Some of Manchester United’s youngsters who played in the 2-1 defeat at Astana are “knocking on the door” of the first team, according to manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
The Norwegian spared his senior players the 6,000-mile round-trip to Kazakhstan, took a squad packed with academy graduates and chose an XI with an average age of 22 years and 26 days – the youngest fielded in European competition.
They took the lead through Jesse Lingard’s deflected strike in the 10th minute before Astana overturned the deficit in seven second-half minutes.
Solskjaer, whose side had already qualified for the last 32, told MUTV: “I think some of these might benefit from going out on loan. Of course, they need men’s football and it was a first taste of it for some of them. Some of them are also knocking on the door for us.”
The United boss praised right-back Ethan Laird, midfielder Dylan Levitt and centre-back Di’Shon Bernard, who made their full debuts, although it was the latter’s own goal that gave Astana the lead.
He added: “You can see the way we dominated midfield, with Jimmy Garner and Dylan playing together. Di’Shon was composed, Ethan was marauding down the right-hand side, particularly in the first half. Some of these have done themselves a good favour.”
Lingard, the eldest of the outfield players at 26 and captain for the night, fired United ahead and ended a goal drought dating back to January.
Tahith Chong should have made it 2-0 after the break, but astonishingly scooped over from six yards with an empty net in front of him. Seconds later United conceded their first goal of the group stage when Dmitriy Shomko’s deflected drive beat the reach of Lee Grant.
The six-time Kazakh champions delivered another blow shortly afterwards when Antonio Rukavina’s cross went in off the body of Bernard.
United responded positively with Eric producing two fantastic saves to deny Angel Gomes and Mason Greenwood, but they failed to prevent the Kazakh champions from recording their first group win of the season.
The Premier League side host Dutch club AZ Alkmaar in their final match on 12 December.