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Are they ready? Why Astana could rattle Man Utd kids

COMMENT: United at home to the Kazakhs? Is this the game the manager really wants to roll out his kids? It ain't exactly MK Dons in the League Cup - and we all know how that ended...

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer isn't Louis van Gaal. And no matter how Manchester United end tonight against Astana, the manager won't turn on his young players as Van Gaal did after that infamous night five years ago.

The then United manager took the 4-0 reverse personally. Ending the Old Trafford careers of just about every player involved on the night - both young and old. Of the 18 whom travelled to mk:stadium, only three were still with the club two years later. And today only two - David de Gea and Andreas Pereira - now remain.

As mentioned, Solskjaer isn't Van Gaal. And tonight won't be make or break for those youngsters he chooses to "throw in" - as he stated in yesterday's presser. But there is a lot of expectation buzzing around this Europa League tie - not the least due to the lack of coverage of United's opponents.

Brimming with internationals. Drilled with that ruthless East European approach to the game. Astana will be no pushovers. Indeed, far from it, this group of players will truly test Ole's kids. This won't be a midweek Cup tie at a lower division ground. By the end of the night, we'll know a lot more about whether United's youngsters are the real thing.

Solskjaer has already confirmed Mason Greenwood will start. But this will be no 'soft launch' for the 18 year-old striker. If he does manage to make an impact tonight, it will be well worth noting. Over the years, across Germany and Spain, better and more experienced strikers have failed to get any change out of Antonio Rukavina. And alongside the Serb will be Montenegro's Zarko Tomasevic. This won't just be a test of ability for Greenwood, but also his readiness - even eagerness - for this level.

And we say eagerness, as Solskjaer hinted yesterday at some doubt regarding Greenwood's willingness to embrace his sudden elevation over these past six months. Discussing the improvement he's seen from the young striker, Solskjaer did suggest the required desire needed at the first team level was not always there. Though, as the manager said, it's something understandable given his rise from the U18s to the first team - and the responsibility that goes with that.

"The kid who just wanted to play with his mates in the U18s and now he's knocking on the door wanting to play more," revealed Solskjaer. "His appetite for football is growing I don't want to put too much pressure apart from go out there and enjoy yourself and work hard."

So the appetite, the hunger, to be involved and embrace the demands is growing. And tonight all of that will be put to the test by Rukavina and Tomasevic, who will be as physical - and cynical - as they can against the youngster.

At the other end of the pitch, it'll be a different test - though with similar expectations.

Tonight could be a watershed for Axel Tuanzebe. A player those at Carrington have earmarked for the first team since he was 16 years of age. Indeed, three years ago, in his first preseason as United manager, Jose Mourinho declared a then 18 year-old Tuanzebe a sure thing - after just a handful of minutes at Wigan Athletic.

"You can play 90 minutes or 1 minute. Sometimes 1 minute is enough," declared Mourinho. "With Axel, ten minutes is enough! The potential is there, you see it immediately.

"You know him better than me because you know him for a few years but if anyone sees him for the first time, ten minutes is enough to see the potential."

Now, after a season-and-a-half away with Aston Villa, where that "potential" was confirmed, Tuanzebe will be another to get his start tonight. At almost 22 and with 18 months of Championship football under his belt, the expectations are justified. If he is to make it as a United player, his manager is right to expect a strong showing tonight.

But it won't be easy. Not against the Kazakh champions. Yes some, like Rukavina, are now in the twilight of their careers. But there's others, like the tricky Romania international Dorin Rotariu, who will aim to use tonight as a shop window for a big move West. Ambition. Motivation. Even dollar signs. There's a lot simmering below the surface for this game.

For kids like Greenwood. For the forgotten like Fred. Astana will be a real test for United. They can't saunter through this one - otherwise it will be like 2014 all over again.


Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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