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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.

Manchester United could bring Nemanja Vidic back to the club to coach the U23s this season

Former Manchester United captain Nemanja Vidic could return to the club as a coach for the U23s, according to reports which seem to come from Serbia. The Serbian central defender left the club for Inter Milan on the summer of 2014 and retired from the game in January 2016. He is considered as one of the best signings Sir Alex Ferguson ever made.

Whilst playing for United, Vidic won five Premier League titles, three League Cups, five FA Community Shields, one UEFA Champions League and on FIFA Club World Cup, making 300 appearances and scoring 21 goals. He was a rock in the heart of the defence and a player, who five years later, still needs to be replaced.

Serbian journalist Nebojsa Markovic posted on Twitter, information which came from Vidic’s friend and best man, Nenad Lalatovic. The U23s coach, Ricky Sbragia was sacked earlier in the summer and it had been reported that former U21 coach, Warren Joyce could be returning to the club but after a few weeks of that report, nothing seems to have happened. Markovic stated on Twitter, reported by The Mirror:

“He got an offer to coach Manchester United B. I told him that’s perfect for him if he wants to coach, but he hasn’t decided yet.

“I told him, ‘this is an ideal opportunity if you want to do it – to go back to England, you’ll take over tomorrow and Manchester, you have a great name there and I think that’s the right decision for you’.

“But he has not decided yet. I’m supporting him being [a] coach at Manchester United, as then there is a chance for him to take over the first team in the future.”

United will obviously need to get someone into position before the season starts as the U23 players will be starting to return to pre-season training soon in order to get ready for the new season, in which they will be expected to get out of Division 2 in the Premier League 2. Having a former player like Vidic in this role could be beneficial for the young lads coming through the ranks, not only the defenders either. The leadership the Vidic could evoke could be good for the future of the club as a whole.

The 37-year-old is a qualified coach and only last year graduated from the FA’s highest coaching qualification – The FA Level 5 (UEFA Pro) in Coaching Football course. He did this with United’s Academy director, Nicky Butt with many other former professional footballers such as James Beattie, David James, Warren Joyce, and Steven Reid, to name a few.

Back in March 2016, just over a month after announcing his retirement from the game, Vidic spoke to BBC Sport about a number of things, one of those was about becoming a manager. This was obviously before he got his UEFA Pro license but he confirmed that he started his coaching badges in 2012, whilst he was still playing for United. Vidic also spoke about managing United in the future, of which this could be the start of his development. The Serbian said:

“I started doing my badges four years ago. At the time I was playing for Manchester United and working with probably the best manager ever in Sir Alex Ferguson.

“He asked a lot from his players, but he believed in them. If he said something, I could see it in his eyes that he believed it. Even when I might not believe, he did. It was his greatest strength.

“I would like to try to be a manager in English football. It is a dream. If you ask any United player if they want to be manager one day, they will say ‘yes’, but I am a long way from that.”

Hopefully, something will develop on this as the U23s will need a coach to start the season. Allowing a former player, such as Vidic, to cut his teeth at this level would be good to see. As he has been studying for his future in the game, after retiring as a player, since 2012, and the fact that seven years have passed by, it is clear that he could have the knowledge which would need to be paired with experience, and this could be the opportunity for him to do that.

Manchester United to bring Warren Joyce back to the club to lead the U23s after Ricky Sbragia was sacked

Manchester United could be bringing Warren Joyce back to the Old Trafford club as U23 manager after he departed to become the manager of Wigan Athletic back in November 2016. Joyce has also managed Melbourne City in Australia but left his position there in May 2019. This could be the best bit of news this summer, especially after Ricky Sbragia was sacked in the last few weeks.

It is suggested in the report that Joyce’s return to United could also help French midfielder Paul Pogba make a decision to remain at the Theatre of Dreams as both Pogba and Joyce got on very well when he was playing under him during his first to first team football, with Pogba eventually leaving for Juventus as a free agent, coming back to United four years later – as the most expensive footballer at the time.

Joyce, 54, spent 12 years working for United, even spending time working with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as co-manager of the reserves side, when the Norwegian was recovering from injury, then retired from playing the game. Joyce is now the favourite to replace Sbragia this summer with United looking to continue their development of talented footballers who could make the grade at first team level.

This is something the club has done through the years from the Busby Babes to the Class of 1992. It is fair to say, that in the past six years, there has been a lack of true development by players coming through the academy with few making the grade and becoming first team players. Of the current squad, United has Joel Pereira, Dean Henderson, Tim Fosu-Mensah, Axel Tuanzebe, Pogba, Jesse Lingard, Andreas Pereira and Marcus Rashford in the ranks.

However, so many more players have not made the grade with 13 being released from the U18 and U23s this summer, including; 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. If Joyce does return, he will have a big job on his hands but it is something he is capable of.

Joyce has been integral in the development of Pogba, Lingard, Rashford, Michael Keane and Danny Welbeck and with the likes of Mason Greenwood, James Garner, Lee O’Connor, Aidan Barlow, Tahith Chong, Angel Gomes and Nishan Burkart, to name a few, they could all be placed on the right track to find the best of their abilities, work on their weak areas and start their rise to the first team, like will be intended for many of them.

copyright: JW