Alejandro Garnacho must start ahead of Jadon Sancho after dazzling on his first Man United start

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Manchester United’s Europa League clash with Sheriff on Thursday saw Cristiano Ronaldo return to the side for the first time since refusing to come on as a substitute and storming down the tunnel against Tottenham eight days earlier.

The Portuguese star was always likely to take centre stage, and he managed to get on the scoresheet late on to cap off a routine 3-0 win for the Red Devils.

But it was one of his team-mates who stole the show at Old Trafford – Alejandro Garnacho.

Alejandro Garnacho stole the show on his first start for Manchester United on Thursday

The teenager was a surprise inclusion in Erik ten Hag’s starting line-up, given that the United boss has been reluctant to rotate his squad heavily this term.

The Dutchman clearly believed he was ready, though, picking Garnacho ahead of Jadon Sancho and Anthony Elanga, and he was proved absolutely right.

Some players look nervous when they make their first professional start, especially at a club as big as United, but Garnacho was brimming with confidence from the outset, demanding the ball from his team-mates.

Every time he received it, the crowd rose to their feet, sensing he could produce something special. 

The 18-year-old Argentine ran at the Sheriff defence at every opportunity, throwing in step-overs and even pulling off a cheeky nutmeg as he dazzled on his full debut, and outshone fellow winger Antony, despite the Brazilian pulling off a remarkable 720-degree spin in the first half.

Garnacho outshone Antony even though the Brazilian pulled off a 720-degree spin in the game

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Garnacho outshone Antony even though the Brazilian pulled off a 720-degree spin in the game

Paul Scholes compared him to a ‘young’ Cristiano Ronaldo in his post-match analysis, and it was hardly an outlandish claim.

The swagger and fearlessness that Garnacho played with was reminiscent of the Ronaldo that arrived at Old Trafford almost two decades ago. 

Admittedly, Ronaldo was something of a rough diamond that needed polishing at that stage, with his end product questionable, and Garnacho may have similar obstacles to overcome in the future. But he was a breath of fresh air in United’s side, and gave them an injection of energy down the left-hand side that has been missing in recent weeks.

This has largely been due to the form of Sancho. The £73m signing from Borussia Dortmund struggled in his first season at the club last term, but had looked to be finding his feet at the start of the current campaign.

Garnacho played with no fear at Old Trafford

Garnacho played with no fear at Old Trafford

Goals against Liverpool and Leicester highlighted what he is capable of when at his best, and he was arguably a touch unfortunate to be left out of Gareth Southgate’s England squad last month.

However, his performances have dipped dramatically since then, and he now looks completely devoid of any confidence.

Playing against Manchester City at the start of the month, he offered very little protection to Tyrell Malacia as Pep Guardiola’s side ran riot in the first half, and he wasn’t a threat at all from an attacking perspective.

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Fast forward three weeks, and he was even less effective against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. 

The 22-year-old winger constantly opted for the safe option rather than taking on his man, while his passing was wayward when he got into promising positions. He could have no complaints when he was hauled off by Ten Hag seven minutes after half time.

On the whole, Ten Hag has been loyal to Sancho this season, leaving him out of his starting line-up just once in the league to date. Yet Garnacho’s performance will have given him food for thought. 

Ten Hag labelled Garnacho a ‘talent’ after his impressive display, but challenged him to get even better. 

‘He is a talent. I hope for him it’s a stimulant, [his] first game, that he knows “I have to do better, to create more,”‘ Ten Hag said in his post-match press conference.

Erik Ten Hag believes Garnacho can get even better after his impressive Old Trafford full debut

Erik Ten Hag believes Garnacho can get even better after his impressive Old Trafford full debut

Ten Hag may want Garnacho to get even better, but there can be little doubt that he produced more in Thursday’s outing than Sancho has lately.

The youngster led United’s Under-18s to FA Youth Cup glory last season, scoring seven goals in six matches, and he has already been picking the brains of Lionel Messi after being called up to the Argentina national team squad in March. He is ready for this level.

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Now Ten Hag must choose whether to stand by Sancho or reward Garnacho for his performance by starting him against West Ham on Sunday.

Sancho is the big-money signing with 23 international caps to his name, so it is easy to see why United are desperate for the move to work.

But he isn’t delivering at the moment, and hasn’t been for some time. It could be time to take him out of the firing line, and Garnacho would be the perfect replacement.

Jadon Sancho has been struggling in recent weeks and looks low on confidence right now

Jadon Sancho has been struggling in recent weeks and looks low on confidence right now

Based on their recent displays, Garnacho should start ahead of Sancho against West Ham

Based on their recent displays, Garnacho should start ahead of Sancho against West Ham

Teenage players bursting onto the scene can be inconsistent. Is Garnacho going to play that well every game? It seems unlikely.

He deserves the chance to prove that he can back up his eye-catching against Sheriff, though. 

United are the joint-lowest scorers in the top eight in the Premier League. They have scored 20 fewer goals than City across their opening 11 matches and badly need extra creativity on the pitch.

Garnacho can provide that with his trickery and positive decision-making in the final third, and that is why he has to get the nod over Sancho on Sunday. 

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