Mats Daehli stole the show at Carrington yesterday as Manchester United’s Academy boys saw off a somewhat spirited fight from West Bromich Albion. Mats was the difference scoring both goals in a 2-1 victory that saw United extend their current winning streak to five games and maintain the momentum that’s building up nicely to begin their FA Youth Cup defence next month.
United’s boy’s made hard work of seeing off Albion’s challenge despite, at times, being gifted territorial advantage and easily having the measure of West Brom’s resistance.
Excellent individual performances from McCullough, Blackett and Jack Rudge were ultimately rewarded thanks to the classy finishing and movement from Daehli.
As a team, the performance was slightly under par. That may appear harsh but the truth of it is, this team can and has played far better in previous weeks and the future. The boys were unusually careless with possession and in spells appeared to forget the basic principles they do so well.
Albion came with a game plan. Narrow, pressure, intimidate, defend. They were actually quite a polished outfit with capable players throughout, but they lacked any ideas going forward or any outstanding attacking options which meant time and time again they were forced into longer balls that were easily dealt with by United’s experimental back four.
It didn’t take long for this game to ignite, within seconds Albion flashed a ball that wasn’t dealt with across the box and it caused some panic, it was a befitting opening to a very lively opening twenty minutes or so.
On 12 minutes United were awarded a freekick which Jack Barmby played early. He caught Albion’s defence napping; and Daehli, on the same wavelength as Barmby, was clean through with just the keeper to beat. He tucked the ball away accurately into the bottom left hand corner. The goal stood despite complaints from Albion that the ball was still rolling when the freekick was taken. On review, they may have had a point.
Seconds later Albion had a goal disallowed for an obvious offside, this game was a competitive one and United were about to lose that elusive cleansheet.
Luke McCullough oozes class. His calmness and positioning are incredible for a lad who was denied any real experience last season due to injury. Luke is continually aware and anticipates danger in a way that’s similar to players in the ilk of Rio Ferdinand and Gary Pallister. A very clever defender who could step up to the reserves without a problem already.
Despite that, it was Luke who was tempted into an error to concede the penalty that brought Albion level on 14 minutes. A foolish attempt to tackle from behind was asking for trouble after his attacker rolled him from a throw-in.
The remainder of the first half settled down and saw Januzaj, Daehli and van Velzen inject some width and trickery to carve out opportunities. Hendrie was a bit wasteful in midfield and Jack Barmby was having a quiet game. Jack was replaced early in the second half so unfortunately didn’t increase his scoring run spanning four goals in the last four games in The Academy League. Was his Dad’s absence a factor? Hard to say, but certainly something that ‘can’ effect youngsters.
One-one at the break was a fair reflection of the half, if United were to get the result they were entitled to expect, they would need to keep possession better, maintain width and convert their chances.
Tyler Blackett has impressed this season despite being unable to settle consistently into his preferred leftback role due to players absences. He was deployed at centre back in the absence of Declan Dalley again yesterday, although in the second half you wouldn’t have believed that!
In the 65th minute it was Tyler’s overlap down the left that found him with enough space to deliver a perfect cross that landed in the path of Daehli who expertly cushioned home what proved to be the winner. His celebration told its own story, he knew his finish was a cute one……he was right.
Although Albion conducted a spirited, valiant effort to get something out of the game after they went behind, United dealt with their threat resolutely. Albion were visibly irritated by now and it was no surprise when the referee finally dished out a couple of yellow cards. One for dissent then one for kicking the ball away. I can understand being pumped up for a game, I also understand; when a team plays against United their adrenalin increases, but what I can’t understand is why 17yr old lads play with such an angry attitude from start to finish as the Albion lads did. Perhaps it comes from a poor season so far, perhaps not. Either way, it’s definitely something their coaches should be looking at improving to assist their development…..it’s not just about results, concentrate on the football.
United did survive one scare when a crafty training ground corner was almost forced over the line after a surprised Liam Jacob flapped at a second-ball cross. It would’ve been rough justice for United had they not taken all three points but the linesman was well placed and correctly adjudged the ball hadn’t crossed the line after Jacob pounced to protect his error.
Albion’s lack of discipline would be typified before the final whistle when Jamie Edge was dismissed for persistent dissent. He’d been the main protagonist for Albion, regularly focusing on his man and the ref rather than the ball.
In a nutshell, United demonstrated in the second half that they can concentrate and defend when needs be. The attack they faced wasn’t as potent or as dangerous as it will be in future tests but there were very few lapses and no major mistakes. Charni again looked an improver at leftback and James Weir should be very pleased with his venture at rightback after returning from injury. He looked sensible and assured both defensively and in an advanced supporting role.
Jack Rudge: Terrier-like in midfield, constantly popping up to break up play, he smells danger and shuts it down simply and effectively. Had his best game to date yesterday I think.
Gyliano van Velzen: A constant threat now with the ball because he’s added a key component to his game – variety. His days of being labelled ‘#headlesschicken’ seem behind him thanks no doubt to his willingness to listen and learn. I’m still not convinced he’s destined for greatness but certainly a huge improvement on last seasons displays.
Tyler Blackett: Fantastic ability. Strong, pacey. Can pass, can cross. Committed and determined. Will play a key role in any success United achieve this season.
Adnan Januzaj: Had a relatively quiet game yesterday but still showed in patches how his variety singles him out from the crowd. He’s comfortable running at defenders or passing his way into and out of space. He has an eye for opportunities and runs. Again, another player who’ll figure heavily in any success this season.
Communication. Again there’s a lack of communication except for Liam Jacob in goal. There were also too many individuals out there yesterday with the exception of the back five. The top six were tending to concentrate on what they wanted to do rather than reacting to what was happening around them. With the fluid formation and freedom these boys are granted by the manager, they need to respond and let the play dictate their movement into space as it develops. Too often there were too many players in the same area of the pitch or adversely no one to offer close support.
The next match versus Liverpool at Carrington on Friday (25th) is an excellent opportunity to see just how far this team has come in the six weeks since they were beaten away at the hands Liverpool’s Academy. That day saw United punished for two mistakes and it was the last time they experienced defeat. I’m sure the boss will remind them of that this week and select his strongest available eleven in an attempt to continue this rich vein of form before the boys begin the defence of their predecessors youth cup win.
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