Whilst Jose Mourinho’s squad prepares for the huge trip to title-rivals Chelsea, defender Timothy Fosu-Mensah is preparing for a different type of battle entirely. The Dutchman is approaching the one-third point in a year-long loan at Premier League rivals Crystal Palace and is already in a relegation scrap that contrasts anything he has experienced during his three-and-a-half-year stay at Old Trafford.
The defender impressed during his breakout season under Louis van Gaal, in which he reached double digits for competitive appearances. However, rather than taking a step forward, a frustrating 2016-17 campaign, saw the defender register just four league appearances during Mourinho’s debut season, which saw Theunitedstand.com suggest that this year’s loan would happen long before it materialised.
Yet, despite being regarded surplus to requirements for the 2017-18 campaign, the door is very much still open for a long and successful career at the Theatre of Dreams. Moreover, this season-long loan at Selhurst Park could be the greatest thing for his ongoing development.
In just eight Premier League appearances for the Eagles, Fosu-Mensah has played several defensive roles. Whether it’s right-back or centrally in a four, or as the right-sided defender of three, the Dutchman is certainly getting a chance to develop and showcase his defensive qualities. Statistics show that the 19-year-old has made more interceptions er game than anyone at Old Trafford this term while only two United players boast more tackles. Getting game time, busy game time, can only be a great test of his character.
Conversely, the consequence of having fewer opportunities to pass out from the back is something that may need to be addressed upon his return. Meanwhile, playing for a team that registered just a single league win before the end of October could be a little problematic too. On a brighter note, the knowledge that he will return to Carrington next summer should overcome the bulk of those confidence-related issues.
Besides, confidence has never been an issue for the energetic 6ft 3in defender. Even after losing 4-0 on his international debut against France, Dutch sports website Online Wedden praised the on-loan Palace man as being one of Oranje’s few bright sparks. If that harsh introduction to international football couldn’t knock him, a few bad results in a relegation dog fight are unlikely to either.
Coach Roy Hodgson might have been left behind in many aspects of management, but his ability to drill defenders on structure and tactical approaches is still his greatest strength. Essentially, this should see a player who has largely survived on instinct learn more about his defensive duties while allowing his natural abilities to compensate for the lack of opportunities on the ball.
Relegation might be a completely different challenge from a title bid. Nonetheless, the mentality of playing crucial matches for a full nine months is far closer to the Manchester United way of life than sitting in mid-table obscurity. Meanwhile, survival can provide the boost that’ll give the defender a chance to push for a regular place in the Red Devils team, much like the far less talented Kieran Richardson did in the two trophy-winning campaigns that followed his loan at West Brom.
There’s a long way to go in 2017-18 for the Dutchman at Palace and only time will tell how successful it will be. Nonetheless, having already picked up more Premier League minutes than in his two seasons at Old Trafford combined while keeping himself firmly on Mourinho’s radar can only offer a stronger platform than rotting in the U23s.
At this moment in time, it seems likely that 2018-19 will come too soon for him to make a mark too. Still, the teen is certainly moving in the right direction. Whatever happens, the Dutchman will need to scrap for his position when he does eventually return. Let’s hope the experience of a relegation dogfight will prepare him in style.