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Jonny Evans was subbed off at half time against Wigan, he was on a yellow card so precaution was my natural instinct; however news of a calf injury filtered through soon after the final whistle. With Vidic out for the season; Fabio injured; Rio suffering from a few niggles; Rafael not match fit; and Smalling/Jones ill; there’s a possibility some of the Reserves may have to be called up to play. United are already stretched with Carrick and Valencia having to play at the back, but like we did when Fletcher’s situation was announced, here’s an introduction to the defenders in the Reserves should they be needed.
Marnick Vermijl – he joined towards the end of the 2009/10 season from Standard Liege after a trial; aged 18 he was brought to cover gaps in the Reserve squad in the fullback areas. Quotes in Belgium said that United had been very impressed with him. Since joining he’s been a firm fixture in the Reserve side playing all across the back four and across the midfield. His versatility is clearly a big asset and he made the bench against Aldershot having been given squad number 36. For me, he was the unsung hero in the Reserve squad last year – he’s quick, surprisingly strong and very able on the ball. He turns 20 early in the new year and I imagine he the club will be looking to get him out on loan to a Championship side.
Alberto Massacci – signed from Empoli in the summer of 2009, his time has been riddled with injuries. He’s a right back in a classic Gary Neville style. When fit he looks a classy act, very attacking, calm in possession and convincing in defence. He’s fit again at the moment and looks to have done some good gym work over the past few months. A period of sustained fitness could see him make the right back spot his own in the Reserves.
Michael Keane – twin brother of striker William, Michael’s a right back who’s recently moved centrally due to a growth spurt. He made his first team debut at Aldershot wearing number 38 and has had an outstanding season so far. He was perceived to be the weak-link in the FA Youth Cup winning side last year but every aspect of his game has improved heaps this season. The club’s staff rate him very highly and he’s an ever present for the Reserves at the moment keeping specialist centre backs out of the side. Michael’s suddenly become one who could seriously have a very good career in the future.
Reece Brown – the younger brother of Wes Brown, he’s recently turned 20 and been capped by England at U20 level. He can play at centre back, right back and as a shielding midfielder. He’s currently injured but due back training soon. He spent a short spell on loan at Bradford last season and Doncaster this season, doing ok at both clubs. A tad clumsy, Reece has been overtaken at the back by younger, better defenders and was forced into midfield where he excelled as a very calm, ball-playing deep midfielder. Reece has a surprisingly special ability to smash a free kick in as well!
Michele Fornasier – he joined from Fiorentina at the same time as Massacci. He’s a centre back from the Vidic-school of defending – he’ll attack any ball and throw his body in front of anything. He was a key player in the FA Youth Cup success last year but has had a few niggling injuries this season. Due to depth in defence he’s even played in central midfield for the Reserves this year. He’s been capped at U19 level by Italy and is highly thought of in his home country.
Tom Thorpe – the captain of the FA Youth Cup winning side. Tom’s struggled with injuries this season and now fit, he can’t get regular games because other players are doing so well. He is a classy defender though, one of the best readers of a game in his age group and has been capped at various levels by England. He’s a bit short but strong, brave and really good on the ball. He’s managed to get some game-time in front of the back four but his best position is centre back. He and Fornasier complement each other very well. He has squad number 39 and despite not playing much, was on the bench for the trip to Leeds this season. He’s my favourite of the young defenders and I think one to keep an eye on.
Ezekiel Fryers – he’s shot to prominence this season making six first team appearances out of nowhere. Zeki missed most of last year through injury and has often been picked out as a future star by players and staff but few expected this kind of progress so soon. He’s naturally a left back but can play in the centre. He’s strong, quick and growing in confidence – one reason he’s been blooded ahead of others is down to his physique. I’m not sure that he’s ready to really challenge Evra yet but Zeki’s done well in his appearances so far. He’s top of the pecking order out of the Reserve defenders and proof that hard work can pay off.
Sean McGinty – a tall, rangy left back who can play centrally too. Sean was a bit-part player in last year’s FA Youth Cup team, profiting from Zeki’s injury and Tyler Blackett’s suspension. McGinty had been registered for the Champions League this season, given number 45, although he’s yet to make the bench for the first team. Sean’s aggressive and capable of putting in good crosses. He’s solid in most areas but potentially lacks a stand-out attribute. With Fryers promoted to the first team, McGinty has been a regular in the Reserves this season and done well.
Luke Giverin – I think many probably expected Luke to be released last summer but he was surprising kept on having only been part-time. He can play in either fullback position and got plenty of minutes in pre-season but since the competitive games have started he’s rarely played. I can’t see Luke being at United next season but he’s improved quite a bit in the past year and has shown he’s particularly good at taking set pieces.
Finally… United have Ritchie de Laet on loan at Norwich and Scott Wootton on loan at Peterborough. Both have had recent injuries but are doing well at their clubs. Wootton in particular is impressing and receiving rave reviews. Below the Reserves, Tyler Blackett has played for the Reserves this year and was outstanding for much of last season at left back in the FA Youth Cup run. Luke McCullough has battled back from injuries and the U18 captain has been that side’s star man this year at the heart of the defence. Most of the other U18 defenders are first years. With a bit of luck, Jones, Smalling and Ferdinand will all return for Blackburn, but should they not, Zeki may be in line for his first league start with one of the others mentioned on the bench.