(Reuters) – Manchester United’s Europa League match at Astana is the ideal opportunity for the Premier League club to field youngsters in a top level game as they have already qualified for the knockout stages, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said on Wednesday.
With 10 points from four games, Group L leaders United are assured of a place in the last-32 and Solskjaer said it was “common sense” to rest most of their senior players while a number of youngsters expected to make their senior debut.
“We have done great to qualify after four games and it gives us an opportunity to give game time to experienced lads who need it,” Solskjaer told reporters ahead of Thursday’s encounter.
“Axel (Tuanzebe), Luke (Shaw), Jesse (Lingard)… have not played too many games. It’s a great chance to give (36-year-old goalkeeper) Lee Grant his first start for the club.
“It’s hard to give young kids games against men… This is a great chance to see them all together. You’ll see (Ethan) Laird, (Di’Shon) Bernard and (Dylan) Levitt from the start so you’ll definitely get a few (debuts).”
United narrowly beat Astana 1-0 in the reverse fixture at Old Trafford when Solskjaer fielded a second string side and the Norwegian said he expected a similar game at the Astana Arena.
“I think this is going to be an even, tight game,” he added. “We have some young players. If they’re going to learn to play these games I think it’s a great start for them.
“I’m not expecting them to dominate but we should compete and challenge. If we went with every first team player then maybe we have a better chance to win the game. But this is the right decision and it’s going to be a great game of football.”
United’s central defender Max Taylor is expected to play — 12 months after the 19-year-old had chemotherapy for testicular cancer — and Solskjaer said his comeback was a “fantastic story”.
“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, it’s something he’ll always have with him,” Solskjaer said.
“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.”
(Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Christian Radnedge)