Some of the top Premier League teams are putting their faith in youth in the high-stakes finale to the longest-ever soccer season in England.
Two 18-year-old English players justified that backing on Saturday.
On a day of more twists in the race for Champions League qualification, Mason Greenwood showed why he has been labeled the best finisher at Manchester United with stunning goals off either foot to help his team out of some early trouble and to a 5-2 win over Bournemouth at an empty Old Trafford.
“If he shoots, he will score,” United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said of Greenwood, who has 15 goals in all competitions in his breakthrough season.
Arsenal midfielder Bukayo Saka is another teenage academy product bursting onto the scene this season and his first Premier League goal set Arsenal on its way to a 2-0 win at Wolverhampton, which lost ground in the fight for a top-five finish.
Left back, left wing, central midfield. The versatile Saka has been deployed in a number of positions by Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta and it doesn’t faze him.
“Wherever the boss wants to put me, I want to play,” said Saka, who signed a long-term deal with Arsenal on Wednesday.
The latest impressive displays by Greenwood and Saka came two days after Phil Foden, a 20-year-old Englishman, played a starring role for Manchester City in its 4-0 win over newly crowned champion Liverpool.
The pushing back of this year’s European Championship to the summer of 2021 because of the coronavirus outbreak could prove to be a blessing for England manager Gareth Southgate, given the crop of talented youngsters emerging.
Two strikers at the other end of their careers scored key goals to ignite the Champions League qualification hopes of Leicester and Chelsea, the teams in third and fourth place, respectively.
Jamie Vardy passed the 100-goal mark in Premier League goals by netting twice as Leicester beat Crystal Palace 3-0 for its first win since the restart.
Olivier Giroud, who is aged 33 like Vardy, was recalled by Chelsea and scored the opener in a 3-0 win over Watford.
With five more rounds left, Leicester stayed a point clear of Chelsea and three points ahead of fifth-place Manchester United. Wolves is a further three points back in sixth.
Fifth place will be enough to qualify for the Champions League this season if second-place Manchester City fails with its appeal to overturn a two-year European ban imposed by UEFA. The result of the appeal is imminent.
In the other game on Saturday, Brighton virtually secured another season in the Premier League with a 1-0 win at last-place Norwich, which stayed seven points adrift of safety and appears doomed.
With Greenwood blossoming and January signing Bruno Fernandes continuing to excel, Manchester United is on a 16-match unbeaten run and showing the kind of attacking power the team had under coaching great Alex Ferguson.
Anthony Martial curled a 25-meter shot into the top corner, Fernandes scored from a free kick and Marcus Rashford converted a penalty as United fought back from conceding the opening goal at a virtually empty Old Trafford.
United won 3-0 against Sheffield United and Brighton in its previous two games.
Bournemouth has conceded nine goals in two matches this week and is in next-to-last place, but still only one point from safety.
Wolves had won all three of their games since the return of the league but came up against a stubborn Arsenal team that appears more resilient playing with a five-man defense.
Goals from Saka in the 43rd minute and substitute Alexandre Lacazette in the 86th secured a third straight victory for Arsenal, whose resurgence leaves it just three points behind Wolves in seventh place.
Finishing in sixth will earn the team a berth in the Europa League next season, as may seventh.
Arsenal’s much-criticized defense has three straight shutouts under Mikel Arteta.
Vardy’s struggles in front of goal of late have coincided with a dip in form of his Leicester team but they both rebounded against Palace.
The former England striker reached 100 career goals in the top flight with a tap-in, adding to an opening goal by Kelechi Iheanacho. Vardy scored his second in stoppage time.
The double restored Vardy as the outright top scorer in England’s top flight with 21 goals. That is two more than Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Leicester hadn’t won any of its first three games since the resumption.
Chelsea bounced back from a surprising loss at West Ham with a comfortable win over another relegation-threatened team.
The first two goals came before halftime at Stamford Bridge, with Giroud running onto a pass from Ross Barkley to slot home a finish off the post in the 28th and Willian converting a penalty in the 43rd after Christian Pulisic was fouled.
Barkley added a third in stoppage time.
Chelsea has won three of its four matches following the return of play.
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Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80