Manchester United’s season got off to a challenging start, but a glimmer of hope has emerged in the form of Kobbie Mainoo.
Manchester United have been struggling in the 2023/24 season. This has been one of the worst starts to a new season by the Red Devils. While three back-to-back wins in the Premier League have restored some pride, there is a long way to go. But this past week might have brought a respite in the form of Kobbie Mainoo.
Meanwhile, their 3-3 draw against Galatasaray on Matchday 5 of the UEFA Champions League group stage has not helped their cause. Manchester United currently sit bottom of their group and will have to ensure they get all three points against German giants Bayern Munich on the final matchday to stand a chance of qualification to the knockout round.
A hat-trick of wins in the Premier League has seen them climb up to sixth on the points table with 24 points out of their 13 matches. But, things could once go downhill as a series of tough fixtures approach the Red Devils. Newcastle United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Bayern Munich are four of their next five opponents.
While Manchester United fans will hope for the best, their form in the ongoing season suggests the Red Devils might struggle to win games against quality opposition. But, amidst all that is going on, there is a glimmer of hope for United fans in Kobbie Mainoo, who had a sensational full debut in their Premier League fixture against Everton last weekend.
Kobbie Mainoo and his road to first team
Kobbie Mainoo joined Manchester United back when he was just nine years old. The England youth international has since come up the ranks at the club. He made it to their Under-18 team in the summer of 2021.
The teenager slowly started showcasing his class at the youth level, and his ability to control the tempo of the game and pick the right pass at the right moment stood out. And, he slowly made his way to the Under-21 team.
Last season, while he was a part of the Under-21 team, Erik ten Hag kept a close eye on him as he were well aware of the teenager’s talent. The Dutchman felt his ability to drop between the opposition attackers ask for the ball, and then turn and play it up the field was exactly what Manchester United were missing.
He was promoted to their first team at the start of the year and got some useful minutes in the first team towards the end of last season. The 18-year-old earned himself a spot in the Manchester United first-team squad for the pre-season tour. He had an impressive start and ten Hag was expected to award him with a decent role. But then he picked up a serious injury midway through pre-season.
Mainoo is now back-fit and he was handed his full debut against Everton in the Premier League. While he might not have scored a goal or created one, his performance is what stood out from that fixture apart from Alejandro Garnacho’s bicycle kick.
Kobbie Mainoo’s full debut vs Everton
Mainoo waited months for his full debut as he looked to recover from the ankle injury that he picked up before the start of the season. He returned towards the end of October and was a part back on the bench for the fixture against Manchester City.
While he was available for the fixture against City, Fulham and Luton Town, the 18-year-old waited a month before Erik ten Hag gave him his much-awaited full debut against Everton on November 26. Alejandro Garnacho’s bicycle kick at the very start of the match might have become the talk of the town. But Mainoo’s impressive debut was something that also caught the eyes of pundits, fans and former players.
Kobbie Mainoo 1st PL start yesterday… thoughts?
— Rio Ferdinand (@rioferdy5) November 27, 2023
Even before Garnacho found the back of the net, Mainoo had already done something that very few Manchester United midfielders have done this season. He dropped in between the Everton line and gave his centre-backs an easy passing option.
The teenage sensation received the ball with his face towards the Manchester United goal. On the majority of the occasions, United midfielders have then passed the ball back to the defender or the goalkeeper. But, Mainoo realised he had time on his hands. He turned and made a forward pass, which eventually played a part in the first goal.
While the 18-year-old did nothing out of the book, he just did simple things right which helped Manchester United keep control of things in the centre of the park. He often became a passing option for his defenders and the goalkeeper by dropping in between lines. At times, he passed it backward but whenever he had an opportunity, he looked to turn and pass it forward or dribble past and try to find a killer pass.
During the Everton game, Diogo Dalot was often found out of position as he looked to join the attack by making overlapping or inverted runs. And, this was when Mainoo was seen dropping in as a right-back and covering for the Portuguese defender.
These are basics of the game but the Manchester United midfielders have not been doing it of late. And, seeing an 18-year-old have the composure and the ability to pick the right option under pressure, United fans are hopeful that they might have a serious talent on their hands.
Kobbie Mainoo’s game by numbers vs. Everton:
100% tackles won
83% pass accuracy
34/41 passes completed
5 duels won
3 ball recoveries
2/3 dribbles completed
2 long balls completed
Brilliant, brilliant Premier League debut. 🤩 pic.twitter.com/9if6yFFfwr
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) November 26, 2023
Mainoo was subbed off after 71 minutes in what was an impressive full debut. He touched the ball 57 times, just nine fewer touches than skipper Bruno Fernandes who was on the pitch for the entire ninety minutes. He had 20 more touches of the ball than Scott McTominay, who started alongside him in a double pivot in the centre of the park.
The youngster’s passing numbers were nothing special but the fact that he did the simple things right and seemed confident in his abilities suggests that he could be Manchester United’s saviour.
Mainoo: Manchester United’s Saviour?
The teenager could end up being Manchester United’s saviour. Yes, there are numerous problems that exist in Erik ten Hag’s Manchester United, and Mainoo cannot be the solution for all of them. But, he can certainly help bolster their midfield.
The 18-year-old has shown signs that suggest he could soon become a regular in the Manchester United first team and in the long run, he could be the man that runs the show. With Casemiro struggling for form and in the twilight of his career, Mainoo could soon take charge in the centre of the park.
Casemiro had a wonderful first season with the Red Devils. But, he has not been able to live up to ten Hag’s expectations in the ongoing season. Age seems to be catching up to the former Real Madrid star, and Manchester United need someone who can cover for the Brazilian.
While the idea was that United would look to buy another world-class defensive midfielder, they might not need one after the kind of performance Mainoo gave in his full debut. He could soon take charge as their preferred choice.
Many anticipated a big-name signing to address the midfield concerns. But Kobbie Mainoo’s emergence suggests that Manchester United might already have the solution within their ranks. The young midfielder’s composed and intelligent display against Everton showcased qualities that have been lacking in United’s midfield this season.
Erik ten Hag, known for nurturing young talents, has a reputation for giving opportunities to players who prove their worth on the field. Mainoo’s ability to read the game, make effective passes under pressure, and cover defensively when needed brings a refreshing dynamic to United’s midfield.
With the likes of Scott McTominay, Sofyan Amrabat and Casemiro struggling to consistently control the midfield, Mainoo’s emergence could not have come at a better time for Manchester United. While it is premature to label him as the definitive solution, the signs are promising.
The potential transition from Casemiro to Mainoo in the heart of the midfield represents a changing of the guard. Casemiro’s contributions have been invaluable, but as age catches up with the Brazilian, Mainoo offers a youthful injection of energy and enthusiasm.
As Manchester United face a daunting run of fixtures against top-flight opponents, the spotlight will undoubtedly be on Mainoo. Can he maintain his impressive form against the likes of Newcastle United, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Bayern Munich? Only time will tell, but early indications suggest that Mainoo could be the catalyst for a resurgence in United’s fortunes.
Having said that, he cannot solve all of their problems on his own, and there is a lot that needs to be done in order to ensure the Red Devils could bounce back to their past glory days.