While Manchester United’s senior team has limped towards another season’s conclusion only with hopes of clinging onto a top four finish, our U21s side lifted the Premier League title on Tuesday night.
Fittingly, it was a last gasp winner from Guillermo Varela which sealed the title with a dramatic 3-2 win over Tottenham Hotspur (full report here) at White Hart Lane and capped off another superb season for our U21s.
The victory confirmed our third U21s Premier League title in four years and showed that while there are concerns with the grassroots levels of the academy, those players on the verge of breaking through are the best in the country.
There’s been some brilliant attacking performances all year long from a team who don’t play with shackles – take the 7-0 spanking of Norwich in February, the 6-1 hammering of Leicester in December or the convincing 4-0 win over Southampton in January as prime examples of that. The U21s are a team of entertainers.
“Man United’s U21s have only had one 0-0 result this season, back on July 18 in the Lancashire Cup semi-final before they won on penalties.”
One man who deserves some serious credit is Warren Joyce, the U21s manager. He has masterminded and crafted the U21s squad season upon season, coping with huge amounts of shifts and change which are unparalleled at senior level. This year alone he has used 48 different players in the U21s Premier League.
Then there’s the awful calendar which the U21s have to deal with and how Joyce continued to keep his players motivated. Due to fixture changes, United only played four games between 10 August and 23 November yet after that they went on a run to win nine out of their next ten games. Joyce really has done a wonderful job and without a shadow of a doubt, United’s U21s have been so much more enjoyable to watch this season than the first-team.
Louis van Gaal has certainly enjoyed the fruits of our U21s squad this season. Marcus Rashford, Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Guillermo Varela, Andreas Pereira and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson have all showed they have the quality to become first-team squad regulars while the likes of U21s captain James Weir, Donald Love and Joe Riley have all made their debuts when needed due to injuries.
“In 33 Premier League games, Man United have scored 40 goals. In 20 Premier League U21s games, Man United have scored 42 goals.”
The U21s have propped up the senior team this season and arguably transformed it as Rashford’s introduction in February was a shot of adrenaline which reinvigorated the fans and players, just like the emergence of Timothy Fosu-Mensah did.
When you take it a level further, you see the excellent progression some of our youngsters have made. I look towards the centre-back partnership of Axel Tuanzebe and RoShaun Williams as the best example of that; injuries ravaged Tuanzebe’s season, limiting him to just six starts compared to Williams’ 14, but they both started against Spurs. In 2015, Williams and Tuanzebe were the U18s centre-back partnership when they went over nine hours without conceding and in 2016 they lifted the U21s Premier League trophy together. They are certainly two to watch for the future and Tuanzebe has already been part of the first-team squad, while Williams has been involved in the first-team training too.
At a time where United are struggling to hold onto our identity as perennial winners after three years of turmoil since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, our U21s have become the club’s beacon and are continuing to uphold the name. While the first-team is currently not what it once was, the U21s are as strong as they have ever been.
Well done to all the U21s players and coaching staff for their Premier League title and some special praise goes to Joyce, one of United’s unsung heroes.
— Full Time DEVILS (@FullTimeDEVILS) April 19, 2016