As the first team kick off their season against Leeds United on Saturday, only 30 minutes earlier, the U18s will do so as well, as they face Manchester City. The mini derby in the opening week promises a lot of brilliance and potentially feelings of revenge, after what happened in the final week of the season.
The 2020/21 season was a crazy one for all of those who follow academy teams, as in the end City U18s were crowned champions of the north division by one point.
Scoring 79 goals was not enough to win the league and this must have left a bad taste within United players and fans as well which will keep last season in mind as they enter the new one.
The team will also face the movement of several important players in the Reserves’ team, a normal transition for a team like United. Captain Martin Svidersky, Forson, Iqbal, Hardley, potentially McNeill, Mejia, Savage and Wellens will all be involved with the U23s like they have done so in the pre-season friendlies. These are not the only departures from the U18s as Iestyn Hughes left for Leicester U23s and Oliver Kilner [only one appearance during the season] at Oldham U18s on a free transfers. Guadagno also left to complete his transfer at FC Copenhagen. Hughes will potentially face United this weekend, as the U23s face Leicester on Sunday.
Charlie McNeill was probably United’s standout player and not because of the number of goals he scored, but due to the all-round performances during the season. At first he was focusing on scoring goals, later his game developed. He was helping the team more in several areas of the pitch and the team became even more dangerous. Obviously, the merits of an amazing season belong to others as well, as Svidersky, Hansen, Savage and co were helping everywhere and the youth side played flawless football at times.
Well, things are not as grey as some might say, as Ethan Ennis of Liverpool made his switch to United this summer, giving the youth side a fresh face in the attack. Meanwhile, players from the U16s who featured in the U18 Premier League North last season will make a permanent switch. Manni Norkett and Sam Mathe will get involved. Potentially Kingdon, Nolan and Williams might get playing time — all part of building a new and exciting U18s side. The manager will also need to address the problems in the defensive area where United suffered last season due to an injury crisis at U18s and U23s around the same time in the same department. Hopefully, United may count on Kambwala who will make his return after a long time on the sidelines. United had many expectations of him and considering how talented he is, it is possible we will see him involved soon with the U23s.
Back to the fixtures, a derby’s a derby, despite being at youth level. There is a reason why I mentioned the final game-week of last season because it showed how important every single game is in this competition. One mistake and you are out of the race or in United’s case the title race is out of their hands. Heartbreak, but this will have served them a great lesson. Being constantly under pressure may help them understand the importance of trophies, competitions and rivalries. City will probably be looking to retain their title and this will be United’s perfect game to send a message from the start. The U18s will then play at Carrington against Liverpool, another decisive game and then travel at Leeds. Crazy August indeed, at any level. It makes no difference, United U18s know what they need to do – win and play good football.
It has been 10 years since United last won the FA Youth Cup with Pogba, Morrison, Lingard involved. The set of youngsters eligible to play in the competition is frightening, however it is important they keep focus in everything they do. The season is long and until then, everything can happen. First things first, City on Saturday at noon, the stage is set.