Match Build Up
Manchester United has always been known for their exceptional youth development. This season is no different, with some great additions coming in over the summer. Last Friday, United’s U23s traveled to The Amex Elite Football Performance Centre to take on Brighton Hove Albion.
The boys were trying to make it two league wins in a row following an impressive 2-1 home win over Everton. Neil Wood had them set up in a 3-5-2 with Anthony Elanga and Shola Shoretire up top. The match did not disappoint. It was a seven, let me repeat that, seven goal thriller that ended favorably for the Reds 2-5. The score line is misleading though, there was plenty of drama in the second half, but let’s start at the beginning.
United started the game tenaciously attacking Brighton quickly and skillfully. In the 8th minute, their tenacity paid off when Hannibal Mejbri converted a perfectly timed through ball from Arnau Puigmal. Hannibal looked well beyond his years as he skillfully put the ball into the bottom left corner of the net. Brighton didn’t do themselves any favors, lazily playing the ball around in the back field. In 17th minute, Elanga sprang on a pass back to the Brighton keeper, Christian Walton. The ball came to Shoretire who smashed it in to make it 0-2 United.
The Reds continued to dominate the half with Elanga, Hannibal, and Puigmal expertly moving the ball around in the opponent’s third. They were close to making it three when Mark Helm got the ball inside the box about eight yards away from goal. He looked certain to score but pulled a “Billy Spoon Foot” and catapulted the ball over the goal. Not long after though Helm found redemption. In the 36th minute, Helm converted a brilliant low driven cross from Puigmal to make the score 0-3. That is where the half ended with United three goals up, but the story was not yet over.
The second half started with the Seagulls coming out firing on all cylinders. United had trouble getting the ball out of defense. There were a few close calls early in the 2nd half and Brighton easily could have gotten two goals. Soon though a cross was played into the United box and Helm clattered into a Brighton player leading to a penalty. In the 58th minute, Jensen Weir dispatched the Brighton penalty, making it 1-3.
One minute after their first goal, the Seagulls had the ball near the bottom of United’s box. The cross made it past the first defender and through the United keeper, Paul Woolston’s legs. The ball rolled in front of the goal and an uncovered Weir put it away on the back post to bag his second goal. The goal could have been avoided with better man marking on the back post and better front post play from the United keeper. Nonetheless, in the 59th minute it was now 2-3 and Brighton had the momentum.
The game looked to be turning from an emphatic win to a depressing draw. Enter Alvaro Fernandez, who is listed as a left back, that’s important to note. In the 70th minute, with the momentum fully on Brighton’s side, Fernandez calmly took the ball from the midfield to the edge of box and unleashed an absolute thunderbolt. The ball slammed into the goal as if Thor himself smashed it in with his hammer. Some players can make something out of nothing, and that is exactly what Fernandez did here. The game was now 2-4 United. The Seagulls had a few more chances, but United’s defense did well to shut them down. In the 83rd minute, the Reds made it 2-5 with a brilliant sliding goal from Puigmal, set up by a perfect through ball from Hannibal. After the final goal the game was done, and the Seagulls were defeated.
For man of the match I have to say Puigmal, he was lethal on the right wing in the opponents final third. He had a goal and two assists when the dust settled. Not far behind Puigmal was Hannibal, his silky smooth passes and precise touches terrorized Brighton’s defense. He ended the day with a goal and an assist. The defense looked good but was sloppy on both goals. They did well though to ‘bend but not break’ when the score was 2-3 and Brighton was surging.
The United keeper, Woolston, had a decent outing making 6 saves and shutting the Seagulls out in the first half. He however should have done better with the ball on Brighton’s second goal. The stats certainly fell in United’s favor with; 56.3% of the possession, 17 shots to Brighton’s 16, and 11 shots on target to Brighton’s 6. The Seagulls did top us in corners, 5 to 3, and they had fewer fouls. The boys are back at it again with an important home game against Tottenham Hotspurs U23s on Sunday, 11/22. I have no doubt that United’s U23s can make it three league wins in a row by dispatching the Spurs.