Alejandro Garnacho is beginning to make a habit of scoring for Manchester United at Old Trafford.
The 17-year-old took his tally here for the season to six with a well-taken strike against Chelsea Under-23s, finishing another milestone week in his fledgling career on a high. Garnacho has trained with the first team at Carrington for most of the week as bite injuries in Ralf Rangnick’s squad, and he also put pen to paper on a contract with Nike.
That deal was celebrated with a corporate hospitality trip to Stamford Bridge on Wednesday to take in Chelsea’s Champions League quarter-final first leg against Real Madrid. But it’s Old Trafford that he calls home and where he looks increasingly at home.
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United have been keen to try and control the hype around Garnacho but the player himself is making that almost impossible. He’s trained with the senior squad — for at least part of a session — around a dozen times now and, having been called into the Argentina squad last month, he’s already rubbing shoulders with Lionel Messi as well as Cristiano Ronaldo.
The winger has shot to attention in the Youth Cup this season and having dazzled in that competition at Old Trafford, he was center stage again as Neil Wood’s Under-23 side moved across from Leigh Sports Village to face Chelsea, a perennial threat at this level despite their disappointing season leaving them 12th in a 13-team league.
Garnacho had been bright without being destructive until he scored in front of the Stretford End 10 minutes before half-time. Chelsea had been playing themselves into trouble at the back all night and when Bashir Humphreys slipped when in possession on his own six-yard line, D’Mani Mellor pounced and squared for Garnacho, who couldn’t miss.
It was just rewarded for United’s dominant first-half showing. Garnacho and the impressive Shola Shoretire, running the game from a new central midfield position, had shots blocked in the same attack inside the first 10 minutes and Mellor stung the palms of Lucas Bergstrom from the edge of the area.
Garnacho had also bent a shot just wide and Charlie Wellens drew Bergstrom into another save after a sweeping move that began with Alvaro Fernandez sweeping a cross-field pass straight to the feet of Noam Emeran.
Ondrej Mastny was relatively untroubled in the United goal, one low save from Dion Rankine aside, and that didn’t change after half-time.
Shoretire fired a central free-kick straight at Bergstrom and from the same position Emeran forced the goalkeeper into a finger-tip save from another dead-ball situation. Shoretire also headed straight at Bergstrom from six yards after a good cross from Wellens.
Garnacho was relishing the freedom he was getting on the break, as well as shining in front of the 2,000 or so fans in the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand, although he was occasionally guilty of trying too much. Mellor was particularly frustrated not to get a pass when he would have been presented with a tap-in.
The youngster was involved in most of United’s attacks, however. Fernandez forced another save from Bergstrom, as did Mellor from Garnacho’s clever corner.
The only player on the pitch busier than Garnacho was Chelsea keeper Bergstrom, who produced a strong hand at his near post to make another save from Fernandez. It was the goalkeeper’s heroics that kept the score down and United never looked like letting the lead slip on a night that again belonged to their talented Argentine teen, who earned a standing ovation when he was replaced in injury time.
United: Mastny, Wellens, Fish, Hardley, Fernandez, Svidersky, Shoretire, Emeran (Stanley 85), Iqbal, Garnacho (Gore 90), Mellor
Subs: Vitek, Oyedele, Mejia
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