A lovely sunny day in Manchester, a spectacle that occurs once every four years, played host to the final league game of the 2016/17 season as a youthful looking United beat a flip-flop wearing Crystal Palace side 2-0 thanks to goals from debutant Man of the Match Josh Harrop and Paul Pogba.
Leading up the game, sat outside a coffee shop on Chester Road, I was excited and proud at the fact 12 academy players were in the match day squad. In a game such as this, with not much, if anything to play for, I am always more confident in youth to get the job done. Experienced players are more focused on the beach holiday they have planned a week later than playing hard. Or they are conscious of the cup final on Wednesday and will do anything not to get injured. With the Europa League final against Ajax on the horizon, combined with the knowledge that 6th was the only place we could have finished, Sunday was the perfect game to give exposure to new blood from the academy. Jose Mourinho did just that as he started seven graduates from the United academy. Some were familiar faces such as Axel Tuanzebe who had started the game against Arsenal due to United’s crippling injury list and of course first team regular, Lingard. Mourinho handed full premier league debuts to five players in total. One of which, made a name for himself.
A local lad from Stockport, Josh Harrop started on the left wing. Traditionally a striker, he was tested in a slightly new role (as if making your Premier League bow in front of Old Trafford wasn’t hard enough). He played direct, ran at defenders, brilliant close control and played with a work ethic Herrera would have been proud of. He capped off a fine performance with a well-taken goal to put the Reds ahead after 15 minutes. Proclaimed by many to be a wonderkid, Angel Gomes was brought on for Rooney to play the last couple of minutes – he was greeted with optimistic applause. I couldn’t help myself but feel this substitution would be significant. Messi subbed on for Deco, Ronaldo on for Butt, perhaps Gomes on for the great Manchester United legend Wayne Rooney will go down in history also. Perhaps I just believe in fairy tales and he will pick up a series of ankle injuries and end up moving to Port Vale for an undisclosed fee.
United played well and controlled the game. The young players were key in the Reds dominance. Demetri Mitchell was composed at left back, Scott McTominay stood out for his physicality and technique on the ball and Harrop, of course, was the star of the show. Crystal Palace, on the other hand, looked disinterested and more bothered about getting their flip flops on by the pool. I felt a bit sorry for their fans as the players just didn’t bother even giving it a good go. I can’t remember Benteke doing anything at all or any sort of real chance.
A fine way to finish off a season that is yet to be determined a success or failure. That tag will be confirmed after Wednesday’s cup final. Unfortunately for you three or so readers, this will be my last ‘From the Stands’ piece. Hopefully, next season’s articles will feature Champions League football.