Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag handed academy graduate Kobbie Mainoo his first Premier League start in their 3-0 victory over Everton yesterday.
The youngster repaid the faith with a terrific performance at Goodison Park.
The 18-year-old sat at the base of midfield and orchestrated United’s build-up play, constantly showing for the ball and using his movement to open up passing lanes for his centre-backs.
Mainoo was composed and assured when he received the ball under pressure, resisting the pressure with poise before punching passes through the lines to set his team on their way.
On the other side of the ball, Mainoo won five of his eight duels, winning his two tackles and showing impeccable ball IQ to cut out the danger.
One of the best examples of this latter attribute was in the first half when he continued his run into the box and cleared a Dwight McNeil effort off the line.
Several youngsters would have stopped their run after Andre Onana saved the first effort, but he reacted brilliantly to keep his side in the game against a spirited Everton.
Mainoo’s performance must have put England manager Gareth Southgate on red alert as the youngster showed qualities the Three Lions desperately need.
Mainoo brought control and a measured approach to proceedings in United’s midfield, organising the first phase with incredible maturity.
Whether it was dropping into the centre-back area to receive or collecting in midfield under pressure from the relentless Abdoulaye Doucoure and Idrissa Gueye, he was assured and in control, transmitting those qualities to his team.
He was also excellent defensively, screening his defence with his reading of the game.
With Kalvin Phillips and Jordan Henderson battling poor form and a lack of trust from their managers, Mainoo’s display should have Southgate interested in his development between now and the 2024 European Championship.
Phillips has been glued to the Manchester City bench for over a year. When he has received call-ups to the national team, he has not justified the unmerited grace shown by Southgate, looking a far cry from the player branded the ‘Yorkshire Pirlo’ by Leeds United supporters.
Henderson has failed to set the Saudi Pro League alight with his performances but got calls from Southgate.
However, his spot should ideally be in jeopardy if Mainoo can keep up his form.
Mainoo possesses qualities and a maturity to his game that should have Henderson and Phillips worried about their spots on the plane to Germany next year.
Former England manager Roy Hodgson famously voted Javier Mascherano for the Ballon d’Or after the 2014 World Cup, in which the Argentine dynamo had bossed proceedings for the Albiceleste in the centre throughout the tournament.
Many people claimed that Hodgson voted that way because he was thinking as an England manager who lacked a midfielder to provide Mascherano’s perfect balance of control and aggression at the base of midfield.
Years later, it looks like England have found that perfect blend in Mainoo – the onus is now on Southgate to champion his development and allow him to displace the old guard if he keeps up this stellar showing.
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