So, what did I learn today on the opening day of the Premier Academy League? I learnt what some of the first year scholars look like, I put faces to their names and had an opportunity to pick up a hint on who and how this Academy is going to play this season. Despite the defeat there were many positives and the result really shouldn’t be viewed as a marker for things to come. I can see this team suffering a few defeats over the course of the season and I can see them dishing a few out. Here’s what happened today…..
Date: 20/08/2011 – Kick-Off 11:00
Venue: Carrington, Manchester.
The line-up was remarkably similar to the line-up I predicted except Charni Ekangamene missed the game and Tyler Blackett, who I’d heard was doubtful, made it and slotted into his preferred leftback role. When the game ended I asked Charni what the problem was and how long he thought it would rule him out for? “It’s my groin but it’s not too bad, I should be back next week”, probably a good thing because United make the long trip to Southampton next week without five of their internationals, but more on that later.
Within 5 minutes of the kickoff it’s apparent this team is all about possession. They skilfully popped the ball about and every player looks comfortable on the ball, obviously some more than others but that’s to be expected. United’s youngsters attempted to thread the ball through the Pompey defence but in the absence of an out and out striker the defenders were gifted the luxury of concentrating solely on what was happening in front of them. They closed down well and made life really tricky for United.
Mats Daehli struck the first shot of the season straight into the clutches of the keeper before Jack Rudge blasted another shot just over the bar after some good work down the left from Tyler Blackett and Jack Barmby.
On 22 minutes Pompey took the lead against the run of play when George Colson drove the ball from range beyond United keeper Liam Jacob.
The goal spurred Pompey on and gave them a confidence boost but it had the total opposite effect on United. It took 10 minutes before the lads fashioned their next chance which again fell for Daehli but he shot against the keeper again, this time from a much clearer chance that was well carved out by Joe Rothwell and Tyler Blackett. United wasted another couple of half chances before the break when Jack Barmby nipped between two defenders and crossed low and through the grasp of the keeper but there was no United player the other side of it to claim what would’ve been a simple tap in. The second chance fell to Rothwell who couldn’t quite get over his shot from outside the area and sent it sailing high and wide.
So United came out for the second half trailing by a goal to nil, the gaffer made no changes but he did switch Gyliano van Velzen back to his preferred left wing role. It was slightly surprising to see him dropping deep in the middle or operating down the right in the first half, last season he never stopped hugging the left touchline. Regular readers of my Twitter updates and reports will know I’m far from GVVs biggest admirer, it doesn’t mean I think he’s a lost cause because obviously he can beat a man, but again today he showed me little else to convince me that this season will be any different to the last for him.
One slight criticism of the first half would be the players’ tendency to get attracted to the same space. They improved upon that in the second half and pressed and probed to find ways through the stubborn Pompey defence and the well positioned, impressive goalkeeper.
Chances came and went, Lawrence and Daehli combined to set up Barmby who again shot at the keeper. Lawrence then tee’d up GVV with a superb lofted through ball that just needed a touch to set himself up or to be hit first time from about 12 yards out, he did neither and the chance disappeared. Barmby again went close after Lawrence played him in one-on-one with the keeper……guess what? Yes, straight at the keeper again. I’m not kidding, this was one of the most one sided defeats I’ve seen. With more composed finishing the result would’ve been much different.
James Weir came on to replace the injured Matthew Wilkinson with about 25 minutes remaining, the enforced change meant Blackett had to shuffle into CB and GVV slotted in at leftback. Within a few minutes of this United had conceded a soft freekick outside the box down our right hand side. When the freekick was whipped in, the marking by McCullough could’ve been better and the keeper could and should have got out to it quicker and been a lot braver than he was to clear it or capture it. He wasn’t, and Grant headed home to give Pompey a 2 goal lead.
United continued to press and were finally rewarded after a clever interchange of passes between Rothwell and Daehli offered Lawrence the chance to pull one back which he coolly accepted and the Reds had a sniff of a comeback.
It wasn’t to be today, and the season starts with a fairly disappointing defeat but a very positive, attractive performance. As defeats go, it definitely wasn’t one that could send anyone home thinking they hadn’t just seen a potentially good Academy team cut their Academy league teeth against a well organised, defence minded Portsmouth side.
Carrington: The pitches looked in fantastic condition today, real grass looking and feeling (yes I got down on the ground and stroked it!) just like artificial 3G turf. The spectators are now 10 yards away from the touchline whereas in previous years they’ve been within a yard or two, I personally felt it was an improvement as were the new dugouts that now hold twice as many personnel.
The Squad: It looks physically smaller than in previous years but on today’s evidence it looks more technically well practised than in previous years. There looks to be an onus on possession football and as the season unfolds I think this team has the potential to take teams apart with intuitive, engaging, imaginative football that possibly defies their tender years.
Individuals: I was slightly underwhelmed by Mats Daehli (AM) today but I can understand it because I’ve spent the summer anticipating watching him, the lad was never going to live up to the hype I’d built up. He showed sporadic glimpses of what I think he’s capable of, he did play a part in the goal and he saw plenty of the ball, but he gave it away too often and got caught in possession too often. But just like the team performance, it WILL get better.
Tom Lawrence (AM) not only scored the goal with a cool finish but was also at the heart of most United attacks that actually produced a clear cut chance. We know Tom from last year and we know he links the play up well, a good start to the season for him after a slow one through injury last year.
Joe Rothwell (CM). Probably the performance that made me take notice the most today. I don’t think I’ve seen Joe play before. I couldn’t help but be impressed by his accurate passing and the weight of his passes. He looks comfortable on the ball and kept his head up at all times. I’m not going overboard with the defeat or with any unimpressive individual performances so nor am I about to go overboard with the brilliant first impression I’m left with of Joe. Hopefully it’s a sign of things to come. He’s firmly on the one-to-watch list to observe his development now.
Liam Jacob (GK). Ok, so his kicking looks a little suspect and he could’ve done more to prevent the second goal, but the striking thing with Liam was his communication. Remember, a keeper at 16 or 17 years of age is possibly only half way (in years) to being the keeper he can be. For a lad so young to be commanding his area so vocally is impressive.
Luke McCullough (CB). Luke stood out today for his physique, his first touch and his intelligent tackling. Despite a tendency to push forward with the ball at his feet, he rarely found himself out of position and showed his powers of recovery well. He jockeyed his man and bided his time before wisely choosing when to take the ball from him and distributing it in a manner that could suggest he’s capable of shifting into midfield in the future. I’ll be looking to see if he improves his communication throughout the season, as captain, he did seem a tad on the quiet side.
Jack Barmby (Winger). Wasteful in front of goal today but he proved in Ireland just a few weeks ago that that isn’t always the case. Importantly he got himself, and has the ability to get himself, in decent areas with or without the ball. Tall and quite strong he’s got a bright year ahead of him. I don’t know if it was just today but he never cracked a smile all game or looked like he was enjoying it, come on Jack, take a leaf out of Cofies book, play with a smile on your face…..You play for Manchester United!
If anyone wants to see the goals from the game let me know and I’ll try to upload them to YouTube.
Line-Up: Jacob / Hendrie, McCullough, Wilkinson, Blackett / Rudge, Rothwell, Daehli / Lawrence, GVV, Barmby
Subs: Coll, Pearson, Gorre, Weir
Goal: Tom Lawrence (88)
Sothampton Away (KO 11:00): As I mentioned before, United travel to Southampton without 5 squad members due to international duties. Mats Daehli, Paddy McNair, Ben Pearson, Tom Lawrence and Joe Coll are all unavailable so the return of Ekangamene next week could be really important to make up the numbers, hopefully his prediction of next week is correct.
Unfortunately I won’t be travelling down there so there won’t be any Twitter updates from me during the game. I will however try to provide updates via any source I can find.
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