Last Match: United 1-0 Sunderland (Weir, 70)
A top of the table clash which left everyone wondering just how Sunderland were top of the table. United were dominant in every area of the pitch as Sunderland had 10 luminous green shirts behind the ball who never allowed play to flow with petty fouls throughout the match.
The team are playing with such style and confidence you seriously wonder what the result would be if they were to play the first-team. Will Keane is settling in well after returning from his loan spell at Preston as he went close with a few tame efforts. United were patient on the ball as they went forward in waves, Januzaj managed to hit the post with a corner as Sunderland dragged themselves through to half time.
All you can do against such an austere side is keep possession keep pressing, keep the ball moving and wait for a reward. It came courtesy of an assertive forward pass from Matty Willock which was neatly flicked round the corner by Will Keane into the path of captain James Weir who went straight through the middle and capitalised on the rare bit of time and space with an assured finish.
But as it is with football, Sunderland had a golden chance to level the game. The ball was cut back to Sunderland’s number 9, Mikael Mandron and with Joel Pereira out of the game an unjust equaliser was a certainty. But Donald Love produced a heroic block which saw the ball deflect off his side and just wide of the post. Despite a few long balls into the box late on United held on to go within 3 points of Sunderland with 3 games in hand to play yet.
The under-21s style of play this season is the complete opposite of the first teams’. Winning 6 games in a row, scoring 20 times in the process and amassing over 50 shots in the last two games alone. Journalists who don’t normally take note of how the under-21s are getting on are suddenly perking up, however they are using the form of the reserves to ridicule the first-team and Louis Van Gaal’s current situation.
The success of the under-21s comes from Warren Joyce using his resources wisely and a balanced team. However the stylish attacking flare comes down to Andreas Pereira, his tempo of play and ability to keep the ball keeps the team flowing. Cynical fouls and two lines of 5 kept him quiet the other night however against Southampton last week he must have racked up 10 shots on target alone.
Pereira’s form has clearly not gone unnoticed, making a few first team appearances including his first goal with a free kick against Ipswich in the League Cup in September. His assertiveness, creativity and self-assured ability at set-pieces are what the first-team is missing, with an FA Cup tie at Derby coming up on Friday Pereira must wonder what more he has to do at under-21 level to break into the first-team on a regular basis.
Player Focus: Ro-Shaun Williams
The 18 year old Manchester-born centre back is best known for his athleticism and pace, in 2014 he raised a few eyebrows by breaking Darren Campbell’s school sprint record sprinting 100m in 10.99 seconds. Although his maturity and physicality has rendered his speed useless as he has shown an understanding of the game higher than the usual 18 year old centre back. Even if a ball is played over the top or he is caught out of position he has always got a get out of jail card with his incredible acceleration.
On the ball he has shown a lot of quality playing out of the back. Ariel battles don’t seem to phase Williams as he continues to gain experience and impress at this higher level at such a young age. Being 18 years old and looking like a under-21 regular he has time on his side.
Next Match: Everton [A]
United travel to Haig Avenue, Southport where they face sixth place Everton, kick off 19:00. A win would close the gap on Sunderland and send United top of the league on goal difference. Bizarrely United are 6 points clear of third placed Spurs with 5 games in hand on them. The under-21 champions look set to defend their title at a canter.