With Manchester United’s pre-season kicking off in under four weeks, Erik Ten Hag will soon be taking his first hands on look at United’s squad.
A time of year highly anticipated by all youth prospects, United’s young players will be extra excited this year as they look to earn their breakthrough into the senior squad with a good first impression.
Here we will look at the youth players most likely to feature during the pre-season tour, starting with defenders.
There is no need to look further than Manchester United’s u23s player of the season, Alvaro Fernandez.
The 19 year old Spaniard spent the latter stages of the season training with the first team under Ralf Rangnick but did not manage to make his debut despite being named on the bench on four occasions.
A classy player who plays with extreme elegance, Fernandez was the main driving force for United’s u23s throughout the season, picking up four goals and six assists in all competitions.
Almost a certainty to feature during the pre-season tour, the left back is the most likely youth defender to stand out and make a big impression on Ten Hag. Clever in possession and often looking to drift infield, Fernandez fits the mould of full back often deployed by the new manager.
The youngster’s main weakness of lacking top speed is also unlikely to be a deterrent considering Ten Hag’s fondness for Daley Blind, who also lacks the speed of the conventional fullback.
Seen by most youth followers as almost a certainty to make it into the first team if he can get over his injury problems, unfortunately his January move to Bournemouth on loan was scuppered by the return of a long standing hamstring injury.
Before that though, Laird had enjoyed an injury free year under Russell Martin at MK Dons and Swansea City. Utilised in a high positioned right wing back role under Martin, he was able to provide four assists at both MK Dons and Swansea.
Having demonstrated his ability to attack, the defensive side of his game is still questionable as he was given little responsibility in the way of defending.
Hoping that will be enough to catch Ten Hag’s eye, Laird is also bolstered by the fact that right back is a major weakness in United’s squad. With Aaron Wan-Bissaka reported to be on the way out and Diogo Dalot not setting the world alight, there is a free run at the spot if Laird can impress during pre-season.
Laird’s pre-season performances and any potential moves in the transfer market will dictate if he will be in Ten Hag’s squad for the season or will seek another loan.
Having captained United through the age groups, Mengi is the most likely centre back to feature on the tour.
But he is another talented defender held back by injuries, Mengi’s loan spell with Birmingham was cut short after only 10 appearances when he picked up a season-ending injury and returned to United early.
A strong and quick centre-back, Mengi has the physical qualities suitable for English football but has yet to overcome his concentration issues. Standing at only 1.86m, he also is not the strongest aerially but Ten Hag’s previous use of shorter centre backs means this may not be a problem.
Often overshadowed by his teammates, Bernard has quietly gone about his development with impressive loan spells at Salford City and Hull City.
Making 28 appearances at Hull last campaign, Bernard had solidified himself as a regular starter for the Championship side and won Player of the Month for October. Unfortunately, a change in management late in the season saw Bernard fall out of favour come the end of the season.
A strong centre back who is tough in the challenge, he also enjoys a venture forward and would often be deployed as a striker late in matches during his time with United u18s.
An exit from Old Trafford may be on the cards with either another loan move or a permanent move for something more stable due to the numbers ahead of him in United’s squad.
An extremely talented centre back, Fish made his u23s debut at only 16, before being made the side’s captain at 17.
Seen as a top talent coming through the ranks at United and for England’s youth set up, Fish is coming off the back of a rather disappointing season. A five month loan spell with Stockport County saw the 19 year old pick up a man of the match accolade on his debut but he would only see eight more minutes of action on loan before returning to United in January.
Slotting back into United’s u23s, Fish had a decent end to the season but not to the heights of previous years.
A timid defender, Fish often lacks aggression in his play but makes up for it with his intelligence in reading the game, strong aerial prowess and ability on the ball.
With Ten Hag often favouring less physical centre backs in the past, he may prefer Fish’s more modern defending style.
An outside shot of being involved, Hardley will be hoping for some favouritism from his Dutch compatriot.
An ever present for United’s u23s, Hardley is a solid centre back who is good in the air and has a large range of passing in his repertoire but can lack anticipation in his defending.
As the only left footed centre back at the club though, this uniqueness may cause Ten Hag to give him a closer look. But another year in the u23s is the most likely outcome.