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Alejandro Garnacho can make Manchester United statement in FA Youth Cup final

By Tyrone Marshall

The path from promising youth footballer to first-team player at a club like Manchester United is never smooth, but at the end of tonight's FA Youth Cup final at Old Trafford we might have a better idea of who is on the right route.

One of the greatest challenges of stepping up from academy football to a senior environment is dealing with the sudden rise in meaning and expectation. The reality is that games in Premier League 2 and at Under-18 level don't mean as much as first-team fixtures at any professional level and they are generally watched by proud parents and scouts.

Manufacturing a more meaningful environment is almost impossible, but tonight the best youngsters at United and Nottingham Forest will go through a test that will tell us, themselves and their coaches a little bit more about them.

READ MORE: Erik ten Hag might like what he sees at United next week

On December 13 last year United opened their Youth Cup campaign with a 4-2 win against Scunthorpe at a deserted Old Trafford. The experience of playing in such a grand stadium is always beneficial but shouts from the touchline and the pitch echo around thousands and thousands of empty seats.

Tonight the atmosphere will be very different. The final will take place in front of a record crowd for the Youth Cup. An Old Trafford sell-out will dwarf the previous record of 38,187.

How these players cope in a stadium with around 75,000 supporters in, with a trophy on the line, will be a fascinating insight into their future prospects. Nerves are an absolute certainty.

But one of the similarities with that third-round win against Scunthorpe could be that Alejandro Garnacho will once again be the star of the show. The 17-year-old scored one and created another that night. It was the launchpad for a season that has rocketed him into the spotlight.

Garnacho has now made his first-team debut and trained with Cristiano Ronaldo at Carrington and Lionel Messi in Argentina. Predicting a golden future for Youth Cup finalists is fraught with danger, but this is a player who looks destined for the big time.

He has certainly made the big stage his own. This will be Garnacho's seventh Old Trafford appearance this season and he's scored six times already. In fact, the only time he's played at Old Trafford and not scored was when he came on against Chelsea for the final minute at the end of April.

If Garnacho can sprinkle his stardust on Old Trafford one more time tonight then his season should end with more first-team experience at Crystal Palace on the final day of the Premier League season. There are some seriously talented players in Travis Binnion's team but Garnacho looks closest to a more permanent elevation.

The man they all need to impress now is Erik ten Hag, a coach who has built two successful Ajax teams around a youthful core.

If Ten Hag likes what he sees he won't be afraid to integrate Garnacho or any other youngsters. You can be sure the Dutchman will cast his eye over a tape of the final, although he will be otherwise engaged in Amsterdam tonight, trying to wrap up a third league title with Ajax.

When he does get the chance to watch this Youth Cup final he will be staggered by the size of United's support and, hopefully, impressed by some of the players too.

Sign up to our United newsletter so you never miss an update from Old Trafford this season.

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Dive Deeper:
Manchester United given Erik ten Hag insight as Alejandro Garnacho stars in FA Youth Cup win
Your Manchester United morning headlines for Thursday, May 12.
Alejandro Garnacho named Manchester United's U18s Player of the Year ahead of FA Youth Cup final
Man United's Alejandro Garnacho has enjoyed an excellent season and his strong displays have now been recognised.
Alejandro Garnacho and Manchester United give fans what they have been waiting for in FA Youth Cup final
The highlight of Man United's season came courtesy of the best thing about the club: their academy, who ended their…
Alejandro Garnacho pays tribute to Cristiano Ronaldo after Manchester United's FA Youth Cup win
Alejandro Garnacho scored twice to help Manchester United clinch the FA Youth Cup on Wednesday night at Old Trafford.
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Alejandro Garnacho gives Manchester United victory over Nottingham Forest in FA Youth Cup final
Alejandro Garnacho scored twice as Manchester United won the FA Youth Cup after a 3-1 win over Nottingham Forest at…
'Make us proud!' - Man United fans react to Youth Cup final lineup as Alejandro Garnacho starts
Manchester United Under-18s manager Travis Binnion has named his starting line-up for tonight's FA Youth Cup final against Nottingham Forest…
Get all your news in one place