Will Manchester United be rewarded in the FA Youth Cup for their performances?
No matter how the season has gone to date, when the FA Youth Cup comes round there is always an expectation at Man United that the Under-18 side will do well. So far this century United haven’t been dominant like they were in the past; two trophy wins is bettered by both Arsenal (3) and Chelsea (4). Last season United beat Bury and Hull but lost to an impressive Spurs team in the 5th Round, this year can they go further?
In truth, the draw for the 3rd Round has been kind to United. QPR will travel up north boasting the worst defensive record amongst Category 1 and 2 Under-18 teams. In the southern section of Under-18 League 2 they are one place off the bottom and have conceded 54 goals in 16 games. On three occasions this season they’ve conceded eight (8!) or more goals in a game. However, as United found out last year when they laboured to a win over lowly Bury, this isn’t a competition where the expected always happens. Even this season, the Metropolitan Police’s Under-18 side have made it into the 4th Round, knocking out Burnley.
At the time of writing, United still have a league game to play a few days before they host QPR. As it stands though, they have lost seven league games in a row, the worst run ever since the Academy was reformed. It is however slightly misleading. For the most part, United have been naming very young sides made of predominantly first year scholars. For whatever reason, United for some time now have had smaller, less physical players at Under-18 level, countered by the fact they are strong in technical areas. It can therefore be a bit of a mismatch at times when they come up against bigger players at this age group. Even putting that to one side though, they have played good football, really good in some cases and just seem to have luck against them this season. That the Under-21 side regularly requires the better Under-18 players has also limited Paul McGuinness’ selection options, to the point where it’s not uncommon for United to be unable to name a full quota of subs.
A lack of luck and good performances are one thing though; they don’t solely explain the poor run of results. United’s Under-18s have gone from having the best defensive record in the league last season to being leaky this time around. One clean sheet in 14 games is telling and maybe a reflection of the fact that Tuanzebe and Fosu-Mensah have started just three games between them. At the other end, it’s rare that United fail to score but they simply don’t score enough, only seven players have found the back of the net.
From front to back, as you’d expect, there is talent. Both Axel Tuanzebe and Marcus Rashford have been unused subs for the first team whilst RoShaun Williams, Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Callum Gribbin are already becoming familiar names for United fans who are on the look-out for the club’s next star.
Other players have stepped up and impressed this season too. Tyrell Warren has proven himself to be excellent whether at right back or centre back; Tosin Kehinde, one of the few second year scholars, has returned after missing the entirity of last season and has shown versatility and an improved skillset; whilst Ethan Hamilton has undoubtedly been the unsung hero, showing a fantastic attitude and work rate performing at left back and left wing whilst also proving to be a threat in front of goal.
There are injury doubts going into the game. Ollie Byrne was withdrawn in the last league game which could see 16 year old Belgian keeper, Ilias Moutha-Sebtaoui start. Tyler Reid is likely to miss out and having just returned from injury, both Charlie Scott and Faustin Makela may only make the bench. In the forward areas both Zak Dearnley and DJ Buffonge have just returned to training and neither are likely to feature but with some luck, could be ready to contribute in the 4th Round, should United get that far.
Without wanting to look too far ahead, the 4th Round draw has been brutal on United (or QPR) having been drawn against Chelsea. They are the current holders of the FA Youth Cup and will be looking to win it for the third year running. Their conveyor belt of talent is extraordinary at the moment and with just one defeat this season, they top the Under-18 Premier Division southern section table, winning more points than any other Academy so far this season – no team has scored more goals and amongst the Premier Division sides, no team has conceded less. Despite the talent at United and even with a full strength team available, it’s not unrealistic to assume that progess beyond the 4th Round is unlikely. We can worry about that after Tuesday evening though. As is now commonplace at Leigh Sports Village, tickets are free so get down and support the lads.