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Editorial: Manchester United U18’s worthy of FA Youth Cup run after fantastic start this season?

Callum Gribbin

Manchester United found out their opposition for the third round of the FA Youth Cup this season; they will face Southampton at home on Saturday 17th December 2016, just over a week before Christmas. United last had a run in the FA Youth Cup back in the 2011/12 season, getting to the semi-final and being beaten 3-2 by Chelsea. The previous season [2010/11] United lifted the trophy with the likes of Sam Johnstone, Michael Keane, Ravel Morrison, Will Keane, Paul Pogba, the most expensive player in the world today, Jesse Lingard and Tyler Blackett, among others. United have lifted the FA Youth Cup more times than any other team, on a total of ten occasions, finishing as runners-up on four occasions, the last time in 2007. Chelsea, the current holders are quickly catching up with United, after lifting the trophy seven times, being the runners-up on three occasions.

United’s U18 side has gone through a season of transition, losing twelve league matches in a row last season and struggling to score goals, despite playing well at times. This season, they seem to have no problems scoring goals, or getting the victories they set out for, with many talented players making up the team, along with players who went through last season, which also saw the end of Paul McGuinness, who left the club before the end of the season. Kieran McKenna, the new man in charge of the U18, under the watchful eye of Class of 92 graduate and head of the Academy, Nicky Butt. In the summer, United made several new additions to the squad with Tahith Chong, Nishan Burkart, Joshua Bohui, Lee O’Connor, and Alex Fojticek all signing for the United Academy. Angel Gomes, Indy Boonen, DJ Buffonge and many others were involved last season, but not as much as they have been this season. Butt and McKenna seem to have found a winning formula.

This season, United have played 12 matches, including the 4-0 victory over Newcastle United on Saturday 12th November. United have won eight matches, drawing once and losing just three times. Scoring goals seems to be something United do not have problems with at this level, winning by scoring five goals on four occasions, scoring four goals twice, last scoring only two goals at the start of October, which is pretty good form. In total, United have scored 37 goals, more than their entire total in the league last season, conceding 21 goals in total. United sit in second place of the Premier League U18, a point behind holders Manchester City, who still have two games in hand. City are one of three teams to beat United this season, with Derby County and Liverpool the other two. United faced Liverpool at the weekend at this level, playing well and despite some questionable refereeing, a 3-3 draw was obtained, making it a better performance against the Scouse side since they last met at the start of the season.

The quick transition of United, based on last season, gives renewed confidence in the side, which were the worst Manchester United team last season, with the first team and the U23’s coming behind them this season. Things need to change for the U23’s, who face Sunderland in the Premier League 2 at Leigh Sports Village this evening, led by Nicky Butt after Warren Joyce left the club during the three-week break. Tonight could be a good occasion for Butt, who made his Manchester United debut on this day back in 1992. United’s U18’s seem to be a great team in the making, having made some ground on their disappointing season last term, showing Manchester City, whose Academy has been lauded, yet does not seem to be producing talent worthy of their star-studded first team, which is a question in itself – is their Academy really that good?

United’s U18 have seen the likes of Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Marcus Rashford and even Axel Tuanzebe either represent the first team, or play in a pre-season friendly this year, which will give them the right attitude to search for their own stardom through the ranks at the club. The U23’s could do with an injection of talent in their squad this season, which will benefit these talented youngsters, providing they are ready of course. The present might be frustrating for Manchester United, at least in the first team sense, but the future is looking very much satisfying with the fast attacking talent currently gracing the pitch in the Academy.

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