This article is part of Football FanCast’s Opinion series, which provides analysis, insight and opinion on any issue within the beautiful game, from Paul Pogba’s haircuts to League Two relegation battles…
When Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took over the reins from Jose Mourinho last December, there appeared to be a sense the club had made plans to head in a new direction.
The likes of Mason Greenwood and Tahith Chong were involved on that incredible night in Paris, whilst James Garner and Angel Gomes also made their appearances in the second-half of the previous campaign. A new emphasis on youth, and a commitment to weeding out players who were on big wages like Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez.
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But after a summer transfer window in which the Red Devils made just three signings, and a less than auspicious start to the new season, speculation over Solskjaer’s long-term future at the club has grown exponentially. Do United need to make a big splash in the transfer market, and go for ready-made talent? Reports in recent weeks have even suggested the Manchester side are keen on bringing in a 33-year-old Mario Mandzukic in January.
On Wednesday night, when they travel to Stamford Bridge to take on Chelsea in the last 16 of the Carabao Cup, they will be facing a side who have shown the Premier League just how to get things done with a home-grown approach.
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Frank Lampard effectively had his hands tied behind his back in the summer with the club’s transfer ban, but that has undoubtedly been a blessing in disguise. Academy graduates like Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount, Fikayo Tomori, Reece James and Callum Hudson-Odoi, amongst others, have had a major chance to shine.
The Blues find themselves in the top four of the Premier League, at the summit of their Champions League group, and all the while playing an attacking brand of football – they are currently the joint-third highest scorers in the top-flight with 23 goals. In contrast, United have scored just thirteen times in their opening ten league games.
So when the two sides face off in mid-week, and for Solskjaer in particular, the big end game may not be about sealing a place in the last eight of the competition. Rather, a victory would give his own youth revolution the vindication they desperately need. Beating their rivals in their own backyard, and under-lining that they too are making serious progress with their focus on the academy.
It may just be the Carabao Cup on paper, but Wednesday’s clash holds a lot more meaning for Solskjaer.