Manchester United succumbed to a 2-1 defeat to FC Astana on Thursday after a testing night at the home of the recently crowned Kazakh champions.
With the luxury of knowing that his team had already secured qualification for the knockout phase, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer spared his first team players the 6000-mile round trip, instead opting for a squad littered with academy graduates.
The average age of the starting 11 was 22 years and 26 days, the youngest fielded in European competition, and the frosty Kazakh capital city of Nur-Sultan provided a perfect, albeit strange, platform to blood the new crop of talents into the first team.
On the night it was academy graduate and skipper for the night, Jesse Lingard who gave the Red Devils the lead, but it was Dmitri Shomko and an unfortunate own goal from Di’Shon Bernard who turned the game in the host’s favour.
Here, MM takes a closer look at some of United’s next generation after a testing, yet poignant night in Nur-Sultan.
Mason Greenwood – 17
Now becoming a familiar name and regular feature under Solskjaer’s reign, Mason Greenwood provided a full 90-minute display that showcased both the good and bad in his current game.
After him grabbing his first Premier League goal at the weekend, the 17-year-old started the game in a lively manner, latching onto a host of through-balls by Lingard and co.
Despite drifting onto the wings effectively to release space for others, the young forward was culpable of snatching at chances and remained erratic for the majority of the game until his clever finish was brilliantly saved with 13 minutes to go.
Verdict: Was always active, if not always at his very best. Remains a huge prospect for the club.
James Garner – 18 and Dylan Levitt – 19
Paired up as the two pivots in the 4-2-3-1, Garner and Levitt dominated the game side by side as they put on a mature performance in the testing icy conditions.
Following on from his cameos in the first team, James Garner screened the back four effectively throughout as well as proving diligent in tracking runs and winning the ball high up the pitch.
Alongside him, and making his first team debut, Dylan Levitt maintained good positional discipline whilst remaining proactive on the ball as he looked the set the front four away.
Verdict: Carried over their form and understanding from the under 23s side well as they controlled throughout.
Angel Gomes – 19
Relied heavily on flicks and tricks, Gomes was culpable of failing to impose himself on the game with his lack of physicality perhaps a hindrance on this occasion. However, he did go close with a free kick.
Verdict: Another very young talented player with a lot of potential, but would certainly benefit from more game time.
Tahith Chong – 19
Despite being once regarded as the crème de crème of United’s academy, Chong’s development has stagnated recently, and he endured a frustrating night in Kazakhstan.
He suffered from having an inconsistent touch and failed to make use of Greenwood’s movement up front.
Ultimately, he missed a gilt-edge opportunity to put United 2-0 up merely seconds before the Astana equaliser.
Verdict: Still a very talented and promising player but must be more decisive in the final third.
Di’Shon Bernard – 19
With a performance unfortunately characterised by an unlucky own goal, Bernard showed great promise despite the tough circumstances on the night.
Proving strong in the tackle and judging his distances well, he proved just as capable as first team regular Axel Tuanzebe.
Verdict: Showed his inexperience in letting the game slip away but showed great potential.
Ethan Laird – 18
Perhaps one of the most impressive performers on the night was right back Ethan Laird.
Despite a little bit of a shaky start, the 18-year-old defender grew into the game and showed a lot of promise both offensively and defensively.
Showing good pace and support on the right-hand side, Laird was confident and physical, even if his delivery from the byline was mixed.
Verdict: Wasn’t overwhelmed by the occasion and will be happy with a solid debut.