The Debate: Elanga deserves derby chance

Saturday 05 March 2022 19:17

United forward Anthony Elanga could be one of several Reds to have their first taste of a senior Manchester derby on Sunday.

The 19-year-old has enjoyed a fruitful few months transitioning in the first-team picture under Ralf Rangnick and could potentially be the latest United Academy graduate to make their mark in the crunch fixture, when the Reds travel over to the Etihad Stadium on Sunday. 

Despite it still being very early in his young professional career, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Anthony have a say in the weekend’s derby, having risen to the occasion with goals in our two previous away outings at Atletico Madrid and Leeds United last month. 

The youngster’s fine form of late, which included him being voted as our Man of the Match on both that trip to the Spanish capital and in our previous game against Watford, was discussed by four former Reds on this week’s episode of The Debate. 
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As someone who also came through the club’s youth ranks, Wes Brown has been particularly impressed by the impact that Elanga has made over recent months. “He’s been absolutely brilliant,” Wes begins. 

“It's just the energy he brings, he starts it from the front, he tries to run in behind, he's a player we need at the moment. He puts pressure on defenders, and he has scored some good goals for us as well. 

“As a young player, you want him to wish him all the best because you know how hard it can be and he has definitely been a spark for us. He is somebody that we need at the moment.”

Anthony’s form of late deservedly saw him nominated for our February Player of the Month award, which Jadon Sancho was confirmed the winner of on Saturday, after one of our closest votes in years.

David May tipped the pair to lead the voting before the shortlist was announced earlier this week and went on to talk about how Elanga could take his recent form into Sunday’s game.

“I think Anthony has been exceptional. The chance with his first touch of the ball against Atletico, scoring there, was fantastic. He got the goal against Leeds - he could have scored earlier on at Elland Road, but he didn't panic,” Maysie recalls.

“I wouldn't be surprised if he played through the middle and I'd like to see him through the middle, whether it's alongside Ronny (Cristiano Ronaldo) or instead of Ronny to give him a rest. 

“I watch how they [Manchester City] play, with such a high line, and I think Elanga is the perfect player to play against them because he doesn't have to get beyond the shoulders. I think he deserves it. I think he has enthusiasm, he presses high, he loves to score goals and we need somebody right now who can put it in the onion bag.”

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How Elanga caught the eye in February

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It will be interesting to see if Elanga earns a starting spot in the XI when the team news is announced an hour before the 16:30 GMT kick-off. Maysie thinks we could see the young Swede leading the line, and you too can have a guess at the line-up by getting in your United Predictions

Former Reds forward Danny Webber cites speed and energy in attack as something that’s been key during our previous successes at the Etihad Stadium, including four wins in our last five trips to the Blues’ home, saying that Elanga could provide that for United on Sunday.

“He can play in any of the front three positions. When we've had joy against City in recent years, it's been when we've had pace on the break with Marcus, Martial, Jesse, Dan James. It's always been a problem for City. 

“They are that comfortable on the ball, when it breaks down if you don't offer that threat in behind, then they will just nullify you and keep the game really small for you. Spurs showed it again when Son [Heung-min] was playing and running in behind, causing problems. 

“We do need pace. In Elanga's case, he has to play, I think. He offers that threat in behind and he's chipping in with goals as well.”

On the same day that the sides last met – a 2-0 defeat for United in November’s reverse fixture at Old Trafford – Anthony played for the Under-23s in a high-scoring victory over Leeds. 

Now among the senior set-up, ex-United winger and MUTV commentator Ben Thornley thinks the youngster can offer United something that we didn’t have during the last derby.

“I think that when you are playing against Manchester City, we saw when they came to Old Trafford, the second half especially was a little bit of a training game.

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“They do squeeze the pitch up and I don't think they have got anybody, apart from Kyle Walker, that can live with his pace and we do need that outlet to stretch the game a bit and make it a bit more uncomfortable for them. 

“Having somebody with Elanga's blistering pace could really give them something to think about.”