Manchester United youngsters set for Europa League showing in Kazakhstan
A look at the new, recognisable and veteran faces that form Manchester United's squad for Thursday's Europa League tie at Astana
By James Cooper, Sky Sports News
Last Updated: 28/11/19 3:40pm
Meet the Manchester United youngsters who are set to be given the opportunity to shine in Thursday's Europa League game in Kazakhstan.
With qualification for the knockout stages already assured, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer decided to spare the majority of his first-team squad the six-hour-plus flight to eastern Europe to take on Astana.
Only four senior players - Lee Grant, Axel Tuanzebe, Luke Shaw and Jesse Lingard - have made the trip to Kazakhstan, where temperatures are forecast to be lower than -10 degrees Celsius as the match is played under a closed roof at the Astana Arena.
Head of first-team development Nicky Butt has made the trip to help the youngsters acclimatise, while first-team coaches Michael Carrick and Kieran McKenna are staying in Manchester to work with those who have stayed behind.
The travelling United party features 14 players who are not even 20 years old yet - but Solskjaer insists it is common sense to select such a youthful squad.
"If our young players are going to learn to play in these European games, I think this is a great start for them," Solskjaer said. "We've got the EFL Trophy but this this is a great chance for me to see them all together.
"It's the right challenge for these boys now and it's going to be a good game of football. It's hard with the young kids to give them enough games against men, professional games."
But who should you be keeping an eye out for? Here, we take a closer look at 10 individuals whose names might even surprise Manchester United fans...
The youngsters set to start
You’ll see Laird, Bernard and Levitt from the start, so you’ll definitely get a few [debuts].
Man Utd manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
An 18-year-old defender who has played across the entire back-line for club and country and was earmarked by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer recently as "one to watch". Most at home at full-back, Laird has played for England's U17 and U18 sides and scored Manchester United's first-ever goal in the EFL Trophy earlier this season.
He was born in Basingstoke but first joined United as a nine-year-old and was included in the first-team squad for the recent Europa League trip to Partizan Belgrade.
The central midfielder has already found his way into three of Ryan Giggs' full Wales squads after being selected for his country's end-of-season training camp in Portugal.
Levitt recently celebrated his 19th birthday having been at Manchester United since the age of eight. Already a Victory Shield winner with Wales, Levitt has been a standout performer for United's U23s this season.
The 19-year-old has made steady progress up the Manchester United ladder since joining the club from Chelsea in July 2017. A powerful centre-back, he has been present for the U21 side in the two games in the EFL Trophy that they have kept clean sheets in.
Debuts from the bench?
A 19-year-old centre-back who was diagnosed with cancer last September and underwent immediate treatment including chemotherapy at the Christie Hospital in Manchester, which has been successful.
Taylor, who signed his first professional contract last year, returned to training two months ago. Born 10 days into the new millennium, the defender joined Manchester United in 2014.
"It's a fantastic story, to see him coming back," Solskjaer said. "I met Max very early after I got the job and to have seen his journey back to full fitness and the way he's conducted himself [has been amazing].
"It's something he'll always have with him, he's been through something no one should have to go through, but he's come through the other end, he's an inspiration to others.
"There's no fear on the pitch, he's had fear in his life, when you're on the football pitch you should have no fear and it's a chance to give him extra motivation as well."
A 19-year-old goalkeeper from the Czech Republic, who stands 6ft 1in tall and has played in all of Manchester United's U21 appearances in the Football League Trophy, keeping two clean sheets in the three games.
United signed Kovar from FC Slovacko in January 2018, the same window that saw Alexis Sanchez come to Old Trafford. Wearing the No 51 shirt, Kovac signed a new deal last month and has already been included in the Europa League squad by Solskjaer.
The youngest member of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's travelling party at just 17, Mengi is a centre-back who was born in Nigeria but raised in Manchester.
He has been a captain in several of the club's youth teams and after making his debut for the U23s earlier this season, also signed his first professional contract. Additionally, Mengi has already represented England's U17 team.
A 19-year-old Mancunian who, while being a striker, can play out wide as well as down the middle. Mellor signed his first professional contract in June last year, while this season has scored three goals and provided four assists in the U23s' seven league games so far.
An 18-year-old central midfielder from Belfast in Northern Ireland who was signed in 2017 after impressing in a trial while playing for Linfield. Galbraith won his first senior Northern Ireland cap in September in a friendly win over Luxembourg and is one of the class acts of Neil Wood's United U23 side.
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Manchester United beat Barcelona to the midfielder's signature in the autumn of 2017 after Puigmal had impressed playing for Espanyol against them. Now 18 years old and comfortable with both feet, he has been played at right-back to aid his development and has also featured for Spain's international youth teams.
The 18-year-old pacy winger from Belgium was previously with Anderlecht and Charlton Athletic and is happy with either foot. Ramazani signed for United at the end of the 2017/18 season and has blossomed in the current campaign hitting nine goals in 12 appearances for the U21s and U23s.
Familiar fresh faces
The 19-year-old midfielder, who was once the youngest recipient of the Jimmy Murphy Youth Team Player of the Year Award, has been in and around the first-team squad for the past couple of seasons and is currently the focus of contract discussions as he is in the final year of his deal and can talk to other teams from January.
Gomes can play across the midfield but has figured most prominently in a central role in the two Europa League starts and five substitute appearances he has made this season. Born in London, he joined Manchester United at the age of six and was the first player to be born in this Millennium to play in the Premier League.
The Dutchman is the same age as his team-mate Gomes and his contract status is identical after he was brought into the first-team structure for Jose Mourinho's final pre-season tour of the US in the summer of 2018.
Signed in July 2016 from Feyenoord, Chong won the Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year Award two years later. He has featured on both flanks in two starts and six appearances from the bench for the first team.
An 18-year-old midfielder from Birkenhead who made his full Manchester United debut in the club's last Europa League trip to Partizan Belgrade. Garner joined the club's U8 team and started out as a defender but moved into central midfield and scored his first goal in the first team against Perth Glory on last summer's pre-season tour.
Garner has also come off the bench three times and captained the England U17 side that got to the semi-finals of the European Championships in 2018. Highly thought of at Old Trafford, Garner signed a new contract in March that takes him through to 2022 with the option of an extra year.
The 18-year-old striker has been thrust into the limelight at Old Trafford this season following the departures of Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez. Greenwood has found himself as back-up to Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial and has already seen plenty of game time this season, making five starts and 13 substitute appearances.
Another Mancunian and happy on either foot, he made his senior debut in the famous Champions League win over Paris Saint-Germain and has scored four goals so far for the first team, notching his first in the Premier League at Sheffield United on Sunday. Greenwood is also Manchester United's youngest scorer in European competition following his goal in the game against Astana at Old Trafford which came 12 days before his 18th birthday.
Veteran set for full debut
The average age of United's predominantly youthful side is set to increase significantly with the inclusion of veteran goalkeeper Grant. Solskjaer confirmed the 36-year-old will make only his second appearance for the club since joining from Stoke in 2018, an selection the United boss is relishing.
"Lee as well the most professional athlete you can see," he said. "With Sergio [Romero] and David [de Gea] ahead of him he knows he has to challenge against them. To give him his first start is fantastic, I'm looking forward to it."