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U21s: Manchester United 1-2 Chelsea: United fail to retain title

by Tracey Germaine

Manchester United’s Under-21s failed to retain the Barclay’s Under-21 Premier League trophy after a 2-1 to Chelsea in front of a 13,203 strong crowd at Old Trafford.

Tom Lawrence put United in front but his goal was cancelled out by Charly Musonda before Baker got the winner for the Blues.

Michael Keane took his place in the starting XI while recent first team debutants Tom Lawrence and James Wilson also strengthened the team. Joe Rothwell unfortunately missed out on the squad through injury so Charni Ekangamene re-took his more familiar role in the centre of midfield alongside Ben Pearson.

Chelsea started brightly with a decent strike from Lewis Baker which Ben Amos saved. Andreas Pereira was lucky to escape without an early booking but not long after Ben Pearson wasn’t as lucky when he picked up a booking for a high challenge.

Wilson, predictably, had United’s first chance with powerful strike from range, but unfortunately Lawrence found himself in the way, and blocked the shot before it could test Jamal Blackman in the Chelsea goal.

The two Reds linked up well soon after though. Saidy Janko went on a strong run down the right flank and his cross found Wilson who passed to Lawrence before he dummied two Chelsea defenders and slotted home a curling effort to give United the lead in the 12th minute.

However the lead only lasted for ten minutes as Musonda was allowed to cut in from the left to bury a low drive past Amos. Musonda then set up Swift for a chance to give Chelsea the lead but luckily for United his effort went wide.

There weren’t really any clear cut chances for the Reds before half-time although a penalty claim for a foul on Paddy McNair was waved away. Worryingly, Wilson picked up a slight knock but was able to come back out for the start of the second half.

Lawrence looked to doubled his tally early in the second half but couldn’t manage to direct his header on target. Then Chelsea pushed forward, which chances for Baker and Loftus-Cheek, the latter required an important reaction save from Amos.

James Weir came on to replace Wilson who hobbled off the pitch after a couple of slight knocks which saw him end the season with 24 goals in 30 appearances in all competitions at all levels.

It was an excellent display from Ben Pearson who once again excelled in a two man central midfield, popping up all over the pitch for United. It was a mature performance from the youngster considering he was carrying a booking for over 80 minutes.

His high level of performance continued into the second half where he had one of the better chances after a bursting forward having won back possession but his shot was a little tame and straight at Blackman. Moments later, there was a mistake by Charni Ekangamene at the other end of the pitch which saw Baker gain possession. His clinical finish, 12 minutes from time, would prove to be the winner.

United pushed forward and there were a couple of deflected shots in the final few minutes. Michael Keane headed over the bar and even Amos went forward for a corner. Weir had a snap-shot saved by Blackman, but the best chance fell to Tyler Blackett who got his technique for a long range volley spot on only to find Blackman on hand to deny him with a fantastic save.

While obviously disappointing, having reached the final not to have gone on to win the league, it is nevertheless a good achievement to have made it this far, given the stop-start nature of the season, which saw over 40 players used by Warren Joyce.

Manchester United: Amos, Varela, McNair, M. Keane, R. James (c) (Blackett 82′), Janko, Ekangamene, Pearson, A. Pereira, Lawrence (Harrop 86′), Wilson (Weir 68′). Unused substitutes:  J. Pereira, Willock.

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