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Ben Thornley: Man Utd and Van de Beek; More from Ighalo; Mengi a bright star

It's unprecedented for any sportsman, especially in football, to be given so much time away from playing matches.

From Manchester United's perspective, having been part of the MUTV group chat every day, we've spoken to various different people from inside the club, including Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and I know that the players have been following strict programmes. First training by themselves and then gradually being integrated back to contact training.

What will happen is that the clubs with larger squads will benefit greatly from the five subs rule, it will give them a massive advantage. I liken it to coming back straight away and playing with a December fixture list. That usually means you have four months prior to that playing football, so I'm sure it is going to be very testing, with some injuries. But those big squads will come into play.

The players will feel fresh and they will be buzzing to get back onto the field. But it's going to be eerie. I was there in Austria when United beat LASK 5-0 just before games were shutdown, commentating with Stewart Gardiner, so we've at least had a taste of what it is like to be present and broadcasting in a stadium with no fans.

And yes, it is weird. Especially for the players, because as you know, the noise generated by the fans travels through to the players, they feed off the energy of the supporters. Ironically United's first game back is against Spurs in their new stadium which holds over 60,000. It's a huge, vast stadium, fantastically well built and we're going to be able to pretty much here everything that Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer are saying from wherever our positions will be.

It will be fascinating because it's not something that either myself or the players are used to in an environment where winning the game is the upmost. Of course they would've played in practice matches and behind closed doors friendlies where the result isn't important, but it's very, very different when you're playing towards something and how you've got to be motivated to go out there and do your best. It is hard for the broadcasters so I can only imagine how tough it will be for the players.

Fortunately for United, they were absolutely superb in those conditions in Austria. Obviously they're playing stronger opposition from here on, but if they can tune themselves in like they did that night, then they will have distinct advantage over other clubs because they mastered it brilliantly.



SUMMER SIGNINGS?

There continues to be name after name linked with United. One of which is Jack Grealish.

The only thing that worries me about Grealish is his off-field antics. There's been a couple of incidents, and one during this lockdown period that we've had recently. And I'm not so sure Manchester United would want to be associating with somebody who could bring the club into disrepute with his off-the-field activity.

On the field there is no question. He has starred for Aston Villa and he can still be a big cog in their wheel to stop them from being relegated. And somebody who probably thrive in a bigger environment and play with better players.

Somebody who I think has been forgotten about in this question is James Maddison. I've really admired his talent from the very first time I saw him, which was about three years ago now. I think he is a super player. In Jose Mourinho's last season in charge, Leicester came to Old Trafford, and even though United won the game, it was the first game of the season, James Maddison was head and shoulders the best player on the park.

But since that time, the club have signed Bruno Fernandes, so I question whether they need to sign another player of that same ilk for the midfield. I feel as though we're quite blessed with both our midfield and forward line. We've shored up the defence with Maguire and Wan-Bissaka, plus Brandon Williams has come in and done brilliantly. Luke Shaw has been reinvented as a centre-back and been one of United's best players when they play in a back three.

But if you asked me to choose one midfielder for United to go for I'd have to say Donny van de Beek. A really talented midfielder, he's got a box-to-box engine and an eye for goal. Then of course there is all the talk about Jadon Sancho. His record at Dortmund is exceptional and he would undoubtedly improve Manchester United. But with the coronavirus impacting United's revenue, it remains to be seen whether they can afford to pay an exorbitant fee to get Sancho, or anybody for that matter.



IGHALO ONLY GOING TO IMPROVE

I don't want to buy too much into the fact that Odion Ighalo was a boyhood United supporter. I think in the early stages that was something that everybody in the press picked up.

What impressed me massively about him was how he adjusted to the environment at the club. United are a huge club and the expectations are enormous, as everybody knows. But he came in off the back of hardly having trained or played, and yet, gave United another dimension that they needed.

His hold up play is something that Solskjaer didn't have at that time, somebody who could be a focal point plus he has also scored goals. I think that Ole Gunnar has been extremely shrewd in first bringing in Odion Ighalo and then pushing to keep him until January.

And the point I've been making during this break is that Ighalo had an impact when he was nowhere near fully fit, but now he has had nearly three months doing his program and working with the lads, effectively going through a preseason with them. So I think we will see an Odion Ighalo that will have even more of an impact once games start again.



NO SURPRISE WITH TEDEN MENGI

For those who don't know Teden Mengi, they should be excited.

I've watched Teden many times for the youth teams, and what I can say is that he is a very, very calm, solid and quick defender.

He very quickly made the jump from playing youth team football to the U23s this season and only stepped back down to captain the youth team where we had made it through the semi finals and played Chelsea, which is the first time these lads have got that far in a good number of years and he was definitely one of the stalwarts of that side.

He has now experienced playing against older and better players in the U23s and he always came to the fore when I watched the youth team. He reads the game brilliantly and will only get better from playing in the U23s.

It is no surprise to me that he is being considered to step up into the first-team fold along with the likes of Greenwood, Williams, Laird, Levitt and Garner. The future is extremely bright at United, and Teden Mengi is certainly one of the brightest of those young players.

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Ben Thornley
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Ben Thornley

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