The Dutch youngster has made a great impression since returning from a serious knee injury, stirring talk of a senior call-up
When Manchester United’s under-23 side entertained Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford recently, it was Angel Gomes who many of the 1,097 in attendance were most looking forward to seeing play.
But, as Jose Mourinho watched on from the stands, it was reserve team debutant Tahith Chong who grabbed United’s goal in the 3-1 defeat and generally caught the eye with his display of great maturity. And it is the Dutch 18-year-old who some United fans are identifying as the potential answer to the current issues on the right flank of the senior side’s attack.
The news that EA Sports have added Chong to the United senior squad in their FIFA 18 video game has had many of the club’s gaming-obsessed supporters paying greater attention to the Curacao-born player’s development. But, moreover, Mourinho has apparently been pleased with what he has seen from Chong since the youngster returned from a serious knee injury in November following 10 months out.
The Portuguese boss has struggled to find a compelling solution on the right wing since taking over at Old Trafford, with Juan Mata, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford, Ashley Young and latterly Anthony Martial all being used there to varying degrees of success.
The recent addition of Alexis Sanchez was considered by some to be an attempt to solve that issue, but the Chilean has been utilised solely on the left so far and fans are looking at potential answers elsewhere in the Old Trafford stocks.
Chong plays primarily off the right despite being left-footed, but was also used on the left of midfield on occasion last season by under-18 boss Kieran McKenna before suffering his season-ending injury against Everton in January. If anything, his game has improved since returning to full fitness this term, providing the sort of threat which is a throwback to Manchester United sides of old.
With great strength and speed, the rangy Feyenoord youth product loves nothing more than to take on opposition players. His fearlessness on the ball leads to him creating many an opportunity for both himself and his team-mates, and his ability to get into goalscoring positions is one of his most attractive features.
Like many of United’s recent graduates to the first-team squad, Chong boasts a great work-rate, with his willingness to cover his full-back without a second’s thought making him a manager’s dream.
He also reads the game well, with his goal in the FA Youth Cup clash with Derby County in December coming after he pounced on a Rams error and drove hard into opposition territory before opening his body and delivering a perfect left-foot finish.
His goal against Tottenham in the higher age-group was another which came after he read the play well to break in and steal the ball off the Spurs defence. Such vision translates well mid-attack too, with a clever back-header for Tyrell Warren helping to open the way for Josh Bohui to head against the post in what was United’s best chance other than Chong’s goal.
The winger provides an aerial threat, too, and can often be found drifting in to the centre to cause havoc from crossing positions.
While calls for him to step straight into the first team may be a little premature, especially considering how recently he returned from such a major injury, he is clearly being considered as part of the senior set-up going forward.
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Just as the likes of Demi Mitchell, Scott McTominay, Axel Tuanzebe and Josh Harrop got their chance late last season, Chong and Gomes could get opportunities to shine as this term nears its close.
Gomes might well have become the club’s youngest player since Duncan Edwards when he came on against Crystal Palace last year, but there is another United starlet ready to cause a stir too.
Whether in the first-team squad before the season’s out or as preparation for 2018-19 on United’s summer tour, Chong will surely get his chance to shine at senior level sooner or later.