Mejbri, who’s return pass is always well-timed) in order to get beyond the opposition defence and tear down towards goal — see very good example below.
It is not only in situations like this where the winger uses his pure speed and acceleration, Elanga is a willing runner into the channels when he plays as a striker and also makes constant runs in behind the backline when positioned in a wide area. This is something that is perhaps lacked in the first-team squad too.
The clip above also shows Elanga’s extreme directness in the final third and that he’s very technically capable. The 19-year-old is a great dribbler with a few tricks in his locker and his close control in tight spaces has been on show throughout all of his pre-season cameos so far.
After his diving header nestled in the back of Rui Patricio‘s net on the last day of the Premier League season a couple of months ago, a lot of United fans (and probably Ole Gunnar Solskjær too) started to look forward to the prospect of welcoming Elanga into the first-team and seeing him be a regular on the bench. However, it was not expected to be THIS season coming.Embed from Getty Images
The main expectation for Anthony Elanga in 2021/22 would’ve been to go on a loan to a Championship side, or potentially a Premier League outfit. He would be able to practice his trade for an entire season where he’s playing a lot of minutes and would then come back into the United squad for 2022/23 as a more established first-team footballer and ready for the challenge at United.
However, his performances at the tail-end of last season and throughout pre-season suggest that he’s giving his manager a decision to make and it’ll be a difficult one; but it could lead to Elanga having a role for The Red Devils for the season which starts in 15 days.
After Elanga found a bit of space in the box and scored a first-time volley (courtesy of a lovely Aaron Wan-Bissaka cross at the end of a well-worked move) at Old Trafford five days ago, Solskjær admitted that the teenager is giving him ‘a great problem’ before praising the workrate and demeaner of his winger, telling the journalists that Elanga would run over to the Old Trafford cricket ground to get him a drink if he told him to do so.
Solskjær also confessed that he was still unsure about the future of Anthony Elanga, after the QPR game where the teenager scored a lovely goal and created a lot of havoc for QPR defenders, Solskjær said that he still had not made his mind up on where the winger would be next season.
“It would be easy to say the boy should go on loan, but he’s doing so well. He’s electric, he’s got pace, skill and he’s got the courage and bravery of a Man United player.” Solskjær stated.
“Today he created chances for others and himself. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s going to be staying here. It’s important for him to develop and get game-time but he’s one that we’ve not really decided.”
It’s pretty clear to see why Elanga is giving his manager a headache, the winger has brilliant ability but also looks physically ready for first-team action. Marcus Rashford will be out of action for the beginning of this season as he recovers from surgery on his left shoulder and this could have a impact on the decision that the Norwegian ends up making.
Although Daniel James is a better option than a lot of United fans think, it is arguable that Elanga’s skillset is more suitable to a regular role off the bench for United. He provides the energy and pace that James does, but with more directness and oomph about him. While it would be a defensive downgrade, there is definitely an argument to be had that the 19-year-old could play a part for United in the coming months and season.
If he does end up going on a loan, it should do him the world of good to get regular minutes in a first-team environment. However, if he continues to knock on his manager’s door, the knocks will get louder and Solskjær might be forced to let him in.