Pitchside

Is Adnan Januzaj the true heir to United’s iconic no.7 shirt?

Pitchside

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Ahead of Manchester United's Champions League tie with Bayern Munich, Squawka take a closer look at a young man who could leave his imprint on the club's history...

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Manchester United have had a curious feel about them this season.

Their identity - so assured over the past two decades - is slipping, and nobody, especially the fans, knows where to place the team.

Gone is Sir Alex Ferguson; gone, almost certainly, are any chances of a trophy this season; gone is the impregnability of Old Trafford, with six home defeats in the Premier League. The club is going through an identity crisis under new boss David Moyes, represented by the lack of a true heir to the No.7 shirt.

The truth is that this particular squad number has always been much more than just a number for United fans - the shirt worn by George Best, Bryan Robson, Eric Cantona, David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo has always been handed to the brightest and the bravest. That nobody currently wears the number for United speaks volumes.

The holder of the shirt is expected to lead from the front in United's tradition of fearless attacking, and it was a responsibility that eventually forced its most recent wearer - Antonio Valencia - to revert back to his old No.25.

Sir Alex said of Valencia's decision last September: "Changing the number of his jersey again - it's amazing how it can affect a player like that."

While Valencia may have been psychologically burdened by the history of the shirt, many United fans are beginning to agree that, for all the talk of a huge summer spending spree to put the club back in contention for silverware, the rightful heir to the No.7 shirt is already sitting in United's squad - Adnan Januzaj.

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The 19-year-old attacker was only called into United's first-team training sessions as an extra body when injuries struck one day but from then on, his talent was clear. While United have struggled with form and injuries this term, one positive note for Moyes and fans is that the starlet has cemented himself as part of the team's plans for the foreseeable future with a new long-term deal.

Injuries have meant Robin van Persie, Ashley Young and potentially Wayne Rooney are all out of Wednesday's crunch Champions League quarter-final clash at Bayern Munich and, with the in-form Juan Mata cup-tied, Moyes should turn to Januzaj to provide the spark to beat the Bundesliga champions in the second leg.

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The Belgian-born forward has made 22 league appearances for United in his debut season, of which 13 have been starts. Januzaj has made 11 appearances from the bench by way of acclimatising the youngster to the demands of playing for the club, with Moyes and coach Phil Neville both having emphasised the need to avoid burn-out for the player.

Januzaj has scored four goals from 27 shots, and while his shooting accuracy isn't particularly impressive at 41 percent, the winger's recent movement and finish away at Newcastle, alongside his crucial double against Sunderland earlier in the season, proved that he has the temperament to bury chances away from Old Trafford.

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The 19-year-old has created 24 chances for team-mates, with three assists to his name this season, while a reputable 81% passing accuracy shows how he has slotted into United's forward line without a noticeable dip in the consistency of the build-up play, having earned a Squawka Performance Score of 212 for the season.

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Although Pep Guardiola's side will be without the sturdy Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez on Wednesday due to suspensions, they have a squad full of stars to manage the set-back - though Moyes will surely be tempted to unleash Januzaj on a new-look Bayern defence, particularly given he has dribbled past his man on 40 occasions of 80 attempts in the league.

With 54 fouls suffered and just 24 committed, there is a good chance the tricky forward will be able to get in behind the Bayern back line, or else win set-pieces around the box for team-mates to fire at Manuel Neuer.

Januzaj finished the game at St James' Park with a Squawka Performance Score of 43, in no small part due his goal, passing accuracy of 86%, and winning four free kicks. He linked well with Mata, Javier Hernandez and Shinji Kagawa, and with the Japan international also hoping for a start given United's injury problems, the two could form a lethal playmaking combination in the final third - exactly the area where Schweinsteiger and Martinez would have been expected to dominate.

Januzaj has only made one European appearance this season, having played the whole game at home to Shakhtar during the group stages when United were already through to the knockout rounds, and while most United fans usually question Januzaj's absence on every team sheet he is left out of, the Champions League is one area that Moyes has excelled for United.

However, on many of those occasions, the manager had more options to choose from. United's forward line will be shorn of Van Persie, Mata, Young, and most likely Rooney - and while Moyes needs experienced performers at the Allianz Arena, more than that, he needs an edge.

Januzaj offers that edge. He is by no means the finished article despite his undoubted potential, but Moyes may not be able to hold off putting the 19-year-old in for the biggest test of his Old Trafford career.

If United are to do the improbable and knock out Bayern on Wednesday evening, then Moyes must pick his No.7-in-waiting.

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