Manchester United last won the FA Youth Cup in 2011, beating Sheffield United in the final
Follow Doron on Twitter
It’s that time of year again – the FA Youth Cup focuses attention on the younger players at United and thrusts them into the limelight for hopefully the next few months. Last year United lost at this same stage, going down 4-3 at home to Burnley despite having the likes of Pearson, Januzaj, Daehli and Wilson all starting. There’s a chance for revenge though as the draw has thrown up Burnley once again, this time on away turf on Monday night.
Knowing quite what to expect from United at U18 level this season is tricky. The squad is small and most of the second years are relatively inexperienced having been only on the fringes last season. Already some of the U16s have featured on the bench or on the pitch in the cases of Reid, Kehinde and Rashford. There is though a settled feel to team with eight players starting at least ten of the fifteen games played so far this campaign and that’s helped with regards to consistency in terms of performances and familiarity on the pitch.
The tightness of the group has no doubt played its part in what’s been a very solid opening to the season that contains some admirable results, notably wins against Everton and Arsenal (who despite being bottom of their group with one win all season, fielded a strong side containing Zelalem, Jebb, Crowley and Akpom). Quite what realistic expectations with this group should be is hard to gauge, as we’ve already discovered in the new Europa Youth League (U19 level).
United came up against good sides and failed to qualify from their group. They were naïve at times, particularly defensively and just not as intense going forwards for long enough in games. Four red cards in six games certainly didn’t help either. Those games of course contained a mixture of players from the U18s and U19s (which posed its own problems) and not all are eligible for the FA Youth Cup this season.
As with most United youth sides, this one contains sprinklings of magic. James Wilson, a speedy forward with great movement beats men for fun and has a goal scoring record of nearly a goal a game this season. Saidy Janko is new to the club but the versatile right back has already shown in his first few appearances that he knows how to use his physicality and has contributed very positively to a lot of attacks. Josh Harrop has three goals and seven assists from midfield, either playing wide or through the middle – he’s arguably the best technical player in the team.
Others too are having surprisingly impressive campaigns. Sean Goss has become something of a leader in the middle and has an eye for goal from distance whilst his partner, Matthew Willock has been a revelation having had a growth spurt and moved from out wide into the centre. Ashley Fletcher has proven he’s more than just a target man with his performances and has been rewarded with ten goals and four assists in fourteen games. At the back, Evans, McConnell, Barber and Ioannou, all second years, are finding form and benefiting from regular games after a variety of injuries.
Even on top of that there are players who can do more than they have so far. Andreas Pereira has hardly been involved as he’s mainly been with the U21s but there’s a sense that he’s only scratched the surface of what he can do. Demetri Mitchell is a pacey, tricky and exciting winger who plays for England but has only got six starts to his name this season for United, from him there’s definitely more to come.
With no more European games this season, this competition is even more important – games where the players can prepare like the first team and there’s a knockout structure with everything to lose. Clearly it would be a surprise if United were to go out in the 3rd round again but just what they can achieve is difficult to say. Unlike in previous seasons, this isn’t a group that’s so obviously superior to most in the country but there is definitely a sense of togetherness about them that may stand them in good stead for a cup run.