After Erik ten Hag made the decision to make ten changes at half-time during Saturday’s 2-0 win over Arsenal at the MetLife Stadium, Facundo Pellistri must have wondered where his minutes would come from.
For the third game in a row, Ten Hag made wholesale changes to his Manchester United XI at the interval, rotating his ten outfield players. Tom Heaton was the only survivor from the first half XI as the likes of Lisandro Martinez, Mason Mount, Bruno Fernandes, Jadon Sancho and Alejandro Garnacho were all hooked.
A mix of youth and experience crawled off the bench for the start of the second half, including Diogo Dalot, Harry Maguire, Christian Eriksen and Marcus Rashford, all of whom earned their first minutes of pre-season after returning to pre-season training late due to international commitments in June. Pellistri was also a late returnee to Carrington after representing Uruguay.
However, he remained glued to the bench at half-time and saw Amad replace Antony in the second half. The Ivorian had started the clashes with Leeds United and Lyon before United flew out to the US and Ten Hag granted him another opportunity to leave his calling card.
Want to join our MUFC Pro club for a completely ad-free version of the MEN’s Man United app packed with premium features? Click here.
READ MORE: United predicted line-up against Wrexham as Jonny Evans starts
The 21-year-old is fighting to secure a place in Ten Hag’s plans ahead of this coming season after a fantastic season-long loan spell at Sunderland last term. He scored 14 goals and grabbed four assists in 42 appearances and United supporters were constantly buzzing about his potential.
However, his latest audition to try and impress Ten Hag was cut short and lasted just 14 minutes before he walked off injured. He went down unchallenged and then hobbled around on his ankle, resulting in him having to be dragged back and later requiring crutches to leave the stadium.
With the likes of Sancho and Antony already gone, the onus of replacing Amad fell on Pellistri, who took up residence on the right wing. He joined United from Penarol almost three years ago and is still waiting for his breakthrough moment in England, despite making a handful of appearances last term.
United are well stocked in the big areas and the competition for places, especially to provide backup to Rashford and Antony, is fierce. Sancho, Garnacho, Amad and Pellistri are all chasing the same goal.
Of the aforementioned players, Pellistri is different from most of them in that he is an old-school winger who looks to beat his man and send a cross in search of a keeper. He likes to go down on the outside of his opponent, as opposed to cutting inside and going for the goal.
Although he offers different traits to his direct competition, it is difficult to see how Pellistri can secure ample playing time at Old Trafford in 2023/24. He needs another loan that gives him regular football and that is exactly what United are trying to find for him.
Pellistri, speaking after his performance against Arsenal, said: “Yes, I have spoken to him [Ten Hag] and we work together to find the best club, the best way, the best opportunity. I’m happy that way because we’re all in the same situation.
“[I’m hoping] to play. In my position and at my age you want to play. We look forward to finding the best solution to do that.”
Although United, as revealed by Manchester Evening News back in March, always planned to let Pellistri go out on loan this summer, the fact that they are taking their time to choose his destination deserves credit. The Uruguayan was loaned out to Spanish side Alaves in January 2021 for the second half of the 2020/21 campaign and then again for the duration of the 2021/22 campaign.
His second spell at Alaves saw him make 23 appearances in all competitions, with just six starts, amounting to just 751 minutes of football. It was a waste of a year in the youngster’s development and United cannot afford a repeat of the failed experiment.
Wherever they choose to send him this time, whether elsewhere in England or abroad, United must ensure the winger is promised a key role. It makes no sense to send him out on loan to a club where he might once again be a bit-part player.
If he saves regular minutes under his belt, giving him the chance to get into some kind of rhythm, he could be the one to make him. Above all, 2023/24 feels important to his long-term future at Old Trafford.