Manchester United’s academy sides have had a strong start to the season without being dominant. The under-23s and under-18s are now on a break until early January, and there have been a number of standout performers.
Despite the promise, not all of the prospects have lived up to their potential. The second half of the season presents a fresh start and a clean slate, for those who have underwhelmed, to try and kick on.
Here is a look at three exciting academy prospects who have not had a great first half of the campaign, what has gone wrong, and why 2022 can bring a positive change in fortune.
What’s gone wrong? Joe Hugill has not scored a single goal for the under-23s in the league this season in six appearances. He then suffered an ankle injury while on a week’s internship at Forest Green, which will keep him out until early January.
United had dropped him back down to the under-18s in October for one match, in which he scored a hat-trick, but this failed to inspire an improvement at under-23 level. Hugill has been overtaken by Charlie McNeill this season, who has been in good form.
Why it can improve: Hugill only turned 18 in October, so there is plenty of time for him to improve. He appeared for the first team in pre-season and is highly regarded.
Hugill has shown he can score for the 23s, netting 10 times at the level last season, including a four-goal haul against Liverpool.
His season has not been a complete write-off. He scored for the under-23s in the EFL Trophy against Bradford, and in the UEFA Youth League against Atalanta. He has five goals in all competitions including under-18 level.
The injury has been a bigger blow, as he has not featured since October. Hugill’s slow start to the campaign is only noticeable because of the high standards he set himself in his first year.
What’s gone wrong? Dillon Hoogwerf has been unable to hold down a regular place in the under-23s starting line-up and has been unable to generate any kind of consistency.
He has just one goal and no assists in nine under-23 league games, although he has started just three of these matches. Hoogewerf only started one UEFA Youth League match.
After the strong way he ended last season for the under-18s, he will be a little disappointed not to have carried this momentum into this campaign.
Why it can improve: It is normal for there to be some adjustment when players step up a level, and Hoogewerf has time to make his mark. Like Hugill, he showed his potential with a goal and assist in the EFL Trophy win over Bradford back in September.
Hoogewerf had a far stronger second half of last season compared to the start, which will give him belief he can turn it around. Between March and May he scored eight goals and provided seven assists in nine matches. This flurry of goal contributions showed what he is capable of if he is given a proper run as a starter.
There is also encouragement to be taken from Charlie McNeill’s recent success, who has three goals in his last four under-23 games. Hoogewerf’s late season surge for the under-18s last season came in partnership with McNeill, and if they get the chance to link up again regularly for the 23s, both players could benefit.
What’s gone wrong? After ending last season with an injury, Noam Emeran began this campaign on the sidelines too.
The French winger has played only three matches in all competitions, each as a substitute, amassing just 46 minutes of football.
The 19-year-old is more up against it than Hoogewerf and Hugill due to his age, and so really needs to make the second half of the season count.
Why it can improve: Even in his limited game time, Emeran has managed to provide one assist, showing a glimpse of what he may be able to offer if he can stay injury free and get a run in the team.
Emeran’s age may also make him more likely to go out on loan, which could enable him to take a real leap forward. Ethan Laird had a similar injury-hit start to 2021/22 before going on loan in January to MK Dons and playing more than 25 first team games, enhancing his credentials in the process.
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