Ryan Giggs made what might be his final United appearance for the club after coming on as a late substitute, and Nemanja Vidic did likewise after coming on in the first half—but the night really belonged to debutant forward James Wilson, who scored twice in his hour on the pitch.
Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 7, 2014
Attacking midfielder Tom Lawrence was also handed a first start for the club.
Of course, for a young forward, goalscoring will be the first thing most people look at to judge them on, but there was plenty in his all-round display to suggest Giggs was right to give him the opportunity to play and that United fans can look forward to seeing more of him next term.
After all, as the likes of Danny Webber, Ramon Calliste or Federico Macheda could point out, goals at youth-team level are no guarantee of doing the same in the Premier League or of making it as a United regular of any kind.
Fellaini + Giggs + Kagawa + Vidic + Nani + Carrick + Evra = 2 PL goals this season. James Wilson = 2 PL goals in 60 minutes.— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) May 6, 2014
Goalscoring forwards need to be able to finish, that much comes as standard, but after that, off-the-ball movement is absolutely the biggest weapon that a striker can have in his armoury.
Wilson showed in his 64 minutes that he has a good natural appreciation for how to utilise space in and around the penalty area, has the intelligence to understand that team-mates also need to occupy the same spaces and, importantly, showed both the aptitude and desire to quickly adjust and re-adjust his runs when needed.
Only two minutes had passed when he gave the first sign of that ability.
It didn't lead to a goal on that occasion, but after half an hour of his debut, he reacted and volleyed home a loose ball after a set piece into the penalty area, moving quickest to the bouncing ball and making good connection with his strike.
Wilson scored his second on the hour mark, again showing maturity with his movement in a much longer buildup phase than his first goal. His run was not spectacular, but instead showed intelligence and appreciation of the situation, which was ultimately rewarded with a straightforward tap-in.
Given that it was his debut, he played against senior opposition and he is just 18 years of age, it was no surprise that he tired toward the end of his involvement in the game, leading to being replaced by Robin van Persie after 64 minutes.
Involvement and Link Play
Somewhat unlike when Wayne Rooney is leading the line for the side, Wilson kept a fairly high-and-central No. 9 position for United, playing as a real striker through the middle, particularly in the first half.
He occupied the space between central defenders, looked to stretch the length of the pitch when possible and ran in behind if he thought there was an opportunity for a team-mate to pass more directly to him.
Having said that, he was not in any way static or easy for the defenders to pick up, frequently wandering between the centre-backs or, after his first goal, dropping off a little to play quick link-up passes with his midfielders.
In doing this he created room for attackers from the second line to run in and create another option for the side to move forward; again, nothing spectacular, but intelligently getting himself involved in the game, helping to keep the tempo going and creating space for the likes of Januzaj to exploit.
It was something of a theme to his game, just dropping off from time to time before looking to lay the ball off, spin and hope to play off another runner who had taken his place as the furthest forward attacker.
One game, two goals and plenty to give confidence for the future—an excellent night all around for James Wilson.