On for Christian Eriksen with his side 1-0 down, it took all of three minutes for the 18-year-old to kill a Bruno Fernandes diagonal and push Kyle Walker into the penalty area – a sign of things to come. It only took another 120 seconds for the teenager to race away from Citys right-back again, forcing Manuel Akanji to come in on the cover.
Fernandes pulled United level on 79 minutes and when the Portuguese midfielder sent Garnacho racing again, 70,000-plus inside Old Trafford rose in excitement. Cross number one was blocked by Akanji but Nathan Ake couldnt get close on the second attempt, Marcus Rashford the beneficiary of a directness that has only increased the clamour for the youngster to be handed more minutes.
That cross made Garnacho the youngest ever Premier League player to notch an assist in a Manchester derby – 18 years and 197 days old – with goalscorer Rashford describing his teenage teammate as young and hungry, full of talent and ready to make a difference.
The United fanbase have become fairly well-versed in this dynamic: young talent bursts onto the scene, excitement rockets and with it expectation, responsibility and pressure. Adnan Januazajs brace at Sunderland, Federico Machedas infamous turn and finish against Aston Villa, Rashfords two goals against FC Midtjylland.
All too often after managers have thrust such talents into the Old Trafford limelight, the freedom with which they made their breakthrough is weighed down by expectation. But with senior players stepping up and momentum building, Erik Ten Hag has been allowed to manage Garnachos playing time carefully, mirroring the same tactic used by Pep Guardiola when bringing Phil Foden through at Manchester City.
Foden debuted for City in 2017, the palpable excitement at the Etihad similar to the feeling now around Old Trafford. But with just 12 Premier League starts up until the start of the 2020/2021 campaign, anticipation turned to frustration and there were mass calls for a loan. Guardiola relented, allowing the then-teenager to master his exacting style, train with the worlds best and enjoy the freedom without the pressure.
Ten Hag spent two years under Guardiola at Bayern Munich and the Dutchman is employing a similar method of careful management with his own star. Garnacho made his first-team debut under Ralf Rangnick last April, but has managed just two top-flight starts this season despite consistently impacting games off the bench.
It looks to be a conscious decision from the Red Devils boss to reduce the expectation. Coming on with 20 minutes left brings with it the excitement felt on Saturday, allowing a young and expressive winger like Garnacho to impact games in the way he has.
Again like his City rival, Ten Hags outstanding management of the Madrid-born star extends beyond the pitch and into the press room. Words must be chosen carefully when praising young egos and the United boss has always followed his positive words with constructive points on attitude and mentality.
Garnacho came off the bench in the 4-2 cup win over Aston Villa back in November, his two assists turning the scoreline around just days after his first senior goal against Real Sociedad.
It was good that he came on and showed that performance and had that impact in the game, to be able to assist, make the dribbles and run behind, Ten Hag said of the teenager.
There are some things he has to improve, for instance when we go long to go for the second balls. He still has things to learn but quite obviously we are happy with his development and he can contribute to the team.
It depends on his approach, his attitude. When he keeps working then yes, it is possible (for him to play more). He wants to improve every day. He has to do the right things in his lifestyle. He has the capability.
Subtle hints will ring loud in the ears of a teenager desperate to impress. Ten Hag is telling Garnacho it is no longer enough to just be good, not under his tenure. Talk after Saturdays win was of a mentality shift, and that extends not just to fighting back from losing positions on match-days but to the work and attitude at Carrington in every session.
United fans who want to see Garnacho starting regularly may need to wait, not least because those ahead of him are in their own respective purple patches. Ten Hags more cautious approach is working, however, and long may it continue.
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