Today, Manchester United Under 18s were looking to bounce back after the recent FA Youth Cup loss to Liverpool and extend their lead at the top of the Premier League North division. Some of the starting lineup had also been part of last night’s Under 23 team who disappointingly lost in added time to West Ham.
Fresh from signing his first pro contract last week, Charlie Savage was selected in midfield again. In Stoke City’s midfield, Josh Ireland started. The two surnames were made relevant by their fathers’ involvement in the red and blue side of Manchester club history respectively, Robbie Savage famously being part of United’s ‘class of ‘92’.
United wasted no time in finding the scoresheet. 16 year-old Norwegian, Isak Hansen-Aaroen, found the ball in midfield and slipped a nice through-ball into Charlie McNeill who had peeled off to the right of Stoke’s box. McNeill played a good low cross across the 6 yard box and it was dispatched by the onrushing Alejandro Garnacho, who United plucked from Atletico Madrid last year. It wasn’t the cleanest finish but the ball found the net.
After 10 minutes it was clear to see that United were levels above Stoke. The front four of McNeill, Garnacho, Hoogewerf and Forson were swapping positions and passing it quickly and well.
In midfield, Savage began to spray some lovely cross-field balls from deep.
Stoke’s first foray into United’s final third was on the 19th minute where they crossed well from the left but the glancing header was tipped wide well by Northern Irish goalkeeper, Dermot Mee.
Three minutes later, United responded with another goal. After a good 40 yard switch by Savage, Hansen-Aaroen played a 1-2 around a Stoke defender and followed on with a typically agile dribble into the right of the Stoke area. His well-struck shot nestled into the left side netting. United’s 2 goal lead was fully deserved.
The Reds continued to dominate, working it well around the Stoke box, but, against the run of play, Stoke pulled one back in the 30th minute. They countered through United’s midfield and a through-ball bobbled between United’s centre backs, where Jai Verma latched on to it and rounded Mee to slot it in.
However, it wasn’t long until United reasserted themselves. After a number of passes in the final third, Dillon Hoogewerf picked it up, with back to goal, inside the left of the box, before executing a cute back-heel into the path of the overlapping Omari Forson. He shaped to shoot to the far post but went to the near to make it 3-1.
The goals continued to flow two minutes later. Garnacho picked the ball up in space on the left and carried it at pace towards the box before dropping his shoulder, cutting inside and playing a 1-2 with McNeill through Stoke’s defence. He put it in over the onrushing keeper with his left foot.
The first half ended with United cutting through Stoke’s defence at will. After a poor cameo for the under 23s last night, Hoogewerf was the player of the half, regularly dropping deep to create things.
After also featuring for the Under 23s, left back Marc Jurado was replaced by Sam Murray.
United played in second gear for 20 minutes into the second half, but McNeill and Hoogewerf still looked hungry to get on the scoresheet.
After a great burst of pace past the left back on the outside, Hoogewerf played a great outside-of-the-boot cross into McNeill who missed a sitter. But, a minute later, he got another chance, after Hoogewerf won it by pressing well on the right and squared to McNeill for a tap-in that went under the keeper.
United hit the bar after that and Stoke were relieved to see Hoogewerf go off for Gore. Gore, however, had other ideas. Straight after coming on, he drove inside from the right and slipped a ball through to the darting McNeill who cut it back from the byline. Again, Garnacho arrived late and tapped it in for his first United hat-trick.
With 20 minutes to play, Stoke were desperate for the final whistle. United played the game out in comfort having now scored 56 goals for the season, two behind top scorers, Manchester City.
Crucially, United had extended their lead at the top of the league by 5 points. Ex-Man City youth McNeill was player of the second half, but MOTM was Garnacho, with Hansen in midfield also deserving a mention.