The Capital One Cup tie against Newcastle United saw some of Manchester United’s young guns finally showcase their talents against a relatively strong Newcastle side. The starting XI included Michael Keane, who was making his second appearance with the senior side and two debutantes, both defenders. A centre back pairing of Michael Keane and Scott Wootton is a very familiar one to fans who watch the U21s, alongside Marnik Vermijl at right-back. As well as those that started, the substitutes bench contained six regular U21 players including Sam Johnstone, Robbie Brady, Jesse Lingard, Ryan Tunnicliffe, Joshua King and Nick Powell.
With the right-back position being one of Manchester United’s frailties ever since the retirement of Gary Neville, it has mainly been down to the youth to provide competition for the spot in the starting XI. The development of Rafael over the past 18 months has been one of United’s success stories but with the second choice right-back being Antonio Valencia, there is no doubt that Sir Alex could do with a bit more cover with Jones and Smalling still injured.
Vermijl is one of the most consistent players in the U21 squad which is why Sir Alex handed him his debut start in the Newcastle game. His reading of the game was clear to see with frequent runs down the right wing, but something that let him down was his crossing ability, although his crosses in the first 30 minutes were fantastic. Usually this is one of his better assets but for some reason, they didn’t really come off in this game.
His defensive work however was superb, working hard to get on top of Newcastle’s fast and ferocious squad. It’s clear that Vermijl has a lot to learn but first impressions of him at senior level are that he has the potential to challenge Rafael to be the first choice right-back in the coming years.
Michael Keane and Scott Wootton
United have had a tough time recently, finding it hard to have at least three fit centre backs at one time. With Sir Alex refusing to sign any more centre backs in the hope that we will eventually have our five first choice centre backs fit, we have to cope with the challenges in which we have been given.
Just as Rio started to get back to full fitness, Vidic was suddenly out for eight weeks. With Jones and Smalling injury prone, we’ve had to rely on Jonny Evans and if either him or Rio get injured, then we’ll be having to rely on Michael Keane and Scott Wootton.
Both had a solid game against Newcastle but the player who stood out to me most was Wootton. He looked like an established Premier League centre back. He wasn’t scared to pass the ball out of defence instead of a big hoof upfront, to me, he looked a made player. The chemistry in which these two had reminded me of a young Rio and Vidic partnership with Keane being the cool, calm and collective centre back along with Wootton being the ball winner and the one who strikers fear when going into a 50-50 challenge with.
Don’t get me wrong, I was thoroughly impressed with Keane, but I thought at times he looked a little too nervous, which is what you expect from players on only their second senior appearance. I expect big things to come from these two in the coming years, watch this space.
The three substitutes who did eventually get some game time didn’t really make a massive impact. Nick Powell, Ryan Tunnicliffe and Robbie Brady all got a run out but as the game had died off by then, they didn’t really get much of an opportunity to showcase their skills. I think the fact Sir Alex was prepared to put nine under 21 players in his 18 for a cup game against a strong Premier League side tells us that we will start to see far more of them over the coming months.