The Argentine star has been consistently outstanding off the bench, and calls for him to start have grown louder.
Alejandro Garnacho made a brief appearance on Saturday. An 18-minute cameo that encapsulated everything Manchester United fans adore about the Argentine.
With his team trailing 1-0, Christian Eriksen took just three minutes to kᎥll a Bruno Fernandes diagonal and push Kyle Walker into the penalty area – a sign of things to come. It only took 120 seconds for the teenager to get away from City’s right-back once more, forcing Manuel Akanji to come in on the cover.
Alejandro Garnacho is pushing for more regular starts after another brilliant performance off the bench.
On 79 minutes, Fernandes equalized for United, and when the Portuguese midfielder sent Garnacho racing again, the 70,000-plus fans inside Old Trafford erupted in delight. Cross number one was blocked by Akanji, but Nathan Ake couldn’t get close on the second attempt, with Marcus Rashford benefiting from a directness that has only fueled calls for the youngster to be given more playing time.
Garnacho, who is 18 years and 197 days old, became the youngest Premier League player to assist in a Manchester derby with that cross, with goalscorer Rashford describing his teenage teammate as ‘young and hungry, full of talent and ready to make a difference.’
The United fanbase has grown accustomed to this dynamic: young talent bursts onto the scene, excitement soars, and with it comes expectation, responsibility, and pressure. Adnan Januazaj’s brace against Sunderland, Federico Macheda’s infamous turn and finish against Aston Villa, and Marcus Rashford’s two goals against FC Midtjylland are just a few examples.
All too often, after managers thrᴜst such talents into the spotlight at Old Trafford, the freedom with which they made their debut is weighed down by expectation. However, with senior players stepping up and momentum building, Erik Ten Hag has been allowed to carefully manage Garnacho’s playing time, mirroring Pep Guardiola’s tactic when bringing Phil Foden through at Manchester City.
When Foden made his debut for City in 2017, there was palpable excitement at the Etihad, much like there is now at Old Trafford. With only 12 Premier League starts until the start of the 2020/2021 season, excitement quickly turned to frustration, and there were widespread calls for a loan. Guardiola relented, allowing the then-teenager to perfect his exacting style, train with the best in the world, and enjoy the freedom of not being under pressure.
Ten Hag worked for Guardiola at Bayern Munich for two years, and the Dutchman is using a similar method of careful management with his own star. Garnacho made his first-team debut under Ralf Rangnick last April, but despite consistently making an impact off the bench, he has only made two top-flight starts this season.
The Red Devils’ manager appears to have made a deliberate decision to lower expectations. Coming on with 20 minutes left brings back the excitement of Saturday, allowing a young and expressive winger like Garnacho to have such an impact on games.
Ten Hag, like his City counterpart, has excellent management of the Madrid-born star that extends beyond the pitch and into the press room. When praising young egos, words must be chosen carefully, and the United boss has always followed his positive words with constructive points on attitude and mentɑlity.
Garnacho came off the bench in November’s 4-2 cup win over Aston Villa, his two assists turning the scoreboard around just days after scoring his first senior goal against Real Sociedad.
In November, Alejandro Garnacho impressed as a substitute against Aston Villa.
“It was good that he came on and showed that performance and had that impact in the game,” Ten Hag said of the teenager.
“There are some things he needs to work on, such as when we go long to go for the second balls. He still has a lot to learn, but we are clearly pleased with his progress and his ability to contribute to the team.
“It is dependent on his approach and attitude. Yes, it is possible if he continues to work (for him to play more). Every day, he strives to improve. In his daily life, he must make the right choices. He possesses the ability.”
Subtle hints will be heard loud and clear in the ears of a teenager eager to impress. Ten Hag is telling Garnacho that being good is no longer enough, not under his leadership. Following Saturday’s victory, there was talk of a mentɑl shift, which extends not only to fᎥghtᎥng back from losing positions on match days, but also to the work and attitude at Carrington in every session.
United supporters who want to see Garnacho start on a regular basis may have to wait, not least because those ahead of him are in their own purple patches. Ten Hag’s more cautious approach, on the other hand, is working, and long may it continue.