Manchester United supporters have been crying out for defensive reinforcement in the summer transfer window; it is safe to say that demand was suitably met on Tuesday night.
For a club which has operated so sluggishly in previous transfers windows under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer it is welcome change ahead of a season in which the bare minimum is a trophy and a serious Premier League title bid.
The £43million arrival of the French defender may not be completed for another week given he’ll need to quarantine upon arrival in Manchester, but fans can rest easy knowing Raphael Varane is now a Red.
Yet he isn’t the only vastly experienced arriving at the club this summer – and amid the social media frenzy of Varane’s announcement it was fellow summer signing Paul McShane who showed United’s rejuvenated transfer strategy goes far beyond first-team duties.
READ MORE: Match highlights as United U23s beat Stalybridge Celtic 5-1
McShane, 35, has been brought back to the club at youth level to act operate in an innovative new role as an on-pitch coach for the U23s.
He is qualified not only as a former top-flight professional, but also as an A-licence coach having already cut his teeth at U16 level.
Rather poignant is the fact he himself is a graduate of the famed United academy system – he is already having an impact on the next generation.
Tuesday night saw McShane take to the pitch alongside Bjorn Hardley at centre-back as United hammered Stalybridge Celtic 5-1 in a pre-season fixture.
Watched by the onlooking United technical director Darren Fletcher it was an encouraging output from Neil Wood’s side as they prepare for a gruelling Premier League 2 season which sees them face Leicester, Chelsea and Man City in their opening three matches.
With so many of last season’s crop currently away with Solskjaer’s first-team it fell to attacking trio Charlie McNeill, Dillon Hoogewerf and Zidane Iqbal to lead the line – they didn’t disappoint.
From the offset McShane could be heard throughout Bower Fold, screaming ‘Charlie, Charlie!’ as he instructed Wellens to stick to his right-back role throughout the opening exchanges.
The Irish veteran was a calming presence at the back with simple passes and sensible decision making, it formed the basis for the exciting play to flow up front.
Yet perhaps the calmest player on the pitch was youngster Iqbal, who gave United a deserved lead when he controlled Alvaro Fernandez’s cross, turned in the box and fired in low past ‘keeper Grant Shenton.
Such composure would soon go missing though, McNeill scuffing wide following a glorious cut-back from Hoogewerf, before the winger himself spurred a simple one-on-one by firing straight at Shenton.
United went in with only a one-goal lead but knew they needed to do better. It might only be pre-season, but when the PL2 season starts they’ll need to be more clinical against well-drilled opposition.
Two minutes into the restart and they nearly got their wish – Noam Emeran slamming a free-kick against the underside of the bar before it bounced away off the line.
It wouldn’t take long before United deservedly extended their lead though thanks to a brilliant brace from the lively Hoogewerf.
First, the former Ajax youngster latched onto a great through ball to get in behind the Celtic defence before lashing an effort past Shenton at the near-post, before he netted his brace minutes later with a clinical finish into the bottom corner after cutting in from the left wing.
Those two goals were punctuated by the withdrawal of McShane on the hour mark as Logan Pye came on at left-back with Fernandez moving into centre-back in the absence of Will Fish who is away with the first-team.
It wasn’t long before McShane’s absence at the back was felt either, Scot Bakkor dragging Celtic back into the game as he drilled a loose ball in from the edge of the box after United had failed to clear their lines.
Without their experienced leader at the back many sides might have crumbled, it is credit to this youthful United side they instead embraced their attacking talents and looked for even more.
A fourth came when substitute Alejandro Garnacho was picked out in the box and rounded the ‘keeper for a simple goal, moments later there would be a fifth as the lively Emeran poked home from close range after an excellent cross from Marc Jurado.
There was a peculiar end to the match however, with United forced to play the final five minutes with ten men after a knock to Emeran saw him leave the pitch with no other substitutes left to use.
With so many players away in the senior set-up there will be reinforcements before the PL2 season starts next month and in McShane they have the perfect mentor ahead of a tricky second season back in the top-flight of reserve football.
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