Manchester United’s EFL Trophy opener away at Salford City went better than anybody could have imagined.
United’s under-21 side ran roughshod over Salford, winning 6-0, in a dominant display from start to finish.
There were strong performances all over the pitch, with James Garner pulling the strings in midfield, and Hannibal Mejbri producing some eye-catching contributions.
Charlie McCann and Anthony Elanga also got on the scoresheet, while Ethan Laird was dangerous from full-back before getting injured.
The player who managed to get on the scoresheet twice was Mark Helm, and he is one to keep an eye on.
Helm could make a step up
Most of Mark Helm’s football has come for United’s under-18 side. He played four games for the under-23s last season, but did not get on the scoresheet.
He netted three times and provided four assists for the under-18s in 13 games, and also played all four of the team’s FA Youth Cup matches.
On the basis of this performance, Helm is ready to stake his claim at under-23 level, and that’s good, United need players to step up, with Dylan Levitt gone out on loan and James Garner set to follow.
Helm is a set-piece specialist, scoring United’s goal from a free-kick in a friendly match against Salford in August.
He also scored United’s opener against Huddersfield at the start of the month when he pressured experienced goalkeeper Ben Hamer into a mistake.
While the friendly goals will not count towards his final season tally, Helm made it four goals in total since returning to action, with a brace against Salford last night.
His first goal was a header from Hannibal Mejbri’s free-kick, where he rose highest and attacked the ball, while his second was another goal was a one on one which he coolly slotted past the goalkeeper.
Helm also managed to provide an assist, setting up Charlie McCann’s goal.
Each year there is often a player who seizes the moment and makes much bigger progress than is initially expected.
Last season it was Largie Ramazani, who netted nine goals in the first half of the season for the under-23s, giving him the confidence to go and seek regular football in Spain.
Helm is under contract at United until 2022 so there will not be a repeat of that particular departure, but it would be good to see him begin the season with the same kind of consistency.
The 18-year-old can play as both a central midfielder and as a right winger, and is still finding his best role.
Without a recognised striker in the team, United need midfielders who can chip in with goals.
Helm has begun the season strongly, and United will need players to step up with the under-23s promoted into the top division this season.
If he can make a big impact, he might end up being discussed as a breakthrough talent in a year’s time, but he has to maintain his strong start in the academy this season first.
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