Bleacher Report's Sam Tighe analyses the impact of Southampton's young duo Michael Obafemi and Yan Valery, after both Academy graduates made their first Premier League starts against Manchester United on Saturday...
Among the myriad plus-points gleaned from Southampton’s 2-2 draw with Manchester United last weekend was the impressive full Premier League debuts of two Academy graduates, Michael Obafemi and Yan Valery.
The pair, aged just 18 and 19 respectively, both started the midweek cup tie against Leicester City and fared well, but this match was a different proposition entirely.
Facing the 20-time champions at a time they really needed a win, this was a big step up – the biggest in their short careers to date, no doubt.
Obafemi’s impact was arguably the more noticeable – more tangible – considering he delivered an assist, escaping the attention of four United players in the box and sliding a ball in for Stuart Armstrong to smash past David De Gea.
His first instinct is to hit the channels when Southampton get hold of possession, and boy does he hit them fast. His quick stride sees him shoot forward at remarkable speed, and his low centre of gravity allows him to twist and turn while on the move, manipulating the ball.
At times on Saturday, United’s gigantic backline dwarfed him, Nemanja Matić and Phil Jones appearing to tower over him.
But that didn’t stop Obafemi from challenging for every single 50/50 ball, exerting pressure on the opposition in the build-up phase, disrupting their rhythm and energising his own side’s showing.
Valery, too, seemed entirely unfazed by the calibre of player he was facing. First it was a Marcus Rashford-Luke Shaw tandem, then Anthony Martial later on, but he took it all in his stride, playing his usual game.
The Frenchman shot forward where he could and thrived in one-on-one duels – just as he did when wrapping up Demarai Gray days before in the cup – and looked to play forward wherever possible.
Like Obafemi, he looked outmatched physically by United at times, but kept chipping away, kept rising for headers and kept his legs moving.
The emergence of both will give Southampton’s new manager a pleasing quandary. Obafemi’s up against some serious talent in Danny Ings, Manolo Gabbiadini, Charlie Austin and Shane Long in the fight for playing time up front, but his performance against Manchester United can only stand him in good stead moving into the busy Christmas schedule, where most players will likely find minutes.
Valery provides the natural competition at right-back with Cédric the club have been looking for for over a year, padding out the senior squad that little bit more and providing the chance to rotate if required.
The new gaffer’s first team selection just got that little bit harder.