When Wayne Rooney was subbed off in Manchester United’s last Premier League game of the 2016/17 season, it was seen as a changing of the guard at Old Trafford, as the man who replaced was then 16-year old Angel Gomes.
After receiving essentially no game time under Jose Mourinho, the 19-year old Englishman has already found his way into Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team, featuring in the Red Devils’ first Europa League game of the season against Astana and making a brief cameo in their 2-0 loss to West Ham.
With the Norwegian boss trusting his young players to bolster a thin squad, it’s likely that Premier League fans will be seeing the diminutive playmaker several more times throughout the season. Whether he will live up to the extreme expectation that is placed on virtually every Manchester United youth player is unknown, but Gomes has shown unique qualities that could allow him to make the jump to senior football and could add a different dimension to Solskjaer’s attacking options.
While having been used in a variety of roles due to his versatility, Gomes’ best position is as a number ten where he is given the license to dictate the course of his team’s attack from an advanced position. He has excellent vision and is capable of pulling off a variety of passes to unlock an opposition defence. He is particularly good at switching the play, as his control allows him to receive the ball, turn, and then switch the line of attack at a rapid speed.
Gomes is also a willing dribbler, using various feints and drag backs to overwhelm opposition markers and create space for himself to either create for others or shoot himself. Gomes has scored 26 goals in 60 youth level appearances, demonstrating that he is a goal-scoring threat in addition to being a creative playmaker.
The highly-rated youngster is also quick and is especially good at accelerating quickly from a standing start to a sprint, allowing him to lure opposition defenders before darting past them in a flash. His speed also makes him useful when pressing, and like many “modern number tens,” Gomes is an aggressive presser. This abundance of technical ability combined with excellent decision making has allowed Gomes to become the fulcrum by which his youth teams have attacked.
Yet his most impressive attribute and the one that has allowed him to overcome his smaller frame and play in age groups at least two years his senior is his movement and utilization of space. He is given license to roam the pitch to find pockets of space out wide or in between the lines, so while he usually starts as a number ten, his position on the pitch will change throughout the course of the game depending on where he can find space.
This movement makes him difficult for defences to key in on and allows him to avoid an excess of duels to win the ball. Perhaps more importantly, his vertical and horizontal movement would allow United to generate overloads in different parts of the pitch and progress possession effectively. Such awareness and intelligence has set Gomes apart at youth level and will certainly be crucial to his transition into senior football.
Standing at just 5’ 6” tall and 8 stone, Gomes will definitely have to develop physically in order to become a regular in the Manchester United squad. And as with any youth player, it’s difficult to assess whether Gomes can make the monumental leap to senior football in terms of physical, mental, technical, and emotional rigor.
Yet in the minimal minutes, he has played for the United first team, he has already shown how his movement, control, composure, passing, and dribbling can be an asset for his team. Gomes’ intelligence in terms of the positions he takes up and the way he reads the game will no doubt make the transition to first-team football easier. Should he make the transition, which is by no means a guarantee, Gomes could find himself as a crucial component of Manchester United’s attacking options.
Besides Paul Pogba, the Old Trafford outfit lack a truly dynamic creative force in midfield who can help them break down opposition defences reliably. United’s attack is often reliant on quick counters where space is already provided for them, and have already shown how they can struggle at both maintaining possession under pressure and penetrating opposition defences.
Gomes has shown that he has not just the raw talent, but also the intelligence to alleviate such issues for a team. It’s unlikely he will be trusted as much as Mason Greenwood, who is further along in his physical development. Yet, if he were to be incrementally eased into the squad, Gomes could continue his development and start to impose himself on the Manchester United squad.
With a Pogba exit looking imminent, it would be risky for United to place their hopes on Gomes to fill his boots as the primary creator of the side. But having such a talented player in their squad certainly doesn’t hurt, and if he is given the conditions to develop gradually and intelligently, Angel Gomes should evolve into a brilliant creative midfielder for Manchester United.