From dressing room leaks off the pitch to poor results on it, we can safely say Manchester United has not been a good place to be this season.
So what about those who aren’t here? In what has been one of the worst seasons in the club’s iconic history, there are nine first team players out on loan. You could even make a case for them having jumped ship at the right time, as some fans begin to look to them for hope in the new season ahead.
In this article, we’ll take a dive into some of our most interesting loanees, looking at how their seasons have gone in their time away from Old Trafford, and discussing whether they've shown us enough for another chance at the club.
1. Axel Tuanzebe
Axel Tuanzebe starts us off with one of the more bizarre individual seasons in recent memory, having played for two clubs this season, neither of which being Manchester United. The 24-year-old originally went to Aston Villa on loan at the start of the season, having helped them achieve promotion back to the Premier League during a spell there in the 2018-19 campaign. Reportedly due to a lack of game time (having played 508 minutes in five months), he was then recalled, before being sent back out to Napoli.
Though this sounds relatively rock-bottom for a player who kept Kylian Mbappe quiet in a Champions League game not too long ago, things got drastically worse for him in his time in Naples- he has played 11 minutes since he moved there in January.
This has raised a lot of interest in the player from a fan's perspective, as he seemed to be lining up a first team place ever since that night in Paris. So what happened?
Admittedly there’s not much to analyse, but we can see from the minutes he has played that Tuanzebe simply hasn’t impressed. Amongst other centre backs in Europe’s top 5 leagues, he is in the 3rd percentile for clearances made and blocks, the 17th percentile for interceptions and the 35th percentile for tackles. At first glance, it seems he does have one saving-grace statistic though, which is that he is in the 63rd percentile for pass completion. The hope is short-lived though, as he is back in the 17th percentile for passes attempted, boosting his completion stat, so we might null-and-void that one.
These numbers don’t reflect well on him at all, but there must be some reason why fans rated him highly…surely? Well, these metrics aren’t entirely representative of the player as a whole. For example, one of a defenders main jobs is to win the ball back, and Tuanzebe’s career average is 1.69 tackles a game- more than Harry Maguire’s for comparison (a caveat to this is the volume of games they’ve both played aren't comparable, but hey, I’m trying to find some positivity here…)
As for a future at the club, he definitely has a lot of catching up to do, and with Ten Hag reportedly looking to bring in another centre-back, the club may look to move Tuanzebe on this summer.
2. Brandon Williams
Moving onto a more successful season, we have Brandon Williams. At 21-years-old, the youngster climbed the ranks at Manchester United’s academy until he broke into the first team in September 2019. During the 2019-20 season, Williams became a first team regular, making 17 Premier League appearances for the club. This year, he has been on loan at Norwich, where he went on to start 23 games.
According to Jonathan Shrager (@JonathanShrager on twitter), Williams is ready to fight for his spot back in Manchester during pre-season, but it has been reported by other sources that he could be up for sale this summer. So what should be done?
Defensively, Williams has shown promise. With 2.59 interceptions per game, he ranks in the 92nd percentile amongst other fullbacks in Europe’s big five leagues, indicating an ability to read the game well at such a young age. He then ranks in the 73rd percentile for blocks, and the 65th percentile for tackles per game.
In a Norwich side that have conceded 84 goals this season, it is expected that defensive stats will be slightly enhanced due to the volume of chances conceded as a result of the rest of the team being poor. However, these numbers are all considerably better than what they were in the 2019-20 season where he played for a Manchester United side that finished 3rd.
In a typical Ten Hag system, the fullbacks are often required to be quite advanced, looking to drag opposition players wide as the wingers cut in looking for spaces. This can occasionally leave the fullback in a 1v1 situation, so dribbling is an important metric. On the ball, he does not rank particularly highly amongst Europe’s best, but you could say he only needs to be better than his direct competition. For example, he completes 0.68 dribbles per game, placing him in the 45th percentile, however this is still higher than both Luke Shaw and Alex Telles this season.
Overall, Williams shows some promise going into the new season, but ‘some’ may not be enough if the standards at Manchester United are as high as many fans place them. Whether Williams has what it takes to consistently thrive in a top 4 side is yet to be seen, but it would seem a little premature to let him leave the club this summer.
3. James Garner
Whilst on loan at Nottingham Forest James Garner has had quite a successful loan spell. He has been a regular starter for the club, appearing in 41 matches this season, and has still played consistently well throughout. And his season is not over yet- Garner can still help his temporary side to Premier League promotion if they win their upcoming playoff final against Huddersfield on Sunday.
Comparing him to the poorly constructed Manchester United midfield, many fans have suggested Ten Hag should play Garner next season, but is this warranted?
As we all know, the step up from the Championship to the Premier League is a large one, but we can only judge what we’ve seen from Garner.
Defensively, Garner has made 1.47 interceptions and won 1.2 tackles per game, which are considerably lower than Nemanja Matic has this season. On the front foot however, Garner creates on average 2 chances a game, and has 12 goal contributions this season. Forest also score more goals on average when he is on the pitch vs when he isn’t, suggesting Garner is a pivotal part in how Nottingham Forest play.
When watching Garner in the playoffs this season, he has not performed to the best of his ability, raising the age-old, ‘can he do it in big games’ question. That said, he is only 21 years-old, indicating another loan spell to a Premier League side could be the next step in his development, rather than staying on the United bench.
4. Donny Van de Beek
A fan favourite, Donny Van de Beek is a player Erik Ten Hag has loved to utilise in the past. During his time at Ajax, Van de Beek impressed on the world stage in Ten Hag’s Ajax side, helping his team to a famous Champions League semi-final, where they narrowly went out to Tottenham. However, the Dutchman has not had an enjoyable time at Old Trafford.
Having only made four starts for Manchester United since joining in the 2020-21 season, he has been linked to a move away from the club multiple times- he finally got his wish as he completed a loan move to Everton in late January. Unfortunately, Van de Beek has been injured, meaning he only started five games for the club, making a further two appearances off the bench.
During his few appearances this season, Van de Beek has at times featured in a double-pivot for Everton, whereas he is renowned for his attacking qualities. Compared to Bruno Fernandes, Allan and Youri Tielemans, Van de Beek ranks highest in successful dribbles per game with 1.13, but lowest in progressive carries. This could be down to an issue with Everton though, in that he is forced to attempt dribbles in his own half, but is not able to carry the ball further as he is quickly closed down by higher quality teams.
His other statistics are just as polarised, in which he ranks highest in tackles per game with 3.23, but lowest again in his percentage of successful pressures, indicating a deeper role for the club, which is again an area he is not best suited to.
Bizarrely, the 25-year-old never seemed to impress Manchester United managers during his rare appearances, which generally upset fans who wanted to see him given more of a run in the team that was failing anyway. Reportedly having looked for a permanent move away, the ex-Ajax man may get his chance in a red shirt, with Ten Hag being the one manager in world football who you would trust to get the best out of Donny Van de Beek.
5. Facundo Pellistri
A much forgotten transfer, Pellistri joined the club in 2020 for around £10 million from Uruguayan side, Penarol. A promising youngster, Pellistri was actually recommended to the club by ex-player Diego Forlan, before being sent out on loan to La Liga side, Alaves twice, who have recently been relegated. He has made 21 appearances this season, involving only 6 starts.
So what has he done in these minutes? Though he plays predominantly as a right winger, the Uruguayan international has surprisingly good defensive statistics, ranking in the 99th percentile for blocks made versus other players of the same position. He is also in the 72nd percentile for pressures, showing an eagerness to win the ball back quickly- an important attribute that Manchester United consultant, Ralf Rangnick, publicly admires.
Pellistri’s promise doesn’t stop there, having completed 1.88 dribbles per game, ranking him in the 67th percentile. However, further stats highlight a potential weakness in his attacking output- he is in the bottom 7th percentile for shot-creating actions, and the bottom 3% for expected assists. An overarching and much more common statistic proves this- he hasn’t registered a single goal or assist since joining Alaves in January 2021.
At just 20-years-old, it would seem silly to sell the player, however he is clearly not ready for the Premier League yet, physically or technically. Much like some of the other players, it seems the sensible thing to do would be another loan move, potentially to an English club this time, to help speed up his development.
6. Amad Diallo
One of the most exciting players we have out on loan is Amad. Ever since moving to the club from Atalanta for a reported fee of £35 million (including bonuses), the 19 year-old has been very well received, and his stock rose when he scored in a 1-1 draw against AC Milan in the first leg of a Europa League knockout tie, the same season United got to the infamous final against Villareal in.
At the time of his move, Atalanta captain Papu Gomez compared him to Lionel Messi- which tells you all you need to know about his potential and even style of play. Standing at 5’8”, Amad is a quick player with a low centre of mass that shows in his agility on the ball.
As to not disrespect one of the greatest players of all time, it needs to be clarified that of course Amad is nowhere near Messi- he is in fact better.
This January, the Ivory Coast international went out on loan to Scottish side Rangers, who came second in the Scottish Premiership this season. Since then, he has scored 3 goals, the first of which came on his debut in a 3-3 draw against Ross County.
However, Amad has only started four matches for Rangers, coming on as a substitute in a further six games. In this time, he has completed just two successful dribbles and two shots on target, suggesting very little involvement in the games he has played. As a further metric, he has had 307 touches this season, as a comparison David de Gea has had 1011.
A loan deal that some would call a failure, Amad may have been better off going to a Championship side instead, or at least a club where he’d be guaranteed more minutes. He was even linked to Dutch side Feyenoord, before he picked up an injury last summer that collapsed the deal. This would have seen him working with Robin van Persie, who is a coach at the club- someone who may have been able to enhance his game. It must be said though, Amad is still only a teenager, meaning he should still have time on his side. He could very well have a future at United, but will definitely need to improve if this is to become a reality.
7. Anthony Martial
Leaving the biggest name until last, Anthony Martial has spent the second half of the season in Spain playing for Sevilla. A player who divides opinion, the Frenchman went on loan in January and has played in 11 games, scoring once. Some say his best footballing days are behind him, but others believe he may have a future at Old Trafford.
Martial has played in two main positions in the last few years, being off the left and up front, mainly of a front three. During his time with Sevilla, he continues to find himself high up the pitch, in which he is in the 81st percentile for progressive passes received. This combines well with a progressive midfielder such as Frenkie de Jong that Manchester United are currently looking to sign. To further show his attacking mindedness, he then ranks in the 82nd percentile for touches in the opposition box.
Martial has been tidy with the ball too, showing off a pass completion rate of 82.6%. This can be something quite refreshing for United fans, as many players seemingly haven’t understood the importance of keeping the ball this season- a skill which Martial has always valued.
When coming off the left wing, a position which many fans favour Martial in, he has always looked like a quality player. When required, the 26 year-old is more than capable of beating his man, completing 1.9 dribbles per match.
Conversely, Martial will need to do a lot of work if he wants a place in Ten Hag’s starting XI next season. For example, Martial is only in the 24th percentile for pressures, and is in the 1st percentile for expected assists and shot-creating actions, with 0.04 and 1.43 a game respectively.
Though Anthony Martial may have the quality to be a Manchester United player, many fans have seen enough and would like a fresh start- something Martial has been reported to want as well. Having suffered injuries, it has been confirmed by Sevilla that Martial will return from loan this summer, giving Erik Ten Hag and the Manchester United board a decision to make on whether he stays for one more chance, or says goodbye to his teammates this summer.
On the whole, the only Manchester United loanee who you could say had a successful spell with any level of confidence is James Garner, and maybe Brandon Williams. Other than them, there has been an issue in recent years in choosing the right loan deals for players at the club. Loans can be a fantastic way for a player to gain valuable first-team experience, but if done wrong, can be detrimental to a player’s development. This is something the club has to get right, and quickly.