A trio of English clubs are gearing up to face continental opposition in the Europa League on Thursday, and while Arsenal, Manchester United and Wolves will be keen to secure crucial Group Stage points in their quest for knock-out round qualification, all three combatants are expected to rest key players for their respective fixtures.
Several of the most promising youngsters currently on the books of each club will hope that they can take advantage of the selection reshuffle this week, and some will be lucky enough to be handed minutes and first team roles of varying importance on Thursday.
With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at some of the kids hoping to showcase their talents on a European stage this week.
Don’t forget – You can also find all of our match previews and betting tips for the midweek action on our Europa League predictions page.
Arsenal (vs Vitoria Guimaraes)
Youngsters that could feature: Joe Willock, Gabriel Martinelli, Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith-Rowe
Arsenal have enjoyed a terrific start to their Europa League campaign in their attempts to reach the competition’s final for successive seasons.
The Gunners opened their Group F account with two wins from two against Eintracht Frankfurt and Standard Liege, racking up an aggregate score of 7-0 in the process.
Unai Emery has been generous to Arsenal’s young players in the Europe League so far in terms of minutes, and more of them will expect to feature against Vitoria Guimaraes this week.
The versatile 20-year old midfield prospect has already made an impact in this season’s Europa League, scoring in each of Arsenal’s Group F fixtures to date, and the technically talented academy product has also featured in all of the Gunners’ Premier League games in 2019/20 (four starts, four substitute appearances).
Willock, who was born just 19 days after Arsenal beat Man Utd in the 1999 Charity Shield, has represented England at youth level from U16s right through to the U21s.
18-year old attacker Gabriel Martinelli was plucked from relative obscurity by Arsenal when they signed the teenager from Brazilian club Ituano in the summer, though the rangy forward has already shown glimpses of his obvious potential.
Martinelli has started just two matches for Arsenal, one in the Europa League and one in the Carabao Cup, though the natural finisher managed to notch two goals on each occasion.
The striker, who had trials with Man Utd and Barcelona earlier in his career, has yet to start a Premier League match for the Gunners however, though his full debut in England’s top flight shouldn’t be too long in arriving.
18-year old whiz-kid Saka was in sparkling form in his only UEL appearance of the campaign so far, scoring one and making the other two of Arsenal’s goals in the Gunners’ 3-0 win against Eintracht Frankfurt.
Saka’s impactful performance didn’t go unnoticed and the fleet-footed winger went on to start each of the four Premier League matches Arsenal have contested since their victory in Germany.
The recent vertical trajectory that Saka’s career has taken has been so stark, that there is a good chance that he could be rested for Arsenal’s meeting with Vitoria Guimaraes on Thursday, to keep the wide attacker fresh for Premier League action at the weekend.
With fellow former academy starlet Reiss Nelson out injured, 19-year old attacking midfielder Emile Smith-Rowe could be in line to start his second Europa League game of the season this week.
Smith-Rowe gave a good account of himself against Eintracht Frankfurt in September, and the highly rated midfielder won’t be overawed if handed a second chance to impress against Vitoria Guimaraes on Thursday.
The England underage star went out on loan to RB Leipzig in Germany in January this year, and made three Bundesliga appearances before a groin injury curtailed his progress and involvement with Die Roten Bullen.
Make sure to check out our Arsenal vs Vitoria Guimaraes betting tips to read our expert’s predictions for Thursday’s game.
Wolves (vs Slovan Bratislava)
Youngsters that could feature: Morgan Gibbs-White, Rúben Vinagre, Pedro Neto, Patrick Cutrone
Wolves will be hoping to drag themselves into the top two places in Europa League Group K this week by beating current leaders Slovan Bratislava in Slovakia on Thursday.
Unlike Arsenal and Man Utd, Wanderers have been a little more conservative with the changes they have made to their team for their continental excursions, as Nuno Espirito Santo carefully manages his squad through the early parts of the season.
Nevertheless, there is a clutch of youthful fringe players who will be eager to impress if called upon this week.
The explosive attacking midfielder is considered the brightest young talent at Molineux at present, and though the 19-year old has had to feed on scraps in the Premier League, he looks set to maintain his 100% start rate in the Europa League Group Stage on Thursday.
Gibbs-White made an incredible 21 appearances for the substitutes bench for Wolves last term in Wanderers first season back in the Premier League, though the 3-times capped England U21 international will hope to feature from the start more often this term.
A product of the famed Sporting Lisbon academy, wing back Rúben Vinagre will be aiming to make the left flank his own for Wolves over the next few years.
The 20-year old started just two Premier League games for Wanderers since the summer, though he has excelled when called up on in the Europa League, netting two goals from three starts in the summer’s pre-qualifiers.
Vinagre also played 74 minutes of Wolves remarkable 2-0 win at English champions Manchester City at the beginning of the month, and performed well when asked to rub shoulders with some of football’s best players.
One of the youngest members of the club’s large Portuguese contingent, diminutive attacker Pedro Neto has had to be patient for first team chances with Wolves.
The 19-year old who arrived from Braga in the summer has started just three times for Wanderers in games spread across the Premier League, Carabao Cup and Europa League, though he showed flashes of his untapped potential on each occasion.
Big things were expected of Italian forward Patrick Cutrone when he arrived at Molineux from Serie A giants AC Milan in the summer, though the 21-year old has so far struggled to impress.
Crutone started three times in the Premier League for Wolves and appeared off the bench a further five times, though a return of just one goal (scored against Chelsea) has left Wanderers’ supporters feeling a little underwhelmed.
There is hope however, that a positive UEL appearance or two could help to kick-start Crutone’s career at Wolves, and the Italian will be desperate to be given that chance to shine this week.
Our Europa League analysts expect at tight game in Slovakia this week. Read their Slovan Bratislava vs Wolves predictions to see their betting tips for the game.
Manchester United (vs Partizan Belgrade)
Youngsters that could feature: Brandon Williams, Mason Greenwood, Tahith Chong, Angel Gomes
Manchester United will once again take a youthful squad with them on their latest Europa League assignment on Thursday, when they travel to Serbia to take on Partizan Belgrade in the country’s capital.
With United undergoing a “cultural revolution” under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, first team opportunities for young players at the club have never been more plentiful.
The talk at United’s training ground at Carrington, is that the current generation of academy products is among the most talented they have produced in a decade, though so far, that lofty reputation hasn’t been reflected in their performances.
Cut from the clothe of the archetypal modern fullback, pacey left-footer Brandon Williams has started to push his way into first team contention at United in recent weeks.
In the absence of regular left back Luke Shaw, Williams started United’s last UEL outing at AZ Alkmaar and the 19-year old was trusted enough to come on as a substitute in the club’s 1-1 draw with Liverpool on Sunday.
While Shaw remains Solskjaer’s first choice for his position, the injury-prone 24-year old might have something to worry about soon if Williams keeps up his rate of progression.
Hailed as the most gifted player to come through the United ranks since members of the Class of 92, prolific youth team striker Mason Greenwood already has a huge, heavy tag to live up to.
The 17-year old’s Premier League involvement has been fleeting this season, though Greenwood scored two fine goals in United’s wins over Astana and Rochdale (via pens) in the Europa League and Carabao Cup respectively.
Equally adept with his left and right foot, Greenwood has been known to take corners, free kicks and penalties with either, depending on the situation.
19-year old Dutch winger Tahith Chong has yet to fully replicate the devastating form he showed for United’s youth and reserve team when handed an opportunity to do so on the biggest stage.
The former Feyenoord starlet, who joined United in 2016, looked extremely raw in his three first team appearances this term, though he showed enough flashes of quality in his 2-0 minute cameo against Leicester City last month, to suggest that he deserves some patience.
19-year old creative midfielder Angel Gomes was one of United’s best performers in pre-season, combining an incredible first touch with a wonderful appreciation of space in displays against Tottenham, Inter Milan and Leeds.
The England U20 star, who scored both of the Young Lions’ goals in their recent 2-2 draw with Italy, has so far been offered little opportunity to establish himself in the Premier League this season, playing just nine minutes in total since August.
Gomes started each of United’s Europa League Group matches however, and he was arguably their best player against Astana at Old Trafford on September 19th.
Gomes has the natural talent to capitalise on the dearth of quality in United’s midfield, and the schemer, who has been with the club since the age of six, will be given another chance to establish himself as a genuine option this week.
Can United pick up a long-overdue win in Serbia this week? Read our Partizan Belgrade vs Manchester United predictions to find out.