The first 12 minutes of Amad’s Manchester United career, under the microscope
How much can you learn from a player in 12 minutes?
That is all the time that Manchester United’s newest and most exciting young signing in years is going to have on his senior debut, but it’s going to be enough.
It begins, for Amad, with a quiet moment in prayer. As he stops, reflects and waits for Mason Greenwood to make his way over to the touchline, he is interrupted. It’s the fourth official. He’s asking if he’s ready.
Bruno Fernandes is coming off with Greenwood and he makes sure to acknowledge the debutant, even though Amad is not directly replacing him. With that though, the pleasantries are over. It is time.
Within seconds of his introduction, he is chasing down Igor Zubeldia from behind, his presence forcing the Real Sociedad defender to hurry a pass into Andoni Gorosabel.
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A minute later, Amad is chasing down Zubeldia again, then Gorosabel, all while Harry Maguire tries to alert Alex Telles to incoming danger.
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As Portu skips in behind United’s left-back and into the final third unopposed, the pitchside microphones picks up an audible “Oh Alex” in a distinctive Sheffield brogue.
Amad, meanwhile, is showing better positional awareness. He is dropping narrow and deep alongside Fred and Nemanja Matic, doing his part to shut off the space and passing lanes that a bruised, beaten Sociedad are attempting to exploit.
From that position, he reads the destination of a pass before it leaves Zubeldia’s boot and sets off, storming down the blindside of its intended recipient, hoping that he would steal the ball off the No 21’s toes.
The problem? Sociedad’s No 21 is David Silva. The ball has already gone before Amad got there. Again, maybe next time.
But then comes a let off. Later in the same passage of play, he momentarily allows Gorosabel to escape him on the edge of the penalty area, collect a loose ball and shoot wide of goal.
Not to worry, there was a clear handball by the Sociedad right-back. It’s a United free-kick. But it might not have been. These are the fine margins that can go for or against you, not just on your debut but at any time.
Next, he is making a promising run off the shoulder of their last defender. There’s enough space and Amad has the speed. If the pass is right, he is through for a debut goal. Matic looks up, sees him, but the ball is wayward.
There’s another opportunity a minute later. Daniel James has kept Eric Bailly’s clearance in play, cut inside from the right and is running at goal.
Amad charges for the goal-line, knowing a save or deflection could send the ball his way for a simple tap-in.
He could maybe even slide in and nudge James’ scuffed but goal-bound shot over the line. You know, just to make sure. He decides not to. Probably for the best.
Once he and his team-mates have finished celebrating United’s fourth, there is another small but significant reminder of the level he is now operating at.
While defending a throw-in deep in his own half, Amad is bypassed by Gorosabel and Silva, who play a one-two around him. From the broadcasting camera angle, Gorosabel’s pass may even be a nutmeg.
Don’t worry, though. There will be time to get his own back.
Before that, Fred plays a ball down the line. Ander Guevara slides into intercept but the ball skips up off the turf. Amad skips over Guevara’s leg and darts away.
A one-two with Anthony Martial takes United all the way up the pitch and plays Amad into the penalty area, where his neat footwork bamboozles Zubeldia but not Mikel Merino, who wins back possession for Sociedad. Nearly.
Then, in the last of the five minutes added on, Amad collects a pass from Matic on the touchline.
Two Sociedad players surround him. Gorosabel closes in but is cut to ribbons. Portu tries from the other side but is bypassed just as easily. A croqueta – Andres Iniesta’s favourite trick – has beaten the pair of them.
Amad is away when Guevara barges in, dropping him to the floor, recognising that the only sure way of stopping him is to concede a cheap, clumsy free-kick.
And in that moment – although there is a long way to go, although there is a lot still to learn, and though there are a thousand different reasons why it is wise to temper excitement about any new, young signing – you also see why there is such excitement in the first place.
Thirty seconds later, the final whistle sounded. Amad’s first senior appearance in a United shirt was over after 12 minutes. It’s not a lot. But it’s enough.
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