Two quirks of fate have given young Uruguay World Cup star Facundo Pellistri an unexpected chance to make an impression at Old Trafford, and no-nonsense manager Erik ten Hag has urged him to take it quickly.
Winger Pellistri was close to joining Watford on loan in January but United needed assurances about Jadon Sancho’s availability after his mid-season absence before they would sanction it – and the fixture list placed Sancho’s comeback game against Nottingham for February 1, 24 hours after the window closed.
Still at United, Pellistri then benefited from Alejandro Garnacho’s ankle injury against Southampton last weekend to make his first start for the club in the Europa League on Thursday.
Pellistri impressed and could now get more run-outs starting in the FA Cup against Fulham today.
It’s ten Hag’s belief that at a club the size of United, young prospects can’t hang around to make an impact.
‘Of course he can make it, but you have to deserve it. You have to gather it by yourself,’ explained ten Hag about Pellistri’s prospects.
‘We will help him. The way of play, the culture, will help him. The coaches are working hard with him but at the end of the day the players have to grab their chances. They have to deserve their chances by performing every day, on and off the pitch.
‘Manchester United is not a place where we can have the patience to try one for 10 games. No, you have to perform.’
Paul Scholes says Pellistri’s direct style in taking on his full-back and trying to get crosses in could be beneficial for United’s attacking play with Antony often preferring to cut in from the right flank onto his left foot.
‘He (Pellistri) has the abilities to do it at United like others coming up from the youth like Garnacho, like Kobbie Mainoo. Pellistri is one of them. So there are more who can do it but you have to contribute to the team.’
United have been cup specialists this season and are unbeaten in their last 18 games in either the Europa League, FA Cup or Carabao Cup, which they won at Wembley against NewCastle.
The club have only lifted the FA Cup once since 2004 and will miss midfielder Casemiro who starts a four-match domestic suspension.
It leaves the team looking for other leaders but ten Hag admits he’s been impressed with club captain Harry Maguire becoming a more vocal presence around the club and on the pitch.
‘I'm really happy with the progress that Harry is making at this moment,’ said ten Hag who has only used the England defender when Raphael Varane has needed a rest.
‘He is more dominant and dictating, showing more initiative in the training space and also we saw it against Betis.
‘In the game he showed leadership, especially in aspects of initiative and dictation of the game.’
Striker Anthony Martial could feature for the first time in six weeks after resuming training following a hip injury.
The Frenchman could be among a group of players including Scott McTominay and Maguire to leave United in the summer but ten Hag continues to have faith in the Frenchman.
‘Every time he is available, he really gives good contribution to the team performance, the level of the team,’ said the manager.
‘He is training at the moment, he is available, we are just working with him to get fit.’
Martial has managed to play only 14 games this season with questions about his injury record.