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Hojlund, Garnacho & Rashford have a chemistry Man Utd have been crying out for

  /  autty

In a week where Manchester United's Under-18s took another step towards an invincible season, it was to be a pertinent reminder of the value of the club's academy.

And despite the riches spent by Ten Hag on his, at times ailing, front line, it is two of the finest Carrington graduates, along with an in-form 21-year-old, that are proving to be the formula for success right now.

It was to be Scott McTominay's day at Aston Villa, another product of the club's famed youth development, but, for the first half at Villa Park when United were at full complement, this was another reminder that Ten Hag finally has a front three he can depend on.

For a lot of the season that hasn't been the case, not with Jadon Sancho spitting his dummy out and ending up in exile, or Antony not managing a goal or an assist until the trip to League Two Newport County last month. Prior to that Mason Greenwood, once heralded as the star striker of the future, was shipped out on loan to Spain.

And so while he doesn't smile often, Ten Hag should smirk at the potential in his hands with a front three of Marcus Rashford, Rasmus Hojlund and Alejandro Garnacho.

At 26, Rashford is the elder statesmen of the trio - not a label he will relish, I'm sure.

But with Garnacho only 19, and Hojlund only recently turning 21, Ten Hag now has a blueprint for the present and the future. This is a front three with pace, power, finishing ability and the arrogance all strikers need - check Hojlund winding up Aston Villa fans or Garnacho causing a stir with his celebration against West Ham.

Rival fans will dismiss United's trio as lesser to their compatriots at Manchester City, Tottenham, Arsenal and Liverpool, but it is no fluke that when those three start, United more often than not win.

From a five-game sample size where Garnacho has been deployed off the right, a position he is growing into by the game, Rashford off the left and Hojlund through the middle, United have won four, drawn one and scored 14 goals in the process.

At 2.8 goals a game, Ten Hag may well have stumbled onto a formula for success in this race for the top four.

'We connect very good I think, with me now playing on the right,' Garnacho said after last week's win over West Ham.

'With Rashy on the left, putting in crosses, and Bruno in behind. We think we have a good team in the front.

'I always try to help the team, score and assist, but I don't care if I score or if it's Rasmus or Rashy who scores.'

There is no reason to doubt Garnacho's assessment either.

Early on at Villa Park, United looked to spring a quick counter-attack and were it not for the offside flag a scampering Hojlund had the ball ready to be played across to an unmarked Garnacho for a tap-in.

Also in that first half, Rashford created the most chances from the trio, instead playing the role of playmaker, even if it didn't result in a goal.

'There's balance to Manchester United's attack,' came Gary Neville's assessment during commentary.

'Rashford's best position is on the left and he's been pushed to the right at times. Garnacho has got a lot of confidence, has all the attributes of a potential great striker.'

Watching the trio there is that sense of adventure, that boldness that excites fans. And not the sort of false dawns Antony delivers with his ever predictable need to cut onto his left foot.

Rashford will have been disappointed to have come off but when it was Luke Shaw behind him - he was taken off as a precaution at half-time - he was a willing runner and gave Matty Cash plenty of problems. That's positive heading to Luton next week.

Once Victor Lindelof, a centre back given the thankless task of slotting in at left back for the second half was behind him, things became tricky.

For now, just as it has been since Boxing Day, this United attack is as good as Hojlund wants it to be.

Fourteen matches without a Premier League goal had the usual cliches thrown at the £72million forward. He's too young; he's too inexperienced; he's not clinical enough; the list goes on.

But five goals in his last five matches, or six in his last seven, mean that no player has scored more league goals than the Dane since Christmas Day.

It was striking too to notice the difference in celebrations between his goal against Villa at Old Trafford and his one here, where he swivelled brilliantly away from John McGinn to convert Harry Maguire's headed knockdown.

Yes, timing matters. His goal at Old Trafford was the winning goal in front of an amped-up home crowd and his first in the Premier League. That came with an almost primal scream, that feeling of complete and utter relief that he was finally off the mark.

At Villa Park, however, there was a coolness and a swagger to how he celebrated putting United 1-0 ahead. It wasn't a surprise - and going forward it shouldn't be.

That's 11 for the campaign now. With United still fighting in the FA Cup, Hojlund will be targeting 20 goals in his first season in England which would be some doing after such a ponderous start.

'He looks a different player, he looks strong, he looks aggressive,' former United captain Roy Keane said of Hojlund.

'Hard work, a bit of desire, and certainly that bit of confidence… you can see it in his body language. If United want to get in that top four/five he needs to keep scoring goals.

'Something has definitely changed in the last few weeks. That chemistry is certainly building and [it] will hopefully get better.'

Hojlund's purple patch is emblematic of this new-look United attack. Rid of the inconsistency the likes of Antony have shown time and again and full of the pure finishing all three starters now possess.

It may not be Erling Haaland, Phil Foden and Jeremy Doku, but Manchester United's youthful renaissance in attack is one Ten Hag can finally depend on.