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The Manchester United U23s have been revamped but what are their expectations for the 2019/20 season…

Manchester United U23s found themselves relegated from the top flight of the Premier League 2 Division 1 at the end of the 2017/18 season, finishing twelfth with just 20 points after 22 matches were played. United only managed to score 22 goals that season, an average of one per match, conceding 40, nearly two per match.

A season on the Premier League 2 Division 2 seemed like a good thing a year ago, especially with the likes of Angel Gomes, Tahith Chong, James Garner and even to an extent, Mason Greenwood coming through the ranks. It was seen at the time, at least by myself, that United would be able to get themselves back into the top flight at this level pretty easily.

How wrong was I? United finished sixth at this level, amassing just 30 points after 22 matches. They did score more goals – 33, conceding just 31, an improvement – but not much of one. That really was the only positive that could have been taken from a poor season, which at times seemed to match that of the first team, who towards the end of the season struggled to formulate anything.

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U23 coach Ricky Sbragia was sacked at the end of the season, something that was coming and the writing was already on the wall. The coaching of this team was poor and in terms of development, there were many players that were not going to cut it at the club. United’s announced that 13 players from the youth ranks; 12 from the U23s and one from the U18s would be released at the end of the season.

Regan Poole, Zak Dearnley, Tom Sang, Callum Whelan, Matty Willock, James Wilson, Matthew Olosunde, Tyrell Warren, DJ Buffonge, Callum Gribbin, Millen Baars, Josh Bohui and James Thompson all left the club. It was a shame for some but they had been playing at this level for a few years and just were not finding their way into the first team so had to be let go.

On Thursday, despite reports suggesting that Nemanja Vidic had been offered the role, Neil Wood and Quinton Fortune were announced as the lead coach and assistantfor the U23s for this coming season. It was also announced that academy director, Nicky Butt would also be assisting. Wood and Fortune have been left with a barebones squad for the upcoming season, however, there are many players likely to rise from the U18s into the U23 ranks before the start of the season.

United are currently left with five goalkeepers; Matej Kovar, Alex Fojticek and Paul Woolston (both offered new contracts), Dean Henderson and Kieran O’Hara, although the latter two may head out on loan with Sheffield United interested in Henderson for their first season back in the Premier League. In defence, United have; Max Taylor, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, Demetri Mitchell, George Tanner, Luca Ercolani (who was being offered a new contract), and Lee O’Connor.

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In midfield, United have few backup options, based on the current squad, with just; Aidan Barlow (United took up the option to extend his deal this summer), Angel Gomes and Ethan Hamilton. In the forward roles, United have just Tahith Chong and Nishan Burkart. Obviously, this list does not include the likes of Garner, Greenwood, Aliou Traore, Arnau Puigmal, Dion McGhee, Dylan Levitt, and Largie Ramazani, to name a few.

It is possible that Wood and Fortune could bring some or all of these, maybe others into the fold, which will see them playing a much higher level of football, which after time will be beneficial for their development. The key thing that both coaches will need to sort out this season though will be to get this squad of players playing a good brand of football, which may get them noticed by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in the first team.

After these players are playing as a team and gelling together, the next step will be to get them winning matches and proving themselves at Division 2 level with the view of winning the league and getting back into Division 1 for the start of the 2020/21 season. This might be a challenge based on what we saw last season but with some good coaching and the player digging deep for their club, wonders could happen. If these squad of players wants to achieve things at this club and reach the first team, on a regular basis, this is the minimum that they will need to be doing.

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