The Young Trio of Hojlund, Garnacho, and Mainoo Illuminate Manchester United's Path to Glory

By Real11 - Feb 7 2024 97 Views

Højlund, Garnacho, Mainoo promise Man United's bright future

Whatever happens to Ten Hag’s United between now and the end of the season, the manager can at least regard the emergence of a promising young trio in the form of Rasmus Hojlund, Alejandro Garnacho and Kabbie Mainoo as positives from an otherwise dismal campaign. 

It was apt that the exciting trio, all under the age of 21, sat up on advertising boards in front of Stretford End after Garnacho scored his second of the game to seal all three points for his side against West Ham on Sunday. Ten Hag will be hoping the image is still going rounds and reposted via social media in a decade’s time- a first glance of players who would go on to form the core of the upcoming great United side. But for now, though, it will be suffice that they gave Ten Hag an unwonted day at Old Trafford. 

Højlund found the back of the net for the fourth Premier League game on the bounce, on his 21st birthday, and Garnacho scored a brace to secure a comfortable 3-0 win; their first home league victory by a margin of more than one goal this season.   

This, at times, has been a catastrophic campaign and even a positive evening for Ten Hag came with a drawback. And a big one too, as star defender Lizandro Martiniez, who just returned from a foot injury, was taken off the field due to a worrying knee injury. With Martinex, Luke Shaw and Casemiro back from injury, the red devils have started to look more like the side that finished third last season and losing Martinez for another lengthy period will be the last thing Ten Hag needs at this instance. 

As disappointing as some of the outcomes have been this season, United are still in contention for the FA Cup and a place in the Champions League is also up for grabs. As much as they need Højlund to continue scoring and Mainoo to keep performing well, they also require Casemiro and Martinez to stay fit and healthy. 

"I am not telling you we are there, where we want, but you see the potential," Ten Hag said. "We saw the potential from those players [Højlund, Garnacho and Mainoo], but they need games. They need experience, and the only way you can get it is to play in the first team.

"They have the right attitude and when you have the attitude to improve every day, I am convinced they can achieve high levels, but they need experienced players who have achieved everything to help them.

"When certain positions are not available, you have to be creative. We have certain times in the season when you have to adapt to put an XI out. Now danger is coming from Licha Martinez so I hope we don't go back. It is not about 11 players, it is about 15 or 16, so I hope we can keep them all fit."

Ten Hag is finally getting closer to the team he desired all along. Højlund came injured from Atlanta and didn’t play a game until mid-September; Martinez was severely injured in late September; Casemiro was ruled out in November; Mainoo was unavailable and was deemed fit enough to compete for the first time in late November; Shaw missed out numerous games between August and November. 

This impacted Ten Hag’s squad depth at different points and he was forced to pick Hannibal (now on loan at Sevilla), Facundo Pellistri (now on loan at Granada) and Sergio Reguilón (now on loan at Brentford.)

It will be a massive blow to lose Martinez for any period of time, but at least they have cover at the centre back position in the form of Raphael Varane, Harry Maguire, Johnny Evans and Victor Lindelöf. But they have very limited alternatives to replace Højlund, Shaw and Casemio. 

Ten Hag went with Maguire to pair up with Martinez at the back against West Ham, and even though the England international had a few nervous moments- he was dispossessed by Emerson Palmieri and outpaced by Jarrod Bowen for West Ham’s two clear cut chances of the game- he still did a decent job overall to help United earn their first Premier League clean sheet since the goalless stalemate against table toppers Liverpool on December 17 after conceding a minimum of two goals in their last five games. 

"It is only one game so don't go and celebrate it too much," Ten Hag said. "I don't think we have reasons at this moment to do it, but for today we are pleased. You need routines to get performances and you have to make decisions in split seconds.

"Every time you have to swap your team, swap your centre-backs, and your right-back for your left-back, it is about looking at each other and making the right decisions. Top football is about details."

Between now and the end of the season, there’ll come a time when the manager will sit down with the club’s new minority stake owner, Sir Jim Ratcliffe, to discuss his future at the club. Ratcliffe’s mission is to take United back to glory days after nearly a decade of despondency, and a call on the head coach will be a litmus test of his new regime. 

Ten Hag is fighting to rebuild a season which has seen United getting knocked out of the Champions League before Christmas and falling way off in the race for top four. But more pleasant days like this one, shoulder to shoulder with a continued contribution from Garnacho, Mainoo and Højlund and he will be able to prove a point and underline a bright future with himself at the helm.   

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