The Red Devils welcome the Spanish side to Old Trafford to begin their Group E campaign, with Ten Hag aiming to make it five successive victories off the back of Sunday’s emphatic 3-1 win against Arsenal. But the United manager also looks to be using the competition to observe some of the club’s rising stars and give them an opportunity to shine.
Three lucky youngsters from the Red Devils’ famous academy trained with the senior squad on Wednesday, namely defender Tyler Fredricson, midfielder Kobbie Mainoo and striker Charlie McNeil. While Fredricson and Mainoo, both 17, each impressed during the under-21’s impressive 2-1 victory over Carlisle in the EFL Trophy last Tuesday, McNeil is a much more familiar name to United fans.
Having joined the Red Devils from bitter rivals Manchester City two years ago, hotshot McNeill has scored more than 600 goals in youth football and boasts an outstanding record at United. After netting the opening goal against Carlisle and scoring in Saturday’s 2-2 draw with old foes Liverpool in Premier League 2, the 18-year-old took his tally to 43 strikes in 63 games.
With his appearances coming at a range of age levels, McNeill could be the Ten Hag’s long-term answer to his striking problems. Antony Martial – who joined Luke Shaw and Donny van de Beek in missing training – will once again be sidelined for Thursday’s match due to an Achilles injury, leaving Cristiano Ronaldo as the only out-and-out striker available to the Red Devils.
That may well change in the near future, though, with United academy coach Travis Binnion exclusively telling Mirror Football about Ten Hag’s impact on the academy. “The manager’s been great,” Binnion revealed following the recent win in Cumbria. “Zidane [Iqbal] and Alejandro [Garnacho] played tonight but they’re with the first-team permanently.
“Omari [Forson] and Isak [Hansen-Aaroen] have been with them frequently like Kobbie and Dan [Gore], so most of those boys have experienced first-team training in the last few weeks. The manager’s got a track record of putting players in as long as they’re good enough and this football club has, too.”
Ten Hag isn’t just using the competition to show off the club’s academy, though – the ex- Ajax boss wants to go all the way. “We have to win every game, and we want to win every tournament, so we have to take everything serious,” Ten Hag declared on Wednesday.
“We not only have a team, we have a squad, that’s clear. But we have to win every game. That is the mentality that Manchester United needs.”
Get involved! How should Man Utd line up vs Real Sociedad? Let us know your starting XI in the comments section.
On the challenge of rotating his starting XI for Real Sociedad’s visit to Manchester while also keeping as many players as possible happy, the Dutch tactician noted: “Maybe I cannot keep them all happy every game but everyone gets their game-time if they perform well, it’s quite clear. But what I say, we need everyone – we have a lot of games to cover.
“There is a lot coming in front of us, and the national teams of course – the World Cup – but also all of the cups in England. The Europa League where we are now getting in and, of course, the Premier League.”