Elanga could fill the Daniel James void and thrive under Rangnick.
Manchester United has a plethora of young talent on the verge of breaking into the first team from the academy. Over the last few months, Hannibal Mejbri, Shola Shoretire, Bjorn Hardley, Teden Mengi, and others have trained with the main squad. Still, Anthony Elanga was one of the youngsters who stood out during pre-season after making his debut last season under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
In Ralf Rangnick’s first game as interim manager, the 19-year-old made his first appearance of the season. Even though he only featured for 14 minutes, the teenager has undeniable potential and could flourish during Rangnick’s six-month stint with the club.
Some may find this amusing, but Elanga is quite similar to Daniel James, and contrary to popular belief, this is not a bad thing in any way. The former United winger was known for bringing energy and passion to the team and a high work rate, especially in big games.
James isn’t a world-class winger by any stretch of the imagination, and he wouldn’t just walk into the best teams in the world. He isn’t as talented as Jadon Sancho or Marcus Rashford, but there appears to be a developing fallacy that a player who isn’t as gifted as the rest of the team is effectively useless; this could not be more misleading.
Not every player in Sir Alex Ferguson’s teams was “world-class.” We had the grafters and hard workers in specific positions across the pitch, and Sir Alex knew when to sideline the “world-class” players in favour of the hard workers who could do a specific task when they play. Nicky Butt, Gary Neville, and Park Ji-Sung come to mind.
The best way to describe it is the game against Manchester City last season, where United won 2 nil. City are a pressing team, and you’d have to match their intensity to have a chance of winning, which is why Solskjaer started Daniel James on the right instead of Mason Greenwood.
Bruno Fernandes and James were the players on the pitch who attempted the most pressures, with James winning 28% of them, more than any other United player. He was a major reason why United won the game, and there has been a vacuum in the squad since he moved to Leeds United.
People forget that he was Solskjaer’s first signing at the club for a reason and he played a huge part in why United finished inside the top 3 for two consecutive seasons. He made 74 appearances for the club, that kind of availability is massively underrated. But Elanga is the closest player in the squad who can fill the void James left behind.
Rangnick’s high-pressing system will undoubtedly need a lot of energy from the players, and rotation will be crucial to keeping the squad healthy over the grueling December schedule. After seeing Elanga play 14 minutes in the German manager’s first game, there’s a good chance he’ll be a valuable member of the team sooner than most people think.
The 19-year-old forward is a lightning-fast player, and it’s not a leap to claim he’s one of the team’s fastest right now. It’s reasonable to have questions about his potential, but his work rate and the way he moved around the pitch against Crystal Palace offer me a lot of hope for his future because he’s practically tailor-made for a high-pressing style.