Five Man Utd youngsters hoping to stake a first-team claim in pre-season

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After a disappointing end to 2020-21, Manchester United will step up their preparations for the new season with a series of friendlies. 

While the likes of Alex Telles, Juan Mata and Donny van de Beek need some minutes under their belt, pre-season is also a great time for the academy graduates.

We’ve taken a look at five young players who will be hoping to stake a first-team claim during pre-season.

James Garner

Having impressed on loan at Nottingham Forest during the second half of 2020-21, Garner is tipped for a bright future at Old Trafford.

United have struggled to replace Michael Carrick in recent years, but the 20-year-old has regularly been compared to the legendary midfielder.

After reportedly refusing to pay West Ham’s asking price for Declan Rice, United could save millions by giving Garner a chance to make the defensive midfield position his own.

“For James, this is it,” Bryan Robson told United’s official website. “He has had his education now and is at that age where he can really prove himself this season, whether he’s going to be at Manchester United or go out on loan again.

“He’s a very intelligent footballer and works very hard at his game. Now it is up to James to step up and prove to Ole he is worthy of a place in the squad.”

READ: ‘Different class’ – What people are saying about James Garner’s fine form

Anthony Elanga

With Marcus Rashford facing a lengthy spell on the sidelines, Elanga now has an opportunity to establish himself as a regular in Solskjaer’s squad.

He ended 2020-21 with a flourish, scoring for United on the last day of the season against Wolves before netting two goals in two games for Sweden Under-21s.

The winger is renowned for his blistering pace and has also been working on his conditioning in the gym, as he looks to adapt to first-team football.

“You look at the likes of Mason [Greenwood] and Rashy [Rashford], there is a pathway there,” Elanga told the PA news agency back in November 2020.

“It just shows you that if you’re willing to put the work into it and continue to work hard day in, day out in training there’s a pathway for you there.

“Obviously we’ve got a manager in Ole trusting the youngsters, so there’s a pathway there and I’ve just got to keep working hard.”

Shola Shoretire

Despite only being 17 years old, Shoretire played almost entirely with the Under-23s in 2020-21 and even made three first-team appearances for United.

He was named United’s Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year for his displays last season, following in the footsteps of Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford.

The forward has taken everything in his stride so far and will be looking to prove that he’s ready for more first-team opportunities in 2021-22.

“He’s a young kid we believe in, great attitude,” Solskjaer said in February 2021. “You can see the shape of him. Physically, he’ll be an athlete, technically very, very good, makes good decisions, we’re going to gradually feed him into this team.

“And he’s grounded, got his feet firmly on the ground, works hard in training, a very likeable boy we can see loads of in the future.”

Joe Hugill

Another highly-rated 17-year-old, Hugill joined United from Sunderland in the summer of 2020 and was quickly fast-tracked to their Under-23s.

The striker scored 10 goals in 11 Premier League 2 starts in 2020-21 and caught Solskjaer’s attention after his four-goal haul against Liverpool’s Under-23s.

“If we go from that game, I’d pick Joe Hugill,” Solskjaer said in February 2021. “Four goals by Hugill, he’s a top striker as well, we’re looking forward to seeing his development.”

He will be able to learn from Edinson Cavani during pre-season and 2021-22 could be a breakthrough year for the teenager.

READ: PL defenders beware: Man Utd can’t hold Joe Hugill back for much longer

Hannibal Mejbri

Regarded as one of the best prospects at United, Mejbri won the prestigious Denzil Haroun Reserve Player of the Year award in 2020-21.

He made his senior debut in the win over Wolves and then received his first call-up to the Tunisia national side, appearing in three friendlies against the Democratic Republic of Congo, Algeria and Mali.

With Donny van de Beek and Jesse Lingard facing uncertain futures at Old Trafford, the 18-year-old midfielder could become the back-up to Bruno Fernandes if he impresses during pre-season.

“I feel in a bit better shape, strength-wise,” Mejbri told United’s official website in June 2021. “And I feel I can withstand the knocks and tough challenges a bit more easily. It’s going well.

“We work hard on muscle-building stuff in the gym. I discuss it a lot with the coach and he told me I was a bit on the frail side when I arrived but I’m fine now. I’ve bulked out a bit but I still need to keep working on it.”

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