Ole Gunnar Solskjaer might have a new first-team squad member to rely on at Manchester United
As has often been the case over the past 12 months, Bruno Fernandes stole the headlines following Manchester United’s 4-0 win over Real Sociedad.
The Portuguese star scored twice and put in another rousing display to virtually secure United’s spot in the last 16 of the Europa League.
However, another player who had an imposing impact on the game was Daniel James, who was a surprise addition to the starting line-up just over an hour before kick-off.
The 23-year-old was making his first start for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer since the FA Cup win over Watford at the beginning of January, yet there was no sign of rust in his game as he hassled and harried his opponents without the ball and looked a real danger with it.
He was the provider for Fernandes’ second goal of the night, and he even managed to get on the scoresheet himself late in the match to cap off his impressive display.
Post-match, Solskjaer was full of praise for James and made a point of stating that the Welsh international is always considered when he’s picking his starting line up: “Dan has always been in my mind, always in contention.
“You can see his X-factor tonight, his work-rate, his pace and his running in behind teams. I think he’s scored in his last couple of appearances now and he’s working every single day on improving his game so I’m delighted for him and he knows how much we value him.”
As alluded to by the United boss, James has registered five goals or assists across his previous six appearances in which he’s managed 20+ minutes on the field.
Obviously having this added output in attack is key for United, yet, it’s not just his goal threat but also his all-round game that’s recently impressed.
For example against Sociedad, beyond his goal and assist, he made two progressive runs, was successful in 2/2 of his attempted dribbles, 3/4 of his offensive duels and won two fouls for his side.
His pressure off the ball was key too, forcing the possession-favouring Socided players into dead-ends and mistakes that led to crucial turnovers. Particularly in games where United implement their ruthless counter-attacking game, his contribution in a coherent and consistent press is key.
Performances like the one on Thursday night have propelled him into a position where he can be considered a legitimate candidate to start featuring in Solskajer’s starting XI more often. Especially given that United’s right-wing remains an area of uncertainty.
Mason Greenwood has performed at a more than adequate level for big parts of the season, yet the general consensus is that his future lies through the middle. Meanwhile, the exciting Amad will need more time to adapt to his new surroundings before he can be considered a first-team regular.
Even with each of the above being in the attacking picture, rotation between now and the end of the season will be crucial as United push for Champions League qualification while also attempting to compete on an almost weekly basis in European competition.
James is slowly starting to build the trust of his manager again, and if he can continue to sustain the performance levels he has had in recent appearances on a more consistent basis with a greater amount of minutes on the pitch, then he could end up playing a key role for United between now and the end of the season.