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Hannibal Mejbri ‘has a long way to go’ but his talent and quality is there for all to see

Hannibal Mejbri had a great match against Salford City in the first group stage match of the EFL Trophy which saw Manchester United U21s beat the club owned by Class of 1992 graduates Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt, David Beckham and Phil Neville – who between them own 60% of the club with Peter Lim owning the other 40%. It was a great start for United who scored six goals against the League Two side. United and Salford share the group with Rochdale and Morecambe.

Mejbri opened the scoring in the eighth minute of the match, assisted by James Garner. United’s lead was doubled in the 29th minute of the game through Arnau Puigmal, assisted by Anthony Elanga. In the 46th minute, Mark Helm scored the third goal, assisted by Mejbri. Then came three goals in four minutes from the 70th minute with Charlie McCann, assisted by Helm, then in the 73rd minute Helm was assisted by Garner followed by the sixth and final goal in the 74th minute scored by Elanga, assisted by Mejbri.

Mejbri, who joined United’s academy last summer (2019) in a transfer from principality club AS Monaco with United spending £9.3 million on the player, who came highly regarded. The French midfielder is considered as one of the top talents in United’s academy and his performance against Salford, along with what he achieved at United in his debut season, will leave supporters thirsty for more. It is suggested that the player wants to make the first team in a few years time.

United’s U23 coach, Neil Wood who saw fellow coach Quinton Fortune leave the club this week to take up a coaching role at Reading within their first team, joining former United defender John O’Shea who retired from the game at the Berkshire club and started coaching within the Reading first team last season. Many have speculated that Mejbri could find himself in the first team if he keeps developing in the way he has but Wood has poured cold water on that with The Mirror reporting him as saying:

“As much as he is a good player there’s still a long way to go with Hannibal, he’s still got a lot of learning to do, a lot of improving.

“You can see the good bits of his play, he’s got great feet, he’s got great vision, he’s tenacious, but there’s still work to be done with him.

“I wouldn’t get carried away and say he’s going to be in the first team, but he’s willing to work, he’s willing to improve.

“He’s got a very good understanding of the game and a very good understanding of what he needs to get better at as well.

“We’re going to keep working with him this season, he’s had a very good pre-season, we’re very pleased with his pre-season, and we’re hoping he can take that into the season ahead.”

Mejbri has a great future ahead of him and will continue to get chances to play at a higher level this season with Wood likely to select him in the upcoming EFL Trophy matches against Rochdale (6 October 2020) and Morecambe (10 November). That said, the player is likely to be considered at U18 level with United opening their season against Liverpool on Saturday but also at U23 level, when the season starts. United will be back in the top flight of the Premier League 2 this season after winning promotion last season, despite the coronavirus pandemic cancelling the season.

Written by John Walker

Manchester United U23 to play seven behind closed doors pre-season friendlies

Manchester United have announced that Neil Wood’s U23 side will play seven behind closed door pre-season friendlies ahead of the new Premier League 2 season which will see United promoted to Division 1 of the league – spending the last two seasons in Division 2 and find out that on a points per game ratio, promotion happened despite the 2019/20 being suspended then cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic. United will be looking to get back into full fitness ahead of the new season.

The club has announced that because of the recent lockdown measures in Greater Manchester, no spectators will be allowed into the training ground, presumable where all the matches will be played. It was also stated that the clubs television channel, MUTV will broadcast highlights of some of the matches at a later date. The U23s will be tested in their pre-season matches, playing a mixture of senior teams and U23 teams, which will be good for their fitness and progress at this level.

United will start on Wednesday against Salford City then face Swindon Town on the 18 August, followed by Morecambe on the 22 August. Neil Wood’s side then face Stoke City U23s on the 25 August, followed by Macclesfield Town on the 28 August. On the 1 September, Doncaster Rovers will be the opposition finishing up with Everton U23s on the 5 September. It is set to be a good pre-season runs of matches for the players, who will be seeking to start the 2020/21 season brightly.

It will be good to see this group of young and talented players get stuck into the game again. Whilst it is expected that some of Wood’s players will head out on loan this summer, there will be many players stepping up from the U18 squad from last season, continuing that conveyor belt of talent at the club, testing them each and every season. Hannibal Mejbri, Charlie Wellens, and Mark Helm are likely to be tested this season. Speaking to the official Manchester United website, Wood said:

“It’s going to be a hard pre-season. Last year, we had the experience of the EFL Trophy and it looks likely that we could be part of that again.

“I wanted the lads to experience some first-team friendlies this year before we even made that tournament because they are challenging in themselves. We’ve got games lined up against the likes of Salford, Doncaster, Macclesfield and Swindon.

“So there are going to be some tough games, considering we’re of such a young age. It’s going to be hard for them but there is some talent there and that can really start to shine through.

“We played Swindon last year and we know how they want to play football. We know they’re not going to turn up and try to boot us off the pitch and injure some of the younger lads, especially as we have a very young squad.

“We want to have that first-team opposition but also would like to have opposition who try to play football and not try to outpower us or be a battle because we’re not going to win them at this stage.”

It would seem that the academy levels of the club are in good hands, giving players the development they need before sorting out their future, whether they are good enough to go straight into the first team, like Marcus Rashford, Scott McTominay, Mason Greenwood and Brandon Williams, or whether they need a loan spell away from the club so they can find their feet in a first team environment. Nicky Butt, the head of first team development understands what is needed and will be keeping’s eye out for players who are ready for the next level.

Written by John Walker

U23s unbeaten so far this season, many players showing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer that they are getting ready for the rebuild

Manchester United’s U23s started the season after a number of new changes to the age group. Many players, including Callum Gribbin, had been released and the coach, Ricky Sbragia had been sacked. Neil Wood and Quinton Fortune were tasked with managing this level with Nicky Butt also involved after changing his role at the club this summer.

The season actually started on Tuesday 6 August 2019 with a trip to Rotherham United in the EFL Trophy, the first time United have participated in the competition. United won the match 2-0 with goals from Ethan Laird and Largie Ramazani, assisted by Brandon Williams and James Garner respectively.

In their first Premier League 2, Division 2 fixture, United travelled to face West Bromwich Albion, seeking to get out of the tier and return to the top level of this age division, winning 5-0. Garner scored a brace with Ramazani, D’Mani Bughail-Mellor and Dylan Levitt also on the scoresheet. Williams assisted twice with Bughail-Mellor assisting another.

In their first home match at Leigh Sports Village, United welcomed Reading to Manchester. United, on a two match winning run, won 2-0 with Bughail-Mellor opening the scoring with Garner scoring the other goal, which Bughail-Mellor assisted. It was three wins in a row for United in two competitions, super a great start to the season.

Then came an away match against Newcastle United, another high-scoring victory for United with four goals scored without reply. Tahith Chong scored twice, also getting an assist with Ramazani and Garner scoring the other two. Bughail-Mellor, Levitt and Williams assisted the other goals in the game.

At the end of August, United travelled to West Ham United, which was the first match they had dropped points in this season, drawing 2-2. Angel Gomes, assisted by Ramazani opened the scoring in the 19th minute with Ramazani, assisted by Lee O’Connor, playing his last match, levelled the score in the last minute of the match to take a point back to Manchester.

United ended up undefeated in August, which was a good start to the season, and proudly sit at the top of the Premier League 2, Division 2 table, albeit on goal difference with West Ham in the second spot in the league. United play three times this month, at home against Fulham (13/9) and Norwich City (27/9) and away against Aston Villa (23/9).

In August, there were many players in the U23s who have shown their ability. For them now, they will need to show consistency with the team looking to overcome disappointment after that draw away to West Ham at the end of the month. Ramazani and Garner ended the month with four goals each with Bughail-Mellor and Chong on two goals each.

Gomes, Laird, and Levitt had all scored one goal each. In terms of assists, Williams was leading the table with four, Bughail-Mellor with three and Chong, Garner, Levitt, O’Connor and Ramazani with one assist each. United scored a total of 15 goals, conceding two, keeping four clean sheets in the five matches played. If this continues, United will win promotion.

However, it is a long season, which will contain more disappointment, an indicator that will show this team growing in ability and mentality on their way to fighting for a place in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first team. In terms of players showing their abilities for the first team, Gomes, Garner, Ramazani and Williams will be leading the line.

It was a shame that O’Connor left the club with a permanent move to Scottish Premier League champions Celtic and he will be wished all the best of luck in his pursuit of firstteam football at the club. It was going to be tough for him to break into United’s first team based on the players in the squad. His first-team chances were slim based on this.

Only three players played in each of the five matches last month, two of those played in every minute; O’Connor and Williams. Levitt played in all matches, however only played 66 minutes in the second match of the season. With O’Connor leaving the club, it may give 17-year-old Teden Mengi a route to U23 football, having played the last two matches.

If the likes of Chong, Garner, Gomes are given first team opportunities in the coming months, Wood and Fortune will have players at their disposal with Anthony Elanga doing well at U18 level, playing 105 minutes at U23 level this season already. Ethan Galbraith could also fill in, replacing Garner. Williams should be considered with Luke Shaw injured.

Solskjaer has suggested that when September comes, with United fighting in the Premier League, Carabao Cup and the UEFA Europa League, the need for rotation will be high to keep players fresh. He’s also suggested that Chong will get a first team chance this season after rejecting a loan spell away from the club. Gomes should be in the first team anyway.

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.

copyright: JW