Manchester United

Man United could unleash youngster following latest squad setback

After another dire defeat last weekend, Man United’s players might well be wishing for their disappointing season to come to a premature end. For Luke Shaw, that might already be the case.

Shaw is expected to be out for a couple of weeks to have metal bolts removed from his leg, and there is already a suggestion that his season might be over in order to best handle his rehabilitation process and ensure he is not rushed back into action.

The bolts were inserted when Shaw was operated on in 2015 after he sustained a double leg-break against PSV Eindhoven, but he was troubled by the injury during the 1-1 draw with Leicester earlier in the month. Shaw is set to miss the upcoming games against Norwich, Liverpool and Arsenal, having also missed last weekend’s calamitous display at Goodison Park.

In his absence, Alex Telles started on Merseyside last Saturday, with Diogo Dalot occupying a bench role given his ability to function on either the left or right side of defence.

It seems certain the Brazil international will keep the position throughout Shaw’s rehabilitation period, but with question marks over his long-term suitability in the role, it might be time for United to bite the bullet and give youth a chance.

Until United are mathematically out of the race for Champions League football, it seems unlikely that Ralf Rangnick will drop underperforming senior stars in favour of bright young hopefuls, though there is certainly an argument to suggest an exception at left-back.

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At youth level, it is often the attacking talents who get the most attention, as silky skill moves and goal gluts go viral with overhyped social media sells, though it is a credit to full-back Alvaro Fernandez that he has continued to shine in his defensive role.

Signed from Real Madrid two summers ago, the 19-year-old initially struggled to adapt to English football and the intense defensive responsibility of his role. Anyone who has watched the Spanish teenager this season will be well aware of how dangerous he is in attack, but they will also be well aware of how suspect he can be defensively, often getting caught out with his positioning.

Fernandez, who idolised Madrid icon Marcelo in his childhood, himself looks to get forward at every opportunity, but has now developed a greater understanding of when to make those advances further up the pitch and when it is better for him to stay back.

Fernandez is now fully justifying the four-year contract he signed back in 2020 and received loan offers in the January window as he prepares to take his next step. This season, he has continued with his upwards trajectory and offered a constant outlet for Neil Wood’s U23 side from the left flank of the pitch. Soon, he could be rewarded with his first inclusion in a senior matchday squad.

The teenage Spaniard has already been given the chance to train with first-team stars this season, and although he hasn’t done so for a while, he is one of the current hopefuls with the best chance of making a debut this calendar year.

It is crucial to always carefully manage expectations, though, and United are themselves keen to ease the pressure on Fernandez in order to continue with their nurturing of his talent, even if they can’t ignore the excitement that surrounds him right now.

If he is to ever make the progression into the senior side permanently, then progress needs to be made. Giving him a chance in the first team in place of the injured Shaw would certainly be a crash course in what it takes to reach such a level.

In the long run, it seems like a loan move next season could be the perfect eye-opener for him to learn about the expectations of being a professional footballer. Until then, he would benefit from a taste of the action with a senior spell in the final weeks of the campaign.

Fernandez would not necessarily need to play to gain priceless experience, but would also be impacted by a permanent promotion to first-team training and experience the routine of preparing for a proper match as part of the senior set-up.

Missing out on Champions League football could accelerate the process of giving promising youngsters a chance, though some of them deserve a chance no matter what happens.

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