Having spent much of his time as Manchester United manager promising to do so, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer finally unleashed the kids in their Europa League opener against Astana.

Mason Greenwood, Tahith Chong and Angel Gomes were all given their first starts of the season, while Axel Tuanzebe lined up in defence after making only one substitute appearance since returning from a fruitful loan spell.

As a contest, it certainly was not as straightforward as Solskjaer would have hoped, as United made hard work of overcoming the Kazakh champions.

Yet Solskjaer's experimenting was just about vindicated by Greenwood getting the only goal of the game 17 minutes from time - the forward bailing out his more experienced team-mates on a frustrating evening at Old Trafford.

Nevertheless, it was still a mixed outing for United's youngsters. We assess how they fared.

 

Mason Greenwood

United's next great hope was making his first start since the 2-0 defeat to Cardiff City on the final day of last season, though this contest will have felt like small fry compared to his only previous European outing, a substitute appearance in the famous 3-1 win at Paris Saint-Germain last term.

Operating initially from the right, he went extremely close to opening the scoring in the 16th minute after Marcus Rashford's clever flick, drilling a fierce left-footed strike just wide of the top-left corner. Solskjaer said Greenwood was one of the best finishers he has ever seen on Wednesday – it would have been easy to see why had he buried that opportunity.

However, Solskjaer's need for Greenwood – as United's only back-up striker – to prove a point and get a goal arguably spared the teenager from being taken off instead of Gomes in the second half, having failed to meet expectations.

The Norwegian's faith ultimately paid off.

For once, a United player didn't just do the obvious. Greenwood twisted and turned in the area and coolly slotted between the goalkeeper's legs for his first official senior goal, which will surely be a weight off his shoulders.

 

Angel Gomes

Almost two-and-a-half years on from his United debut, Gomes was finally awarded a first senior start and he looked eager to impress, dazzling a defender in the first minute before then winning a foul with a clever turn just a few moments later.

In the first half, Gomes looked the most likely to make something happen creatively, his quick feet winning a couple of free-kicks and providing the only defence-splitting pass just before the half-hour mark when releasing Diogo Dalot, whose subsequent cross was dealt with.

Gomes' ability in tight spaces continued to look like providing a potential route to goal in the second period – the attacking midfielder drawing fouls and creating space, but United refused to use him as often as they should have.

In the end, he was somewhat unfortunate to be taken off after generally justifying his selection. The fans will definitely be hoping to see more from Gomes in the coming weeks.

 

Tahith Chong

After looking bright as a substitute against Leicester City, it was not a huge surprise to see Netherlands youth international Chong make the starting XI.

While his display was a little braver than Greenwood's before the break, Chong did show he is still the rawest of the three youngsters in attack.

His touch was far too heavy on several occasions, while he lacked the power to really trouble the Astana defence, one early run aside.

He was unsurprisingly withdrawn for Jesse Lingard in the second half, having been largely disappointing.

 

Axel Tuanzebe

Following a solid season on loan at Aston Villa, Tuanzebe has moved well up the pecking order at Old Trafford and was a commanding presence on his first start for the club since May 2017.

The 21-year-old showed an effective blend of physicality and technical ability, one first-half moment typifying that when he recovered to outpace and outmuscle Dorin Rotariu, before taking the ball back and dribbling forward after the Romanian had flicked the ball over his head.

Otherwise Tuanzebe had little defending to do, with the centre-back often stepping forward into midfield given United's dominance, but his solidity was highlighted by the fact he won 75 per cent of his 16 duels.

 

Mason Greenwood's first senior goal earned a callow Manchester United team a stuttering 1-0 home win over Astana in their opening Europa League fixture on Thursday.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer put his faith in Greenwood, Angel Gomes and Tahith Chong, the trio's inclusion contributing to United's youngest XI in a Europa League or Champions League game since December 2012.

Yet with Marcus Rashford particularly inefficient in front of goal, the Premier League giants struggled to find a way to beat Astana goalkeeper Nenad Eric, who was in excellent form.

The hosts did at least claim victory. With 17 minutes to go at Old Trafford, Greenwood had the crowd off their feet with a stirring run and finish through Eric's legs to win the Group L game.

United's young side made a vibrant start with Fred's 30-yard strike rattling the crossbar before Rashford somehow hit a close-range shot straight at Eric.

Greenwood rifled a powerful drive wide and Rashford sprung Astana's offside trap again in the 21st minute but again found Eric blocking his way when it looked easier to score.

The 17-year-old Greenwood and Chong both arrived moments too late to convert Marcos Rojo's low cross as United tried to step up the tempo at the start of the second half.

A goalmouth melee saw the ball roll against the outside of Eric's left-hand post before Rashford thumped a free-kick just over the crossbar and Fred's 25-yard set piece was tipped wide.

Eric brilliantly tipped Jesse Lingard's speculative strike on to the woodwork with Diogo Dalot failing to convert the rebound, leaving Greenwood's moment of magic decisive.



What does it mean? You can't win anything with kids… or can you?

Solskjaer's decision to name such an inexperienced front line was partly forced on him by Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez departing for Inter with no arrivals signed to replace them. 

The virtually anonymous Chong and Gomes do not look ready to make match-winning contributions on this stage, although Greenwood certainly justified his inclusion with the winner.


A star is born

There has been a great deal of excitement around the potential of Greenwood, who was handed his second start for the club. For much of the game Greenwood operated on the fringes but he burst into life when it counted to ensure United avoided an embarrassing result.

 

Rashford wasteful as attack's leader

Easily the most experienced United attacker on show, Rashford could have had a hat-trick had his radar been in tune. He has only scored once since the opening weekend.

 

What's next?

Solskjaer's side go to West Ham United in the Premier League on Sunday, with their next Europa League fixture away to AZ on October 3, the day Astana host Partizan.

Mason Greenwood, Angel Gomes and Tahith Chong were all named in a youthful Manchester United side for their Europa League opener against Astana at Old Trafford on Thursday.

Solskjaer had confirmed in his pre-match news conference that 17-year-old Greenwood was set to be joined in the starting XI by out-of-favour Fred and young defender Axel Tuanzebe, but the selections of Gomes and Chong were slightly more surprising.

England youth international Gomes has been highly rated by United for several years and was an unused substitute in the 1-0 win over Leicester City.

Chong looked lively off the bench against the Foxes and is rewarded with a maiden start of the campaign.

Having made four appearances off the bench in the Premier League, Greenwood will lead the line in tandem with Marcus Rashford, while Gomes and Chong will be expected to provide the ammunition.

Brazilian midfielder Fred – like Chong – caught the eye as a substitute at the weekend and he gets an opportunity to kick-start his season after underwhelming last term following a £52 million move from Shakhtar Donetsk.

Similarly, right-back Diogo Dalot comes in for his first start of 2019-20, having struggled with a groin strain since the start of August.

In-form winger Daniel James will miss Manchester United's first Europa League match against Astana through injury.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer confirmed Wales international James suffered a "knock" against Leicester City at the weekend and would sit out Thursday's game at Old Trafford.

The 21-year-old skipped United's final training session before the Group L fixture and joins Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial and Luke Shaw on the sideline.

Jesse Lingard and Diogo Dalot are ready to return from illness and a hip problem respectively.

"He got a knock against Leicester so he won't be available," Solskjaer said of James.

"We're getting some back and losing some, so that's just the way it is."

James, who almost joined Leeds United in January, has shone since moving to Manchester from Swansea City, scoring three Premier League goals.

"Delighted with Dan," said Solskjaer. "That we signed him, that we managed to get him to Manchester is fantastic.

"He's proven with his X-factor already that he will give this squad a lot.

"I know he was very close [to Leeds], but that's football. Sometimes you have to take a chance and sometime life works in different ways, in strange ways. He's started really well here."

James will be one of several regulars missing from the starting XI as Solskjaer rotates his squad against the Kazakhstan Premier League champions.

David de Gea, fresh from signing a new four-year contract, will be rested, with Sergio Romero to replace him in goal.

Axel Tuanzebe, Mason Greenwood and Fred are also set to be given opportunities from the outset.

"It's not set in stone that this tournament is just going to be youngsters," the United manager added.

"They might play in the league. The experienced ones might play in the Europa League. Those are decisions we have to make at the time."

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