Analysis: Amad Diallo scores brace and shines in U23’s debut

14 minutes was all it took for Manchester United’s newest starlet Amad Diallo to get on the scoresheet and add to the hype surrounding his name in his first competitive appearance for the club.

The 18-year-old winger has a knack for making good first impressions. It only took him six minutes to score on his professional debut for Atalanta against Udinese back in 2019. He just scored a brace in his first 90 minutes in English football, albeit at youth level. It remains to be seen how quickly he will bag for United’s first team, but if his impressive 90 minutes for the U23’s against Liverpool on Saturday is anything to go by, we will be finding out pretty soon.

Having signed at the end of the summer transfer window for £19 million, which could eventually rise up to around £40 million with add-ons, Diallo finalized his paperwork and arrived in Manchester earlier this month with the right wing hole gaping large in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’ side.

Failing to address the issue, United’s acquisition of the young Ivorian was definitely a long-term investment.

Granted, there is a lot to be excited about. Diallo’s skillset looks like the piece the United puzzle has been missing. Many would have liked to have seen him thrown in the deep end already. He does look ready to contribute on ability alone but — patience is required.

Amad has reportedly already made a very good impression in training, with Solskjaer frequently asked about the youngsters progress in his press conferences. He is settling in well and getting used to his surroundings. But, before an inclusion in a first team match day squad, there are a few preparatory hurdles that need to be cleared.

Solskjaer’s United are right amongst it at the top of the Premier League at the halfway point of one of the most hectic seasons in history. Introducing someone who may not be quite up to speed in terms of match fitness would not only be a risk for the player, but also for the team.

So, with that in mind, Amad was delegated into Neil Wood’s U23 side for their clash away at Liverpool. After a couple of weeks of training, it was time to get some real match minutes in. A chippy rivalry game was also a nice environment to throw Diallo into in order to give him a teaser of what English football is all about.

As we learned, the game was a show. The young Reds won 6-3 and Amad’s highly anticipated involvement took center stage. It was a cold and windy afternoon at Melwood, but the Ivorian took to it like a fish to water. Amad scored twice, oozed confidence and was involved in plenty of good going forward.

Lining up on the right wing, as advertised, right away — Amad was off to the races and doing exactly what most scouting reports promised. Very silky on the ball and active in the press, the 18-year-old was a nuisance for the Liverpool defense.

The opening minutes were touch and go. Diallo had to adjust to his teammates, they had to learn how to find him. But with the ball not really landing at his feet in the positions he’d like in the opening quarter of an hour, Amad chose to go and find the ball himself.

A keen runner, Diallo showed off his on-the-pitch awareness by recognizing Liverpool center back’s Billy Koumetio’s weakness on the ball in the 14th minute.

After struggling to control a zipped pass into his feet, Koumetio was ran down and pickpocketed by Amad — who nipped in like a flash — and was away, through on goal, in the blink of an eye. With no defenders getting near him, Amad went eye to eye with the goalkeeper, sized up his options, and placed a low, left-footed effort across the onrushing Marcelo into the bottom corner. Composure personified. Slightly against the run of play, the Reds were ahead.

Amad, United fans and Solskjaer couldn’t have imagined a better start. With there being so much excitement building around the Ivorian’s inevitable first team debut for the Reds, the U23’s match provided a nice test of what he’s all about. There were more eyes than usual on the game, for obvious reasons, and an early goal for Diallo would have settled any nerves nicely.

From then on, it was smooth sailing. Not so much for United — as after going up 2-0 soon after through a Joe Hugill strike, they went into the intermission tied at 2-2 — but for Amad himself, who visibly grew in confidence with every touch of the ball.

What stood out about the 18-year-old the most was just how comfortable he is on the ball. He is always looking for pockets of space and showing to receive. His technique is excellent. He makes very good runs inside and out, causing many problems for full backs being a left footed right winger. You can never really be sure where he’s going. Mason Greenwood causes similar headaches.

A couple of moments that stood out involved Amad getting on the ball and dribbling forward at pace. Both times, he drifted from the outside in, in true inside forward fashion and, both times, he did very well to lift his head and pick out the right pass.

On the first occasion, Amad came inside, got on the ball and glided past two opponents with an excellent change of pace. Approaching the danger area, he scanned ahead and fizzed a good ball out wide into Shola Shoretire with the outside of his boot before continuing his run. The opportunities for similar sequences in the first team, with Luke Shaw or Alex Telles marauding down the left flank, will be endless.

In the next move, Amad and Alvaro Fernandez were involved but this time, the difference was that United scored at the end.

With Harvey Neville in possession on the right touchline, Amad made a darting run down the inside right channel and was found by the right back close to the opposition area. Receiving the ball on his left, Amad shifted his weight onto the right foot and cut further inside. Having beaten a man, he had plenty of space to move into with the left wing gaping. Amad went on to find Fernandez in stride, again, before the Spaniard checked an excellent low driven cross back into the danger area to be met by the good movement of Hugill to slot home. 17-year-old Hugill had an impressive outing himself with four goals.

What you could see in those two instances alone was that Amad is very clever on the ball in spite of being so young. It feels as though as soon as he speeds up, the game slows down for him. He is also able to catch defenses off guard and flat footed with deceivingly rapid changes of pace.

There was a number of other moments where similar patterns repeated. Diallo is quick, he enjoys going at players and boasts a fantastic close control of the ball. He also looks fit as he never stopped running and trying to press to win the ball back — something that will bode well in the way Solskjaer wants his team to defend from the front. Of course, it’s a small sample size, but those are the habits that carry over.

One thing to look out for in Amad’s U23 debut was his decision making. United’s first team forwards tend to struggle with that at times, but the first impression of Amad was that he doesn’t seem to force anything. He likes to get into space and see how things develop before making a decision. A young player will always make some bad decisions and he will learn from them but, as a whole, that was another positive aspect of his first appearance in a United shirt.

Amad started and ended the scoring for United on Saturday. He completed his brace with a cheeky Panenka from the penalty spot, demonstrating immense confidence and suggesting that he will likely not be hanging around the PL 2 for too long.

You can tell quite easily when a player is too good for a certain level. That was the case with Amad at Melwood. He doesn’t belong there but we understand why he had to be there. Getting 90 minutes into his legs was crucial. That was another step on the way to a first team bow.

Confident on the ball, adventurous, gliding past players, running the channels — Amad ticks all of the boxes in terms of fitting into United’s fluid front line. With time, whenever it comes, he will fit into the system like a glove. It’ll then be down to him to take his chances and as Solskjaer explained: “He will be given the time to make the right-wing position his own” long-term.

The boss praised Amad’s ‘good start’ in his post-game media duties after United’s 0-0 draw at Arsenal. We might see him line out for the U23 a few more times over the coming weeks in order to continue building sharpness, but it feels like the only way for the Ivorian is up. A couple more performances like that one and a first team debut will become simply undeniable.

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