These are still early days in a season that is following an unprecedented schedule, but to date Diogo Dalot and Tahith Chong have not had the impact they would have wanted at their new clubs.
The Manchester United youngsters departed on season-long loans this summer and for both this is a crucial season in the trajectory of their Old Trafford careers.
When Chong returns from Werder Bremen next summer he will be 21, while Dalot will turn 22 next March, during his spell with AC Milan.
At that stage it will be sink or swim at United. Chong signed a new deal earlier in 2020 and Dalot was a £19million acquisition in the summer of 2018, but the path to regular first-team football at Old Trafford looks difficult to navigate for now.
Dalot could be back-up to Aaron Wan-Bissaka at right-back, but was completely out of the picture when the season resumed in June and needs a good campaign at the San Siro to remind Ole Gunnar Solskjaer of his talent.
Chong can play out wide, but with a new right-winger set to be a priority again next summer and no shortage of options on the left flank, he has to impress in the Bundesliga to put himself in the first-team picture at United in 2021/22.
So this season is an opportunity for both players and while it started well for both they’ve faded from view a little bit recently.
Chong scored in his first appearance for Werder Bremen, against Carl Zeiss Jena in the German Cup, but he’s started just two Bundesliga games and was withdrawn just after the hour mark in both, with a further four substitute appearances.
Dalot scored in his second appearance for Milan, in the 3-0 win against Sparta Prague in the Europa League, but while the Portugal Under-21 international has started all three of the Rossoneri’s games in Europe, he’s made just one substitute appearance so far in Serie A, playing 19 minutes against Udinese.
It’s going to be a long season for both clubs, especially Milan, who are the surprise leaders of Serie A and will have ambitions of going a long way in the Europa League, but both Chong and Dalot will want to force their way into the regular starting line-ups for their temporary clubs to truly catch the eye of Solskjaer and his United staff.
Neither have an obvious route back into the United side, which makes this season so important for them. If they can’t ensure long-term futures at Old Trafford they could put themselves on the market.
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United entered the international break by winning what was arguably their most important match of the season at Everton on Saturday.
The under-pressure Reds came from behind to beat the Toffees thanks to Bruno Fernandes’ double and Edinson Cavani’s first goal for United.
United have a two-week break with many of their stars heading off on international duty – we’ll be keeping tabs on how they all perform, and on preparations for their next Premier League match against West Brom.
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Dalot has already been linked with making his move to the San Siro a permanent one, but he’s focusing purely on impressing for Milan now, rather than thinking ahead to next season.
“Let’s see what happens at the end of the season,” he told Sky Italia. “For now I don’t want to think about that: I am 100% focused on Milan and that’s it.”
Dalot’s situation at United is unclear. He started just once post-lockdown, an underwhelming 63 minutes against Norwich in the FA Cup quarter-final, and found himself behind Timothy Fosu-Mensah at right-back, although the Holland international is out of contract next summer and likely to leave the club, which could open the door to Dalot if he regains form and confidence in Italy.
Chong is probably a step behind Dalot on his development curve, having played less first-team football, even if he is at an age where he needs to be making the breakthrough.
The former Feyenoord youngster didn’t sign his new contract until March, having given plenty of thought to leaving permanently last summer in search of regular football.
He played just 469 minutes of senior football for United last season, of which only 37 came in the Premier League. He’s featured more domestically for Bremen than Dalot has for Milan and Bremen’s head of football Clemens Fritz insists the United youngster will get appropriate playing time throughout the Bundesliga season.
“The exchange with Manchester is going very well,” Fritz told Deichstube.
“Tahith is close to the team. Neither we nor Manchester United are concerned that he won’t get enough playing time.
“There will be enough time for it. You can already see developmental steps in him. Steps that should lead to longer Bundesliga appearances as soon as possible.”
Chong will hope that is the case, just as Dalot will be hoping he can force his way into the Milan side. United will be watching both closely.