Is it time Pellistri was given a proper chance at Man United?

Facundo Pellistri’s electric late cameo capped off a positive night for Man United and was a reminder of the youngster’s class… with Erik ten Hag telling Antony to be ‘more brave’, is it time the Uruguayan got a proper chance?

  • Man United beat Real Betis 4-1 to recover from their humiliation at Liverpool
  • Facundo Pellistri came off the bench and played a hand in the fourth goal
  • 21-year-old Uruguayan has needed patience since he joined United in 2020 

Thursday night’s victory over Real Betis was a soothing night for Manchester United after the horrors of their trip to Anfield from the weekend.

Erik ten Hag’s team have recovered from adversity well this season and there was plenty to be satisfied about as United put one foot in the Europa League quarter-finals.

Yet another goal for Marcus Rashford, his 26th of a personal best season.

The way they refused to be blown off course by a sloppy 15-minute spell late in the first-half in which Real Betis equalised and then stuck the post.

A beautiful Robben-esque curled effort after cutting inside by Antony in what is fast becoming his trademark. A redemptive goal by Bruno Fernandes after he was pilloried following the 7-0 defeat by Liverpool.

Facundo Pellistri impressed after coming off the bench late in Man United’s 4-1 win over Real Betis on Thursday night

The Uruguayan took the direct approach and played a key role in setting up the fourth goal

He spurned an opportunity to add a fifth goal for United deep into stoppage time

The heart-warming yelp of delight from Wout Weghorst as he celebrated plundering United’s fourth goal, his first at Old Trafford, having missed earlier chances.

And in terms of actually giving Ten Hag food for thought going forward, an electric late cameo by Facundo Pellistri.

His circumnavigation of two Betis defenders led to Weghorst’s goal and the young Uruguayan might have made it five when played clear in stoppage time.

It was a nice reminder of the 21-year-old’s quality after he was in danger of becoming a forgotten figure at Old Trafford, collateral damage from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s failed time in charge.

Pellistri signed for United from Penarol for £9million in October 2020, having come highly recommended to Solskjaer by Diego Forlan, the Uruguayan striker who became an Old Trafford cult hero.

His arrival, at the same time as Amad Diallo, seemed to mark a shift in United’s transfer business towards procuring youngsters with talent rather than blowing eye-watering sums on established but ill-fitting players.

But Pellistri didn’t actually make his competitive debut for United for another two-and-a-half years, spending a season-and-a-half on loan at Alaves in Spain.

The plan was always for Pellistri to gain valuable experience to get him ready for the United first-team but though he made 35 appearances for Alaves, most were off the bench rather than starts.

Pellistri and Brazilian Antony are United’s only real options on the right wing at present 

Manager Erik ten Hag speaks highly of Pellistri but game time has been at a premium

£85million Brazilian Antony has been the No 1 choice on the right side this season

Ten Hag decided to keep him at Old Trafford rather than sanction another loan but Pellistri warmed the bench until the Carabao Cup quarter-final against League One Charlton Athletic on January 10.

He was given 10 minutes right at the end, making his debut at long last.

Further cameos followed against Leeds United in the Premier League, Reading in the FA Cup and Nottingham Forest in the Carabao Cup, before Thursday night’s outing.

It’s dribs and drabs but Ten Hag has praised Pellistri. ‘I see a future for him. He’s doing really well… you see he is progressing,’ he said in January.

Not that anyone back in Uruguay needs convincing. Edinson Cavani, whose time with United fizzled out last season, has spoken of Pellistri as ‘a typical South American footballer who has a mischievous nature to his game.’

He added: ‘The way he lives his football is a bit like, as we say in Uruguay, being on ‘el campito’, as we call it, a makeshift pitch where you have a kickabout for fun with your mates or whoever.’

Two-and-a-half years after joining, Pellistri was given his United debut in January 

He subsequently received more minutes off the bench in the FA Cup tie against Reading

Pellistri made his Premier League bow in the 2-2 draw with Leeds United at Old Trafford

There was more than a hint of that freestyle element to his game as he went the long way round to create United’s fourth on Thursday night, when the chance seemed lost.

So should Pellistri now get more regular opportunities?

He played in two matches of United’s successful Carabao Cup run

United are undoubtedly a bit light in that right-wing position. While Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, Alejandro Garnacho, Anthony Martial and Bruno Fernandes can all play on the left, it’s only really Antony who is geared up to play on the other flank.

That may change in the event that Mason Greenwood is reintegrated into the United fold but for now it’s only really Pellistri who can put the pressure on.

Given that Antony scored a lovely goal on Thursday night, and could easily have netted a hat-trick with the other chances that came his way, it’s wrong to suggest he should drop out.

But the Brazilian does continue to frustrate at times, especially for an £85million player. He is often wasteful in scoring positions (seven goals and three assists in 31 games so far for United) and often doesn’t take the most direct route or take defenders on.

Ten Hag summed it up with some points for improvement after the win over Betis: ‘In the first-half, he could do better to make more actions, be more brave, go more behind, taking players on, but especially more movement, using his speed.’

Quite a few United fans will feel that is Antony in a nutshell, as if we’re still only seeing four of his six gears with something being held back.

Pellistri has made 10 appearances for Uruguay – twice his number of senior games at United

Antony still has plenty of room for improvement with Ten Hag telling him to be ‘more brave’

Man United fixtures 

Premier League unless stated 

Sunday Southampton (H)

March 16 Real Betis (A)

Europa League last-16, second leg

March 19 Fulham (H)

FA Cup quarter-final

April 2 Newcastle United (A)

April 5 Brentford (H)

Perhaps pressure from Pellistri will help Antony show his full ability in United colours.

But either way, the Uruguayan should receive more game time during the final weeks of the season through the sheer weight of fixtures ahead.

That nightmare afternoon at Anfield has put paid to their slim Premier League title hopes but, having already lifted the Carabao Cup, United remain on course for a trophy treble.

They have a home tie with Fulham in the FA Cup quarter-finals on March 19 and should advance into the Europa League last eight as they take a three-goal lead to Spain next week.

United and Arsenal are the clear favourites to win the competition and it shouldn’t be beyond Ten Hag’s side if he can juggle his resources skilfully.

If that means the fans get to see a little more of Pellistri, relishing the chance to show what he can do at last, then that’s a good thing.

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