Analysing Manchester United's youth movement: Too much, too young?
Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal has spoken proudly about the chances he has given to young players but Liverpool, their opponents in the Europa League on Thursday, have actually had a younger squad by average age -- 25 years and three months, one month younger than United's average -- in the Premier League this season.
Last week, after United fielded a squad against Watford with an average age of 23 -- the youngest of any club in the league this season -- Van Gaal stated that his development of youth is one of the reasons the club hired him and that it will attract new signings to United.
Both United and Liverpool's average ages are much younger than those of other heavyweight clubs. Chelsea's is 26 years and six months, while Arsenal's is two months older than that. The ageing nature of Manchester City's squad is highlighted by their average age: 29 years and three months.
Liverpool have also fielded a player as young as 18 -- Joe Gomez -- in at least five league games this season. United have not managed that yet but 18-year-old Marcus Rashford, who has featured in three, will hope to change that soon.
How much of United's promotion of youth is out of choice -- and how much is due to circumstances -- remains a subject of debate, with Van Gaal's men having been hit by injuries.
Who are Man United's youngsters?
Van Gaal gave first-team debuts to six academy graduates in February in all competitions, taking his total to 14 since he took over as United manager in the summer 2014.
Four of those -- Jesse Lingard, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, Paddy McNair and Andreas Pereira -- have featured regularly in first-team squads this season.
August 2014: Lingard (17 league appearances), Tyler Blackett (11), Pereira (5), Reece James (0), Saidy Janko (0).
September 2014: McNair (24), Tom Thorpe (1)
November 2015: Borthwick-Jackson (8)
February 2016: Timothy Fosu-Mensah (3), Marcus Rashford (3), Donald Love (1), James Weir (1), Regan Poole (0), Joe Riley (0).
How do academy promotions compare?
Twelve of the players used in the league by Van Gaal this season have come through the club's academy. By contrast, Tottenham have used seven, Liverpool five, Arsenal four and Chelsea and Man City three apiece.
Man United: Lingard (16 league appearances), Borthwick-Jackson (8), McNair (8), Adnan Januzaj (4), Pereira (4), Fosu-Mensah (3), Rashford (3), Will Keane (1), Love (1), Nick Powell (1), Weir (1), James Wilson (1).
Tottenham: Harry Kane (29), Tom Carroll (16), Danny Rose (16), Ryan Mason (13), Josh Onomah (7), Nabil Bentaleb (5), Alex Pritchard (1).
Liverpool: Jordon Ibe (21), Jon Flanagan (2), Jordan Rossiter (1), Brad Smith (1), Joao Carlos Teixeira (1).
Arsenal: Hector Bellerin (27), Francis Coquelin (24), Kieran Gibbs (14), Alex Iwobi (5).
Chelsea: John Terry (21), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (6), Bertrand Traore (4).
Man City: Kelechi Iheanacho (19), Bersant Celina (1), Manu Garcia (1).
What has Van Gaal done most recently?
United's lineup against Watford on Mar. 2 was the club's fourth-youngest starting eleven in the Premier League era.
At West Brom on Sunday, Van Gaal picked a more experienced side that contained eight players aged 25 or older.
United have often used young players but not to the extent that they are setting the standard, as Liverpool's figures show. Further, circumstances have also played a part in Van Gaal's promotion of youth and his two most recent team selections highlight this.
After the win against Watford, experienced players came back into consideration for the West Brom game. Faced with the choice of sticking with youth or going for older heads, Van Gaal had went for the latter and his side was beaten.
Overall, the United manager's record of promoting youth this season is perhaps not as impressive as it seems. Although he deserves credit for featuring a lot of inexperienced players, they have not necessarily made many appearances.
Arindam is ESPN FC's Manchester United correspondent. Follow him @ARejSport