After Sunday’s draw against Leicester, Manchester United U23’s travelled down to the south to face Chelsea U23’s at Stamford Bridge. Usually, this encounter is full of stories to tell, just like the one pre-Christmas last season.
The game was a wake-up call for many of those involved in youth football at United. It set the tone for the rest of the season with the players finally taking things seriously. The first game of the season showed that United, despite having a young and somehow inexperienced team at this level, have a fight-back spirit as they came down from 2-0 to pick up a deserved point in the end with goals scored from Mellor and McNeill.
Coach Neil Wood made these choices for his starting XI against Chelsea: Kovar; Wellens, Olowu, Hardley, Fernandez; Svidersky, Savage; Shoretire, Mellor, Hoogewerf; McNeill. Substitutes: Mee, Jurado, Garnacho, Mejia.
As the game started United were heavily involved with the ball, setting the tone for the rest of the first half with Fernandez quite active down the wing. This was quite unusual given Chelsea’s style of play at this level. However, the Reserves were working with the ball and the game’s flow was going in their favour. The real threat came in the 7th minute where the young Reds had a double chance to go ahead. It was McNeill with a brilliant solo run coming from the left who took a shot, but the ball was deflected from the keeper. Savage had a great chance to score in the rebound but the Welsh youngster was denied as well.
What followed was again another United chance, as they had complete control of the game. It did not take long and a Shoretire executed corner found Sviderksy but the shot was blocked on the line. Despite Chelsea’s efforts to regain possession, they were unable to do much with the ball as Shoretire once again was causing issues for Chelsea’s defence. The youngster’s solo effort came from the right but was met with an early interception, yet again he could have chosen a pass for Mellor who was close.
The midfield setup of Savage and Svidersky was working in a fantastic way so far as the players were keeping the opposition at bay. After 22 minutes of the game, the young Reds were playing great, but Chelsea were finally showing the first signs that they were at this game as well. The first of a few in the first half was the free-kick from a close range, but McEachran did not make it count. As the game went on, Chelsea were being more demanding with Thomas and Nunn, however, Kovar was always attentive, blocking every possible chance. It was Chelsea with the last chance of the half as Kovar had no troubles throughout the half.
At the start of the second half, Chelsea wanted to make every chance they had count. Vale was the first to make a real threat in the second half for Chelsea as his shot was just wide. While United were more focused on defending well, McNeill and Shoretire were also testing the Chelsea goalkeeper. On a dangerous occasion out of a fantastic ball from Shoretire, Dillon Hoogewerf suffered a terrible foul, red card material and the referee sends off Josh Brooking. The goal was imminent and it amazed me how long it took the referee to decide whether the challenge, was a red or not.
United were picking pace throughout the following minutes, however, we were to witness a strange moment in the United box. The United centre-back’s did not seem to communicate well enough as Hardley miskicked a ball before Olowu was penalised over a clear tackle. The referee waves down all United claims and Chelsea somehow have a clear chance to go ahead in this game. Vale made no mistake from the spot and the Reds are left a bit surprised at the outcome. It was obvious that things needed to change but the referee was leaving United without any options as a number of clear dives were now being given as fouls, something that followed even in the 97th minute of the game. Stay classy, Chelsea?
In the light of changing the result, Mejia substituted Dillon Hoogewerf. Two minutes later, Mellor plays a great ball towards Fernandez who completely destroys the defender (as he has been doing all game long) and smashes it in the corner. By the end of the match, rather than action, we were watching Chelsea players cause one injury after another as Kovar is down injured after a late challenge and he made place for Mee. After a few minutes, once again Chelsea, this time Webster as he dives in to deny Mejia to move further. It seemed like the player was not happy with the decision of being given a yellow but once again, he was only just a few steps from a red.
There was no time left and United were denied another attack. The young Reds should definitely be disappointed with the result as they played brilliantly. A lot to discuss on some of the decisions from the referee as just like last week, these decisions are being newsworthy. Points were shared at the end.