Last night one of the biggest Premier League fixtures took place, Manchester United managed a 3-0 win over top 4 contenders Tottenham Hotspur. This fixture has been played many-a-time, usually creating controversy but one of the biggest controversy’s happened before a ball was even kicked last night; the average age of the Manchester United starting line-up was only 23-years old! It has been a while since Manchester United have been able to boast that, especially with Giggs, Van der Sar and Scholes all regular fixtures in the team last term.
Fergie has been doing his bit in the transfer market and before yesterday’s game Redknapp admitted that he wanted to sign both Phil Jones and Ashley Young, but as soon as Manchester United came knocking, the Spurs manager had no chance (same has happened with Mata and Chelsea).
Last night’s victory bought home to me how well Fergie has done to ensure that the future is bright for the next few seasons at United, despite clubs legends retiring or playing a lesser role. This marks a new dawn at Old Trafford and whether we like it or not, and with some extreme talent in the youth and reserve sides, we are going to take a look at who to look out for this season and beyond:
The signing of David de Gea was one of this summer’s surprise deals, Fergie was happy to part with a reported £18.9m to secure the services of this young Spanish stopper. But Fergie and his team took their time in selecting who would be worthy enough to replace the legend that is Edwin Van der Sar. de Gea was impressive for former club Atletico Madrid, a club that handed him a debut in the 2009/10 season as only an 18-year old, he quickly established himself as number one for the 2010/11 season due to his displays. He showed this summer what he can do representing Spain at Under 21 level. He is set to be number one for years to come, it was amusing that de Gea was only half the age of his opposite number Brad Friedel last night, if he can become half as good, United won’t go wrong.
United’s back 4 was not that recognisable last night, Evra is a permanent fixture obviously and Jonny Evans has proved an okay reserve, but Chris Smalling at right-back and new signing Phil Jones plugging the gap in the centre had to perform in such a big game. And perform they did as Chris Smalling, along with new recruit Jones, showed they are the future for United at centre-back. 21-year old Chris Smalling has had a meteoric rise from non-league to Champions League in the space of only 4 years; a truly amazing journey moving from Maidstone to Fulham before United came knocking. He had an assured display last night at right-back and his versatility is a major asset. 19-year old Phil Jones also showed why Fergie signed him and will no doubt become first choice reserve behind Vidic and Ferdinand this season. At full-back, United have 21-year old twins Rafael and Fabio to see them through the next 5 season or so and Rafael has already become the first choice for Ferguson.
26-year old Ashley Young and 24-year old Nani occupied the wings for United last night, but the real story was in the centre of the pitch. 22-year old Tom Cleverley lined up with 23-year old Anderson in the middle of the park and showed that either was ready to fill the position more regularly this season. We have already had a more in-depth look at Cleverley in a previous article, but in summary it is this young midfielder’s time to shine especially as the Sneijder deal looks increasingly unlikely. Cleverley has already been blooded on loan at Watford and Wigan most recently and it is make or break time at United. Midfielders don’t get a lot of time to prove their worth at United and have big boots to fill as the standards set by Paul Scholes and Roy Keane live on. But forget Cleverley, the most exciting prospects are even younger and have limited first team exposure so far, but youth/reserve team players Paul Pogba, Ravel Morrison and Ryan Tunnicliffe are three players that could make more of an impact this year. Pogba is a young French midfielder that Manchester United recruited from Le Harve. The French side were not too happy with this and it isn’t a surprise as Pogba seems destined to become the next big thing. This 18-year old is a strong, powerful midfielder with excellent dribbling skills and an eye for goal and has already been compared to Patrick Vieira. Ravel Morrison is equally as exciting, if not more so, he is a typical number 10 who has the world at his feet, he has a lot in his locker with creativity, skill, vision, passing range and shooting ability (not with a gun…yet). It remains to be seen whether his bad boy antics off the pitch will allow him to have the career he should, very raw. Ryan Tunnicliffe has gone to Peterborough on loan this season and there is no doubt he will establish himself at the heart of Ferguson Jnr’s team. He has another centre-mid who has it all; passing, football brain, positioning but he especially good in the tackle. This 18-year old won the Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year for 2011 at Manchester United, he has been compared to Robson and Keane and Fergie has already earmarked him as a top prospect of the club.
20-year old local boy Danny Welbeck marked a special night at Old Trafford with a goal and an assist as he returned to Old Trafford after last season’s loan at Sunderland. He got on the end of Cleverley’s delivery to head home the first goal before a genius back-heel set up Anderson for United’s second. Welbeck got his start as 23-year old Javier Hernandez is still regaining fitness, but has shown he is ready to play and here to stay. We know about strikers Welbeck and Hernandez, but there is further talent waiting in the wings at United. Joshua King and Will Keane are two other rising stars at United that will be looking to follow the example of Danny Welbeck. King is a highly talented forward who has already signed on loan with Borussia Mönchengladbach for the 2011/12 season. The 19-year old Norwegian is a tricky striker who’s pace and power are a threat to the defenders that he is happy to run at and terrorise at all times. 18-year old Will Keane is a different kind of striker, more for the Sheringham/Solskjaer mould. He has a great eye for goal, quality positional play as well the ability to link the play well between midfielder and attack and usually plays as a second striker. He is another player that won the Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year award and Fergie holds him in high regard.
After a golden generation has come and gone at Manchester United, Fergie will have no worries as the future of this great club seems in good hands, so remember these names and look out for them over the next couple of seasons as United’s dominance is set to continue…much to everyone’s dislike!