Away from the glare of the Premier League spotlights, Manchester United’s young knives have been diligently sharpening their skillsets further down the Football League pyramid.
United share 11/2 joint-third favouritism for the top-tier title in 2014/15, a price that could come to look foolish given the way in which Liverpool have prospered unfettered by the additional burden of European football this term.
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Here’s three young men who could have a part to play after impressing on loan in 2013/14:
Jesse Lingard – Birmingham City
Carried through his impressive pre-season form for the Red Devils into loan spells at Birmingham and later Brighton, for whom he scored in the play-off semi-final.
A shrewd and incisive operative on either flank, he’s registered eight goals and five assists from 22 games in a wide-forward position this term.
His average of 2.5 key passes an outing is better than Juan Mata, who tops the charts in the United squad with 2.2.
Yet his worth to a manager who might wish to employ a high-pressing game has perhaps been the most overlooked aspect of his Rumspringa, with the 21-year-old averaging a mind-boggling 4.5 tackles an outing from an attacking berth.
Jack Barmby – Hartlepool
The son of Pele-endorsed England international Nick, Barmby has enjoyed an impressive spell with the Monkey Hangers, scoring five times and creating as many goals for his teammates.
So cherished has his involvement in the fight against relegation his goal against Morecambe ultimately won, that he was described as the side’s ‘talisman’ by the Hartlepool Mail, despite having played only 17 times for the club.
Nick Powell – Wigan Athletic
The former Crewe starlet has played the majority of his Latics football as a centre-forward, finishing the season as the club’s top scorer in all competitions with 12.
However, he’s understandably performed better in the games started at his favoured central attacking-midfield berth, scoring three times in six starts.
Interestingly his two showings on the left of the Wigan attack have yielded a goal, an assist and whoscored.com performance ratings of 8.74 and 8.36 respectively.