A changing of the guard at Manchester United this summer wouldn’t come out of the blue.
Whereas last summer was quiet on incomings and outgoings for a multitude of reasons, many of them relating to the Covid-19 pandemic, 2019 was a busy one as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer began his ‘cultural reboot’. That centred around offloading some players who were approaching, or past the age of 30. Chris Smalling, Matteo Darmian and Alexis Sanchez headed up the exit list.
Every now and then, a clearout of sorts tends to take place at Old Trafford, with 2018 a fallow year and summers such as 2014 and 2016 — when new managers were getting their feet under the table — seeing plenty of action.
Solskjaer will feel little need to change too much at United if they achieve a second-place finish and win the Europa League, but there are a few hangers-on in his squad, many of them who are ageing and in key positions.
Juan Mata is an obvious candidate to be let go, given his contract expires in the summer, by which time he will have turned 33. Injuries have taken their toll on the Spaniard this season, though there are plenty who believe he still has enough to offer.
Eric Bailly will soon be 27, but it feels like United need to replace him and Nemanja Matic, 32, this summer too.
The Ivorian defender is approaching the last year of his contract and, although United have started talks over a renewal, they could look to sell the former Villareal man, while slowly phasing out Matic.
There are a number of fringe players at the club who surely won’t be considered when Solskjaer ponders who to promote from above. Not every position can get the attention it needs in the transfer window and there’s always a need to blood youngsters.
Brandon Williams, Axel Tuanzebe as well as other loanees like Diogo Dalot, Andreas Pereira and Tahith Chong are probably in the category of reserve players for good now, but United have two arguably more exciting prospects to call upon.
James Garner and Teden Mengi are both benefiting from loans in the Championship at the moment and could easily step into fringe roles in the United squad next season.
Garner, 20, has rapidly made himself a fan favourite at Nottingham Forest, picking up regular game-time — and establishing a goalscoring knack — that has accelerated his development. Mengi is still only 18 and has played fewer games for Derby, but Solskjaer believed when sealing the centre-back’s loan move in January that he would come on leaps and bounds.
Solskjaer said: “When you get to that age sometimes it is not challenging enough, it doesn’t prepare him enough for that physical striker for example that they might meet in the first-team.
“To play in the Championship is a great challenge for Teden.
“That is going to be good for him. Wayne has been a top striker and I’m sure he will go in there and show him a few things himself.”
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Manchester United secured a hard-fought 2-1 win over Brighton in their first game back after the international break.
Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood struck in the second half, after Danny Welbeck’s opener, to give United an important three points in their quest to finish second in the Premier League this season.
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An even more experienced boss than Solskjaer is raving about Garner, with Forest’s Chris Hughton reaping the rewards of United’s swift decision to switch the midfielder’s loan club in January.
“We are very grateful to Manchester United for his services and we have a good relationship with them,” said Hughton.
“It is difficult to talk about next season because he is not our player. The only thing I can say is that we are really delighted with him. Not just with his contribution, but because of how he has settled in. That can be difficult for a young lad.”
It may only be a minor changing of the guard for Solskjaer to reintroduce Garner and Mengi — who have both had samples of senior action — to the first team picture, but as homegrown talents to fill out the squad, they don’t get much better.