Nathan Broadhead’s hat-trick saw Everton leapfrog Manchester United in Premier League 2 and move into fourth spot. The Reds have been the league’s entertainers this season, with the second-most prolific attack and the joint-worst defence.

Since a January defeat to Leicester, Neil Wood’s United had won three games on the bounce, scoring a stunning 15 goals in the process.

So why did the in-form under-23s get beaten by Everton on Monday night?

Everton v Manchester United: Premier League 2
(Photo by Emma Simpson – Everton FC/Everton FC via Getty Images)

Manchester United U23s missing key players

The Reds were missing key players Shola Shoretire, Amad Diallo and Hannibal Mejbri as well as the injured Anthony Elanga and the many loanees away from the club.

United’s loanees are managed by Les Parry and the decision as to who is allowed to leave the club on loan will also involve Nicky Butt and, on some occasions, the first team coaching staff. The people that matter took the decision in the summer, and then once again in January, to send out the under-23s’ more senior talents on loan.

James Garner initially headed to Watford before swapping Hertfordshire for Nottingham and signing for Forest. Dylan Levitt had a spell at Charlton Athletic and is now in Croatia. Others to go out on loan include Ethan Laird, Teden Mengi, Matej Kovar and Di’Shon Bernard. They are all key players, particularly in the defensive side of things.

So the absence of those loanees means injuries affect this United set-up more than they normally would. With Bernard and Mengi, who would have been the first-choice centre-back pairing, away from United, Will Fish is the only fit centre-back at under-23s level. He was joined on Monday by left-back Reece Devine.

In attack, meanwhile, the absence of the regular trio of Hannibal, Shoretire and Amad left United in trouble.

 

Defensive errors have summed up United’s season

United played well against Everton. In terms of possession and quality on the ball, there was little to separate the two teams on Merseyside. Nathan Broadhead, Everton’s 22-year-old striker, was clinical in taking advantage of mistakes made by United.

Take recent wins against Liverpool and Blackburn, for example. United scored six goals in both but conceded three and four times respectively. Most of those goals were from individual errors at the back, rather than brilliance from the other side. The same was true against Everton, who had good moments and a better final ball than United, but benefitted from loose marking or lapses in concentration.

It makes sense to an extent. United are without their regular defenders and Devine is filling in at centre-back. Fish has only just returned from injury, having missed games against Arsenal, Liverpool and Blackburn. It has been a problem all season, though, and without the attacking firepower in front of them, it was always going to continue to be one on Monday.

A lack of attacking firepower

As outlined above, United need serious attacking quality to make up for a defence that has struggled all throughout the season. The fact that United are in the top five despite conceding a breathtaking 42 goals in 16 games (2.62 per game) is down to the strong forward line.

SOUTHPORT, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 22: Joe Hugill of Manchester United U23s in action during the Premier League 2 match between Everton U23s and Manchester United U23s at Pure Stadium on February 22, 2021 in Southport, England.
(Photo by John Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images)

Joe Hugill has led the line in the absence of D’Mani Mellor and since January he’s been supported by a trio of Hannibal Mejbri (left-wing), Shola Shoretire (attacking midfield) and Amad Diallo (right-wing). All three were missing, Hannibal through injury and the others due to first-team involvement. Hugill received little service, although he did miss one good chance, without his usual partners.

Charlie McCann and Ethan Galbraith had good games but it wasn’t enough. United lacked variety in their play without the pace and flair of Amad; the composure and tenacity of Hannibal, and the quick passing and movement of Shoretire.

Results at this level are not the most important thing. Marcus Rashford came through a team which often struggled for results. United played okay against Everton but must improve their defensive structure and consistency in that regard. As for the attack, those getting a chance when the regulars are out have to take it. Charlie McNeill made his under-23s debut on Monday and could be in for some more gametime when the Reds play Southampton on Saturday. It’s an opportunity to make an impression.

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