The U23 season is over after a difficult yet fun season for the Manchester United youngsters.
The team finished eighth out of 13 teams and slipped from sixth after losing to Derby on the final day.
Even so, this felt about right for a talented but flawed team that is full of individual talent but seriously lacking defensively.
(Photo by John Peters / Manchester United via Getty Images)
It would always be tough …
United won promotion to the top division of U23 football last season after a successful season. The other team, West Ham, finished eleventh.
The challenge of building a division was exacerbated by the fact that key players from the 2019/20 campaign were suddenly no longer available.
James Garner, Dylan Levitt and Matej Kovar were loaned out, Largie Ramazani and Angel Gomes left the club, Ethan Laird missed the first half of the season due to injury and was then loaned out, while Teden Mengi previously trained with the first team to go out on loan.
This left United without the core group that even won promotion.
It gave young players an opportunity to improve, and eventually they did, but not without a few difficult results along the way.
Shola Shoretire, 16, got kicked into the U23 and for a couple of games looked like he was overwhelmed. Then he started influencing games.
Shoretire finished the season as the team’s second-highest scorer with 10 goals and provided six assists, making his first team debut. Sometimes it wasn’t playable.
Goals, goals, goals
United actually ended the campaign as the division’s second-highest scorer with 58 in 24 games. Striker Joe Hugill turned out to be a real find.
Along the way, including the EFL Trophy games, 13 different players scored a goal and 19 players provided assists.
The big problem was in the back. With 59 goals conceded, United somehow ended up with a negative goal difference and the second worst defensive record in that position, apart from lower club Southampton.
With a defensive record like this, United survived well and that was really the goal of this season.
Given the young squad, which was essentially under 18 at times, and the quality improvement, it would not have been a surprise if this United team had gone straight back down. Instead, they took up the challenge.
There have been some major defeats: Liverpool beat United 5-3 and Chelsea won 6-1 in the first half of the season. The second half of the season improved, with United defeating Liverpool 6-4 and Chelsea 4-2. Granted, United had a little help from Amad in those games.
(Photo by Nick Taylor / Liverpool FC / Liverpool FC via Getty Images)
What is ahead of us?
There will be a number of young players emerging from the successful U18 team and guaranteed to be among the top two in their division.
Charlie McNeill, Dillon Hoogwerf, Marc Jurado, Omari Forson, Isak Hansen-Aaroen, Noam Emeran, Björn Hardley and Charlie Savage made their U23 debuts in the second half of the season. Joe Hugill and Alvaro Fernandez have already established themselves as regulars.
There may be some additions to strengthen the squad as the Brexit means that United can only recruit overseas young players who are now over the age of 18.
Ethan Galbraith is likely to be loaned out along with one or two others for the next season.
(Photo by Nathan Stirk / Getty Images)
Anthony Elanga, top scorer, could either be promoted to the first team or loaned out. He will be a big failure, but talent is waiting to be taken over just like this season after advancing from the 18s.
The major priority for this talented United group is improving their defense. That aspect of the season just wasn’t good enough. There will always be a lot of goals for under 23s, but conceding the second highest goal in the division is a bad quality.
If the coaching and recruiting staff can use some magic to help this United U23 side become more resilient, they should aim for a top four result and even a title boost next season. In terms of attack, the talent is there.
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