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Friday, April 19, 2024

Man Utd could soon replicate Saka’s rise by unleashing “wonderkid” at LB

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While it cannot be used as an excuse to cover up what has at times been a disappointing and frustrating campaign for Manchester United, there’s no denying that Erik ten Hag has not been helped by the plethora of injuries that have hampered his side throughout the season. The Dutchman has notably had to make do without his former Ajax star, Lisandro Martinez for almost the entirety of 2023/24, with the World Cup winner having been restricted to just ten appearances in all competitions thus far. Those woes have not been helped by separate issues for the likes of Harry Maguire, Jonny Evans, Raphael Varane and Victor Lindelof at various periods in the season, ensuring there has been a real sense of turbulence in the centre-back ranks. It is, however, at left-back where arguably the biggest and most sustained problem lies, with the Red Devils losing Luke Shaw with an injury that could keep him out until the end of the season, while understudy and forgotten man Tyrell Malacia has yet to feature at all this term due to his own injury hell. Man Utd’s absentee list Player Injury/Reason for absence Potential return date Luke Shaw Thigh 11/05/2024 Lisandro Martinez Knee 06/04/2024 Amad Diallo Suspension 04/04/2024 Tyrell Malacia Knee ? Jonny Evans Other 30/03/2024 Altay Bayindir Muscle strain 30/03/2024 Casemiro Muscular injury 30/03/2024 Anthony Martial Groin/Hip/Pelvic 30/03/2024 With Sergio Reguilon seeing his loan deal cut short courtesy of a break clause in January – and with Alvaro Fernandez moving to Benfica on an initial temporary deal – Ten Hag has a real dearth of options in that role, with Aaron Wan-Bissaka the latest makeshift solution during the recent win over Liverpool. While United will now likely hope to stumble on before recruiting a new left-sided defender this summer, Ten Hag may wish to consider looking to his academy ranks, with one certain teenager potentially able to replicate the rise of Arsenal’s, Bukayo Saka. Bukayo Saka’s record at Arsenal United supporters may not be too willing to give much acknowledgement regarding the form of a rival star, yet it is hard to ignore the remarkable impact that Saka has made at the Emirates of late, becoming the figurehead for Mikel Arteta’s title hopefuls. Still only 22, the England international already has 54 goals and 55 assists to his name in 216 games in all competitions to date for the Gunners, having already chipped in with 31 goals and assists across all fronts this season. If Arsenal are to enjoy any form of success either this season – or beyond – Saka is almost certainly set to be right at the heart of it, with the wing wizard having that knack for simply terrorising defences down the right flank. Why is this relevant to United you ask? Well, as memory serves, the Three Lions ace did in fact spend much of his early stint in the Gunners first-team at left-back, notably playing in that role on 17 occasions in the 2019/20 season. Having flitted between operating in that defensive berth or in a more advanced role in the youth set-up, Saka – who made his full debut for the club at the age of just 17 in 2018 – was able to plug a gap at full-back initially, prior to transitioning into the devastating right-winger that Premier League defences fear today. Related Man Utd must rue losing a “wonderkid” who’s now worth as much as Mainoo The incredibly talented youngster left Old Trafford looking for first-team football. Interestingly, as far as United are concerned, the club could potentially have an emerging talent who can follow Saka’s pathway in the form of Bendito Mantato, with the teenager certainly creating a buzz at present. Bendito Mantato’s season in numbers While hopes of featuring in the first team in the near future may seem premature as Mantato is just 16, as previously stated Saka himself was only a year older when he was handed a chance at the Emirates, ensuring it may not be too long before the United man does feature under Ten Hag. As the Manchester Evening News recently revealed, there is notable interest in Mantato at present from rival clubs, with the report noting the comparison between the youngster and Saka, due to his ability to feature at left-back or on the right flank. In The Pipeline Football FanCast’s In the Pipeline series uncovers the very best wonderkids in world football. Every club dreams of having the next Mbappe in their academy, don’t they? The exciting “wonderkid” – as per U23 scout Antonio Mango – looks like he won’t be going anywhere if the latest reports are to be believed, however, with the indication being that he has already verbally agreed scholarship terms with his current side. Tieing Mantato down to a new contract would certainly be in United’s interests, not least for his likeness to Saka, with the future star having caught fire this season after scoring five goals in just five games in the U18 Premier League. That included a dazzling four-goal haul in the recent comeback victory over Blackburn Rovers, with Mantato’s first goal showcasing his Saka-esque nature as he expertly weaved his way into the area, before cutting in onto his favoured left foot and lashing home. At a time when Kobbie Mainoo and Alejandro Garnacho are shining in the senior ranks, Mantato has already been pictured in first-team training in recent weeks, further raising hopes that he is set to be the next star off the club’s conveyor belt of talent. Of course, much of the excitement may be surrounding his current brilliance on the wing, yet amid United’s left-back predicament – and with Shaw’s repeated injury issues posing a long-term problem – the teen ace could represent a wildcard solution. He has lined up in that role on multiple occasions this season for England’s U16 side, making his promotion certainly something to consider for Ten Hag – with Mantato only recently making his U21s debut against West Bromwich Albion. Putting faith in one so young may represent a risk, yet after looking at the examples of Mainoo, Garnacho, and Saka at Arsenal, turning to the academy ranks is so often a wise decision. As that man Mango stated, Bendito Mantato – “remember the name”….

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