Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has confirmed Manchester United will hand at least four first-team debuts out against Astana in the Europa League on Thursday – and hailed one patient star for his “world class attitude”.
United have made the near 4,000-mile trip to face the minnows in Kazakhstan in a match branded the biggest in Astana’s history and with the club receiving as many as 300,000 ticket applications for the clash.
And with Solskjaer leaving many senior stars behind ahead of a hectic fixture list, Solskjaer is expecting a tough test for what will likely be a largely unproven United side.
“I think it’s going to be tight,” Solskjaer told a press conference to preview the game. “Hopefully my youngsters can score goals and we can keep it tight at the back because so far we have had a great record defensively.”
Asked who could be making their debuts, Solskjaer commented: “It’s Lee [Grant], you’ll see [Ethan] Laird (18), [Di’Shon] Bernard (19) and [Dylan] Levitt (19) from the start so you’ll definitely get a few.
“It’s common sense [to give them a game]. “We have done great to qualify after four games gives us an opp to give game time to experienced lads who need it. Axel [Tuanzebe], Luke [Shaw], Jesse [Lingard] not too many games. But it’s a great chance to give Lee [Grant] his first start for the club.
“Hard to give young kids games against men we have the EFL trophy and for me this is a great chance to see them altogether,” he added.
One youngster who is also in the squad is Max Taylor, who has battled back from testicular cancer to take his place in the squad.
Speaking about the 19-year-old’s journey and bravery, Solskjaer said: “It’s fantastic story, to see him coming back. I met Max very early after I got the job to have seen his journey and the way he has conducted himself.
“He’s been through something that nobody should have to go through. An inspiration for all the players there’s no fear in him. When you’re on the football pitch you should enjoy yourself and hopefully we can see him progress in his career. Chance for us to give him some extra motivation as well.”
The match will also see Grant – at the ripe old age of 36 – make his debut for the club, having joined the club from Stoke for £1.5m in summer 2018.
And Solskjaer had warm words for the experienced former Stoke and Derby stopper, commenting: “For a manager like me to have Lee to call upon it’s fantastic he has a world class attitude. He’s probably the fittest of the keepers he always does extra.
“He’s a 36-year-old going on 26. I’ve got the perfect goalkeeping department.”