10-time FA Youth Cup winners Manchester United will play the nine-time winners Chelsea in the FA Youth Cup semi-final. It comes after a professional performance saw United progress with a 2-1 win against Wigan Athletic at Old Trafford.
Deji Sotona and Shola Shoretire provided goals either side of half-time for Neil Ryan’s Reds. What did we learn from a competitive game?
Hannibal Mejbri has lessons to learn
He’s the much-hyped attacking midfielder who cost United €10m last summer but Hannibal Mejbri showed some of his weaknesses on Friday night.
The Frenchman moves around the pitch with a nonchalance typical of his nationality at Old Trafford. That’s not a problem in itself but there were two main issues with his performance.
At times, Mejbri appears to be mature beyond his years. He’s able to win fouls and free-kicks from opposition players, and does so at the perfect time in the game. It helps to break up play and gives United some rest bite. But at other points, Mejbri is guilty of giving away stupid fouls and picking up unnecessary bookings.
It’s something that United’s coaching staff are aware of. Earlier this season, the ex-Monaco man was hooked off after picking up a silly booking. It was a message.
The other issue is how Mejbri drifts in an out of games. He seemed to play in second gear for most of Friday night, similar to how he performed in the 2-0 Third Round win against Lincoln City. He’s got to take games by the scruff of the neck rather than drift along with them.
Teden Mengi is a force to reckon with
The 17-year-old captain put in one of his best performances of the season. He seems to have everything: a great physique, good composure, leadership, passing ability, aerial strength, maturity.
This display showed all of that. There were only two slips of concentration, one in the second minute and one in added time of the second half. Other than that, this was exemplary.
Mengi is showing himself to be a serious prospect and, because of his build, will be ready for a first team chance soon. This has been an excellent season. Perhaps next season will see him head out on loan.
Shola Shoretire is an undervalued talent
Not only did 16-year-old Shoretire score United’s second goal, but he did so as the youngest player in the side.
He was excellent throughout at Old Trafford and shows a good level of maturity for someone so young. He spends most of his time drifting inside from the left flank and has a serious influence in that area of the pitch. United’s system allowed Shoretire to float around, interchanging with Hannibal Mejbri and Charlie Wellens.
Shoretire turned 16 in February, less than a month ago. For him to be having this kind of impact on United’s under-18s games, and it isn’t just tonight, is so impressive.
United kids must get rid of silly fouls
It’s not just Mejbri who’s guilty of giving away silly free-kicks. It’s the whole United side. Deji Sotona did it once and so too did Shoretire. Top sides don’t do it and United must cut it out if they’re to win the FA Youth Cup.
On more than one occasion, it allowed Wigan back into the game. Chelsea won’t be so kind in how they respond to gifts such as those.
A bigger test awaits for Neil Ryan’s Reds, United have to step up
Chelsea present a far tougher challenge than Wigan. United won’t be going through against the Blues if they perform as they have done in the FA Youth Cup so far. Much more is needed; more intensity in their game, fewer sloppy passes, fewer free-kicks given away and better finishing.
Whether Dillon Hoogewerf and Will Fish are available for the semi-final is yet to be seen. Both are missed. But even with the pair, United need more.
Hannibal Mejbri must step up. Mengi has to continue his good form and more needs to come from the full-backs Reece Devine and Lukasz Bejger.
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