Man Utd impressed by mature James Maddison as Nemanja Matic talks up youth over experience

James Robson
Evening Standard

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer declared Jamie Vardy "his" kind of striker in the wake of Manchester United’s crucial win against Leicester. But if the Norwegian is to raid the King Power for a second successive summer, the focus of his attention is likely to be elsewhere.

James Maddison is on United’s watchlist and the playmaker did his burgeoning reputation no harm with another standout performance at Old Trafford but helping the visitors seize control of the game but ultimately fail to make their possession count.

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Whereas United’s much-changed midfield, in the absence of Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard, repeatedly squandered the ball to invite pressure, Maddison and Youri Tielemans’ ability to dictate the tempo was a reminder to Solskjaer of the issues that need to be addressed if he is to succeed in overseeing the club’s revival.

This was Leicester bossing proceedings. A more clinical opponent would have punished United’s lack of control - the impressive performances of Harry Maguire, Victor Lindelof and Aaron Wan-Bissaka notwithstanding.

Maguire was considered vital to Solskjaer’s rebuild this summer, with the exhaustive negotiations ahead of the centre back’s £80m move from Leicester ultimately obstructing further business United wanted to conduct.

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They simply ran out of time to conclude a deal for a top-quality playmaker - leaving it until the 11th-hour to open talks with Christian Eriksen - and allowed the transfer window to close without replacing the departed Romelu Lukaku.

Midfield and attack are the areas he will focus on over the next two to four windows and Maddison fits the profile of the young and hungry talent Solskjaer wants to recruit.

The 22-year-old wasn’t at the peak of influence at Old Trafford - the lack of clear scoring opportunities presented to Vardy was notable - but Maddison’s confidence in demanding the ball in tight areas and forcing United onto the back foot was clear.

There was no sense of the stage or occasion overwhelming him, which is just one of the aspects of his game that Solskjaer’s scouts will monitor over the campaign.

"He's got big potential,” said the Leicester manager. “I think he's going to improve in his game, the management of his game, but he's a big talent and we're just trying to prepare him in order for him to play at the highest level for as long as he can.

“He has to be consistent. He’s a really humble boy, a lovely swagger, a lovely arrogance, but he is a good kid who will get better. He's got a really strong belief in his ability, it's not misplaced, he's a very good player, fantastic talent, but is constantly working to be better which is what you want.”

It’s a measure of Rodgers’ belief in Maddison that he was happy to make comparisons with Philippe Coutinho who he managed at Liverpool, telling reporters: “He's the type of player who will drift from position to position.

“I remember working with Coutinho at Liverpool, sometimes he'd play inside, sometimes he'd drift off the side. James is a little bit like that in terms of positioning. His job was to create and score goals, he'll keep working on that.

“He has a threat to get in behind, he was unlucky when the keeper makes a save with his ankle I think it was. He was unfortunate there. That's what it's about for him - numbers, creating goals, scoring goals. It's only his second season at this level and he's already showing great talent.”

Victory for United came to the relief of Solskjaer, who was honest enough to concede his side could consider themselves fortunate to take all three points.

Searching for their first win since the opening day of the season, the general impression was that Leicester would pile the misery on Solskjær. Instead, it was United who got their pursuit of Champions League football back on track courtesy of Marcus Rashford’s first-half penalty.

In the build-up to Saturday’s game Solskjaer insisted his plans remained on track, despite such an underwhelming start. Key to his rebuild is the faith he’s put in youth, with players like Scott McTominay given the opportunity to establish themselves.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: Man United rode the game out well after victory over Leicester

Nemanja Matic is one of the players to have his chances reduced by Solskjaer’s drive towards youth, but has backed the new approach.

“I don’t believe in age, good players or bad players,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you are 18 or 35, so I think who played today deserved to play.

“I am happy for the young players, they get the opportunity to play here. It’s not always the case in big clubs, and Manchester United is giving opportunities to the guys who grew up here in the academy.

“That’s good because in big clubs they don’t always get opportunities because of the pressure and the results and because everyone wants to win. I think in this season the people from the club they can see who is ready to play already in a high level.


"It doesn’t matter if they are 18 or 25 or 35 we can see who is ready and who is not and who will be important for the future. I like to see young players on the pitch and hopefully they can bring us some fresh energy for the rest of the season.”

Saturday was Matic’s first start of the season. On his own future, he added: “Of course, I want to play. I always give my best for the team.

“The coach is the man who picks the team and when you are on the bench you are not happy, but I am doing my best to change his mind and persuade him to put me on the pitch.

“The season is long, today as you saw I played and we won the game, I am happy so we will see in the future what the coach decides. I am ready.

“In the last ten years I have played in a high level and I have tried my best to help the team because I think I am a team player and I can help a lot I think.”

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