Should Solskjaer give Garner a proper chance?
Image: Ian Mcallister
On Sunday, Manchester United meet runaway leaders and seemingly invincible rivals Liverpool. With the pressure only rising, the calls for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's head only grow louder. United's season is a mixed bag of results. On the one hand, they've torn apart more than one top-six rival. The Red Devils are the lone side to take points from Liverpool this season, albeit on a controversial goal. On the other hand, they languish in defeat when facing much weaker opponents.
It doesn't take a pundit's eye to see United's pace upfront makes them a dangerous counterattacking team. When tasked with breaking down a low block, however, they look lost and their tendency to ponder over the ball makes them ironically vulnerable to counters themselves. In part, that's due to the serious lack of quality in the middle of the park, even more so when Scott Mctominay isn't playing.
The 23-year-old provides much-needed mettle in United's floundering midfield. McSauce's robust nature makes for constant darting around the pitch, breaking up plays and making vital interceptions in key areas. So when the Scottish international picked up a knee injury in United's 4-1 win against Newcastle on Boxing Day, fans knew there was a void to fill.
Nemanja Matic stepped up. Although the Serb's legs have long since gone, his experience and composure helped United secure two wins from three since his return to the starting XI. While he represents a short term reprieve, Matic is by no means the long term option. Prior to McTominay's injury, the 31-year-old openly stated his desire to leave the club in search of more playing time. Supporters anticipate the club replacing him in this window or the summer.
Judging by Solskjaer's determination to build the club's foundation with youth, the Norwegian may not need to shop for an alternative. Eighteen-year-old James Garner flits between the U23s and the first-team, with many already calling for the teenager to get a decent runout. In seven Premier League 2 matches, the youngster with the Hollywood name scored six goals. While the manager calls on forward Mason Greenwood regularly and shows trust in left-back Brandon Williams, he does not support his local midfielder in the same fashion. Garner's been limited to a single Premier League substitution and four Europa League outings.
Is this sparing treatment counterproductive or just what the teenager needs? There's no doubt Ole wants to keep the young Englishman in and around the first-team. Critics may believe a loan is the better option if he isn't going to play but previous instances have proven otherwise.
Andreas Pereira accepted a loan to Granada during the 2016/17 season, hoping to prove himself to Jose Mourinho. Despite his attacking skillset, El Grana deployed him mostly as a defensive midfielder, stunting his development as a creative force. This is the risk taken with young players when leaving their future in a stranger's hands.
At the moment, there is no place better for Garner to develop than Old Trafford. McTominay remains first-choice but Garner should be given more time in his absence to ready him for the future. Wearing a United shirt means taking on certain expectations from all comers, including fans, teammates and the media. Solskjaer may be protecting Garner early in his career but you can only develop the character and discipline to handle the responsibility through experience.