There was a moment during the first half of ’s win against Wigan in the that just about summed up where the club are at this moment in time.
, making just his seventh start for the club, won back possession in central midfield.
The ball rolled kindly to who, under little to no pressure, immediately tried to play a pass out to the wing.
Except the pass cannoned off Mainoo and fell to a Wigan attacker. McTominay, who was starting in central midfield alongside the teenager, had already vacated his position in anticipation of a counter-attack.
Thankfully for the Scotland international, Mainoo was there to win back the ball for a second time and he calmly retained possession to start an attack of his own.
While it may be harsh to criticise McTominay, the incident was not an isolated one. Too often this season, United’s most inexperienced players have appeared the most composed, with it often being impossible to tell who the senior members of the squad are on the pitch.
That Mainoo already looks undroppable is not only testament to the midfielder’s ability but emblematic of the wider problems at the club.
But Mainoo is not the only teenager propping up the side. In a season to forget so far, Alejandro Garnacho has made significant personal progress. It’s easy to forget now, but the 19-year-old had been considered a squad rotational player at the start of the campaign. It was only thanks to an impressive display against RC Lens that saw the Argentine start this season against Wolves.
Even against a backdrop of dismal results, Garnacho has risen above the mediocrity of his team-mates and is now the forward that United’s midfield look to in attack.
Young players are inconsistent and shouldn’t be expected to shoulder the burden of responsibility, not least at a club the stature of Manchester United.
But, in a time of flux for the club with Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s 25% stake to be confirmed in the next month, these two teenagers have at least shown a direction of travel for the team.
INEOS’ £1.3bn investment in the club is bound to bring about change. A new sporting director will be appointed, and a new head of recruitment could arrive. Within time, they hope to change United’s fortunes in the transfer market and to coherently blend together a squad of players to fight for silverware.
But whatever happens, Mainoo and Garnacho should be a part of that future. They will make sure of it.
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