The opening day of the 1995/96 season was a momentous moment for both Man United and English football.
United were turned over 3-1 by Aston Villa, with Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Nicky Butt and the Neville brothers proving no match for veterans Paul McGrath and Andy Townsend.
Alan Hansen’s proceeded to tell the world that ‘you can’t win anything with kids’ and the rest, as Eric Cantona would say, est l’histoire.
Fast forward 25 years and it’s the same losing margin, to the same colours, that has left Ole Gunnar Solskjaer staring into the abyss at Man United.
United’s first back-to-back league defeats of the campaign leave Solskjaer’s side six points behind Chelsea in their bid to gain the final Champions League spot next season.
Doom-mongers will point out that Solksjaer has now overseen United’s worst start to a league season since 1990, while he’s lost more games than he’s won since being handed the keys to Old Trafford on a permanent basis.
Fans are now turning on the hero of ’99, although the Glazer family appear to be holding their nerve, for now. So where does the Norwegian go from here?
Just as Sir Alex Ferguson leaned on youth in his times of struggle, Solskjaer could do worse than fielding his own version of the ‘Class of 92′.
Solskjaer doesn’t have a crop of Scholes, Beckham, Butt, Giggs and Neville to choose from, otherwise United wouldn’t be in such a perilous state.
But there are several gaps in United’s XI in which Solskjaer could blood some of the more impressive performers from United’s academy, especially with the ongoing injury crisis at Old Trafford.
Take Brandon Williams, who’s done enough in 592 minutes of Premier League football to suggest that Luke Shaw’s agent should be a busy man in the summer. Williams’ passion for the shirt has already endeared him to United fans, while his mobility has proved an asset whenever he’s featured under Solskjaer.
The rest of United’s back four is unlikely to change, as long as Harry Maguire, Victor Lindelof and Aaron Wan-Bissaka stay fit, but it’s a different story in midfield.
The absence of Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay provides Solskjaer with an excuse to give James Garner an extended run of games alongside Fred, having handed the 18-year-old his European debut against Partizan Belgrade last October.
If Solskjaer doesn’t fancy Garner he could instead turn to Hannibal Mejbri, who joined United from Monaco in August. The 17-year-old is already playing for United’s Under-23 side and it remains to be seen how long Solskjaer can hold him back, given the whispers already travelling around Old Trafford’s corridors about his talent.
Solskjaer also requires bodies in attack, with Daniel James showing signs of fatigue and Marcus Rashford potentially out until March.
Mason Greenwood has already stepped up when required, scoring four league goals, while Tahith Chong and Angel Gomes are reaching the stages in their careers where they will leave if first-team appearances aren’t forthcoming.
Indeed, Chong’s time at United appears to be coming to an end, with Inter Milan closing in on his signature. The 19-year-old was highly-rated upon joining United from Feyenoord in 2018, but his career has stalled amidst a lack of senior football.
Solskjaer can’t risk losing any more star pupils from United’s academy to European competitors, both from a sporting and PR perspective.
Ideally he would have the luxury of blooding youngsters in a team already thriving, but with little to play for until the end of the season there might not be a better time to see what his youngsters are made of.
Sure, Champions League qualification is up for grabs, but would Garner really do a worse job than Andreas Pereira? Would Gomes not provide some fresh creative intent in a side sorely lacking for ideas?
As far as United’s future goes, there’s no time like the present.
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