The presence of Adnan Januzaj and Luke Shaw in Manchester United’s under-21 line-up on Monday evening raised more than a few eyebrows.
The £30million left-back and one of the most exciting attacking talents in European football had both been on the bench for Sunday’s 4-0 victory over Queens Park Rangers, and here they were playing at a level that both may well have felt was a thing of the past.
Of course both remain teenagers, but their progress last season means the thought of either playing under-21 football when they are fit enough to be included in a senior match-day squad is rather baffling.
With Shaw it made more sense, as the United left-back continues his recovery from injury and his pursuit of match fitness, but Januzaj showed that he should be in the first-team at any and all opportunities.
A hat-trick from the Belgian emphatically showed Louis van Gaal that he is more than ready to be thrown in among the superstar signings that arrived in a £150million spending spree this summer.
In both cases, van Gaal may have pulled off a masterstroke, showing his young players that they cannot live on past reputations and being rewarded with impressive performances from both. But for the players, this is surely not what they had in mind when they returned for pre-season training.
Only time will tell if both teenagers can force their way into a side that – without Champions League or Capital One Cup football – requires little rotation. But having made his name nurturing some of the best young talent in Europe, perhaps we should wait a while before judging the new United manager’s methods.