Young trio look to convince Solskjaer
Ethan Laird, Teden Mengi and James Garner are all striving for an opportunity at Manchester United before the season is out, with manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer urging them to impress in training.
The club has always granted chances to homegrown talents and, of course, Laird and Garner have already appeared at senior level.
Both shone for the Under-23s this term before the curtailment of the season and were joined at that level by Under-18s skipper Mengi, who handled the step up and helped Neil Ryan's team reach the FA Youth Cup semi-finals.
Laird is fit and firing again and has been promoted to the senior squad for training, as Ole promised following the recent Emirates FA Cup quarter-final win at Norwich City.
"Ethan is going to join the training group now," the boss told us in his exclusive interview ahead of Bournemouth's visit in the Premier League on Saturday. "He’s had his tests. He had an injury around Christmas, which has now healed.
“It’s a time to take one game at a time and, if we get an opportunity to play some youngsters, then fantastic, but, of course, we‘ve got a big, strong squad at the moment. They’re working hard in training and I think they can feel the benefit of joining the boys as well. The likes of Jimmy and Teden are performing well in training."
Mengi's promotion was discussed further in the embargoed section of the manager's press conference on Friday.
The boss declared that the 18-year-old looks set to be in and around the first-team squad in 2020/21 if he can continue to progress.
"Axel [Tuanzebe] and Phil [Jones] are injured, so that's two centre-backs down for us," said Solskjaer. "Chris [Smalling] is on loan [at Roma] and [Marcos] Rojo is on loan [at Estudiantes], so then it was natural for me to put Teden in.
“One, for his own benefit, because to have a few months' training with the first team now, in the summer, tests him, and, to be fair to the boy, he's deserved it because he is an exciting talent, but he was desperate to come in.
“He keeps in touch with the coaches and he was always ready when we asked him: 'Are you ready to come in, are you fit enough?' And he worked hard over the lockdown. He's done really well, he doesn't seem out of place, so he'll definitely be more and more in and around the first team next season as well."
United v Bournemouth: Watch Ole's press conference
Saturday's Premier League game kicks off at 15:00 BST, leaving bags of time to watch our pre-match press conference...
"I enjoyed the [Academy] season and think I'd like to say I've done well," Mengi told us recently. "I've really enjoyed it.
“It started off with the Under-18s in Austria, we had fun there and then, a couple of games in, I made my mark in the Under-23s. I stayed in consistently, alongside Di'Shon [Bernard], and felt really good and comfortable there. I've enjoyed my season so far and just hope that I'll be able to finish it.
“I feel comfortable playing in the Under-23s, even if it is obviously a step up from the Under-18s. It's always going to be a step up, the higher up you go, but, like I say, I got used to it and feel more comfortable with it. I've found it really good and exciting - fun and enjoyable but tough as well. It has been tough.
“It [lockdown] has been a great time to learn as you can study your game - what you could have done better and what you have done well. It's been a good time for really reflecting as that's hard during the season with all the games.
Midfielder Garner's name has been very prominent when asking his Under-23s colleagues to select their Player of the Year. The 19-year-old, who made his debut against Crystal Palace last year, has six senior appearances under his belt this term, including one in the Premier League, against Norwich City at Old Trafford, when he completed each of his 15 passes.
Yet it has been his goalscoring form for Neil Wood's side that has really caught the eye.
"I miss football all the time," he told us during lockdown. "I've been watching it on YouTube, things on players and clips come up on social media as well. I watch that and have definitely been missing it.
“There are obvious benefits, though, as you can relax and repair to go back in. I think it's very important to reflect on what you've done that's good and not so good so, when you go back in, you can put that stuff right and do it better.
"I think this season has been one of my best seasons. I said towards the end of last season, I wanted to start adding more attacking threat to my game because I think I've shown what I can do defensively, throughout my years in the Academy, so it was just putting them together and becoming more of a complete player. It was showing everyone that I can do both sides of the game.
“Definitely a lot of work went into it. One of my main goals was to change my game and it doesn't come overnight. I've been working hard on finishing and getting myself into attacking positions, even just getting myself in the box. It's crazy how many times the ball does actually fall to you. It's getting into good habits in training and that does come and show up in the games.
“I think I can do extras after training and that helps as well but, just when you're actually training in any of the sessions the coaches put on, it's taking care in everything you're doing. Whether that's finishing or final passing, all that kind of stuff, puts you in good stead for when you're in a game. You need to train like you play. I think that's very important."We are all United as the Reds go marching on! On sale now, get your 2019/20 kit while stocks last.