Last match: United 1-0 Reading (OG)
Reading looked the better side in the first-half and looked nearly took the lead as the tall striker Andrew Novakovich went through on goal, only for his effort to hit the bottom of the post and into the grateful gloves of Pereira. United came out much the stronger side in the second half and started adapting to attacking life without Andreas Pereria. Matty Willock made some brilliant runs from midfield and nearly scored an outrageous volley from range.
The fortuitous goal came when Rashford played in an overlapping Joe Riley who drilled it in low to James Weir. The captains shot initially hit the post but before anyone could react it fired back off a reading defender and bundled into the net. United looked very strong defensively with three young promising centre backs across the back line, Williams, Fosu-Mensah and Poole.
But it was the left-back Joe Riley who impressed most with endless running and a strong attacking threat. He set up the goal and was a constant bundle of energy on the left wing. Marcus Rashford had a few chances towards the end and was unlucky not to get on the scoresheet.
Warren Joyce has to be praised for how well drilled his United side is, defensive shape is what this win was built on as it is the under-21s twelfth win in a row at home. The man in the shorts has to be praised after losing the talents of Januzaj, Pereria and Keane he has had to shuffle his team of late and winning with five under-18s in the line up in order to stay top of the league is an impressive feat.
Line Up: Pereira, El Fitouri, Williams, Poole, Fosu-Mensah, Riley, Weir, Rothwell, Redmond, Willock, Rashford
Subs: Henderson, McTominay, Warren, Doughty, Mitchell
Talking Point: Nicky Butt
After nearly a year after Brian McClair left his post, at last the academy has a new director. Although the announcement of Nicky Butt is promising after such a long time it feels pretty underwhelming. I understand that the entire youth system was under review and McGuinness’ departure was also announced, but why it has taken so long to appoint someone who was already on the books at the club is bemusing.
Nicky Butt has experience with the youth academy coaching the under-19s during the UEFA Youth League, he has also assisted Warren Joyce’s side and still regularly attends games. On the touchline he shows a stark contrast to his playing style as a player, calm and to the point. The hard up Gorton man has enough experience for the role and most importantly he himself as risen through the youth ranks at United and knows just what it takes.
His task however looks like a long and tenuous one. The youth system has taken a hammering from the press and is overshadowed by Manchester City’s complex up the road. Butt will have to be instrumental in implicating a stronger scouting and recruitment system and will have to emphasise on attracting players to M16 instead of the Ashton New Road. Despite the poor run of form the under-18s have some real talent in their squad; Williams, Fosu-Mensah, Riley and Rashford have all been regulars for the under-21 side this season. Hopefully this is the start of new beginnings for the academy on the long road to redemption.
Player Focus: Donald Love
After coming on up in Sunderland at the weekend a lot of the away end muttered “who”, but The Rochdale born defender has been at the club for 14 years now and it must have been a proud moment for him to make his debut, despite the bad news regarding Darmian’s shoulder. Love became the ninth academy player to be given his first-team debut by Louis Van Gaal.
Love is a no-nonsense defender, often with his sleeves rolled up and socks down he isn’t afraid to put his body on the line. His ardent style of defending was shown when he made a heroic block against Sunderland a few weeks ago. After playing very well at centre-back for the under-21s at Old Trafford against Norwich in front of the manager and with injury to Guillermo Varela, he was called into the squad to travel to the north east.
At 21 years old Love has only had one loan spell at Wigan where he made a handful of appearances. Internationally he has represented Scotland on a few occasions. Love is a versatile defender however right-back is his best position as he does the basics right and has an exceptional work-rate. There may be a full-back crisis in the first-team but Love has the ability to fill in when needed and Van Gaal’s excellent record of giving youth a chance at the club can help him progress.
It was a reserves week for United’s loanees. Tyler Blackett did not make the squad for Celtic’s 2-0 defeat of Ross County, he has not played for Celtic since January 10th. Wilson was left out of Brighton’s squad with a slight groin injury, Nick Powell is yet to debut for Hull and watched their 0-0 draw with Brighton last night in the stands. Ashley Fletcher played 30 minutes as Barnsley lost 2-1 to Gillingham. O’Hara was an unused sub as Morecambe lost 4-2 to Oxford. Dean Henderson had a good week keeping a clean sheet in Stockport’s 0-0 draw with Bradford Park Avenue.
Next Match: Manchester City (A)
United travel to East Manchester to take on Man City at the Etihad stadium on Saturday 20th Feb, kick off is 1:00pm. A win would extend United’s lead over their neighbours’s “superior youth setup” to 16 points.