The Norwegian spared his senior players the 6,000-mile round-trip to Kazakhstan, took a squad packed with academy graduates and chose an XI with an average age of 22 years and 26 days – the youngest fielded in European competition.
They took the lead through Jesse Lingard’s deflected strike in the 10th minute before Astana overturned the deficit in seven second-half minutes.
Solskjaer, whose side had already qualified for the last 32, told MUTV: “I think some of these might benefit from going out on loan. Of course, they need men’s football and it was a first taste of it for some of them. Some of them are also knocking on the door for us.”
The United boss complimented right-back Ethan Laird, midfielder Dylan Levitt and centre-back Di’Shon Bernard, who made their full debuts, although it was the latter’s own goal that gave Astana the lead. He added: “You can see the way we dominated midfield, with Jimmy Garner and Dylan playing together.
Di’Shon was composed, Ethan was marauding down the right-hand side, particularly in the first half. Some of these have done themselves a good favour.”
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Lingard, the eldest of the outfield players at 26 and captain for the night, fired United ahead and finished a goal drought dating back to January.
United lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation versus the side at the bottom of Group L but one which earlier in the month secured their sixth successive Kazakh title.
Perhaps those factors influenced Astana’s lackadaisical first-half display as United’s kids enjoyed an easy ride.
Lingard was the best attacker on the pitch during that period, and aside from his goal he hit a 20-yard shot that flew a couple of yards wide followed by another that looped narrowly over Eric’s bar.
Astana improved markedly after the break as they started to exert more pressure, but Chong will rue not subduing them once more with one of the misses of the competition. That seemed to spark the Kazakh side into life and they seized the initiative with two quick goals.
Solskjaer said: “The group have travelled together and played together – it’s a very, very tight-knit group. It’s been excellent – the training yesterday, the lead-up to the game, the travel and everything.
“I’m just sorry they couldn’t go away from here with the win, because I thought they deserved to win the game.”