Monday night saw Manchester United's Under 21 side crowned champions of the U21 Premier League.
United have always been known to produce some of the finest talent in world football and this season was no different. From the first-team down to the U18 level, the club have an array of talented footballers who are set for stardom.
So to praise the quality of youth at Old Trafford we’ve decided to make our own Manchester United XI of players aged 23 and younger.
Goalkeeper: David de Gea
As goalkeeping stories go, David de Gea’s season is up there with the best. From villain to hero, the 22-year-old has finally shown signs of his £18.9 million transfer value. This shot-stopper is fast becoming one of world football finest goalkeepers after a number of good performances this season. After undertaking a rigorous gym regime over the summer, De Gea has put on over a stone in muscle.
This has shown in the Spanish goalkeeper’s performances as he deals better with the physical side of the game – most notably against Andy Carroll this season. His shot-stopping abilities have never been in doubt but if De Gea can keep improving on his physical presence, the world of football is his oyster.
Right-back: Rafael da Silva
If football did awards for the Premier League's Most Improved Player, Manchester United’s full back Rafael would certainly be in contention. The 22-year-old has come on in leaps and bounds since his inconsistencies of last season. The Brazilian has become far more stable defensively and his forward-thinking style has enabled him to become more explosive, aiding the ever disappointing Antonio Valencia.
His positional play and the occasional lapse in concentration have got the Brazilian into trouble at times - most notably against Ribery in the 2010 Champions League quarter-final. In time he will be a suitable successor to Gary Neville who was so influential at Manchester United.
Centre-back: Chris Smalling
With the retirement of Manchester United veteran Rio Ferdinand inevitable, Chris Smalling is the ideal successor. The pair share similar qualities and despite recent performance, the 23-year-old is determined to prove his worth to new manager David Moyes.
Chris Smalling is a man who is calm and composed under pressure with a solid aerial presence.
His accurate distribution of the ball can also get the team out of sticky situations and allow for counter attacking football. However if Chris Smalling is to become a starter for Manchester United he must develop his positioning and defensive awareness.
Centre-back: Phil Jones (Captain)
Manchester United’s own utility man Phil Jones is once again proving his worth this season. Regarded as the future England captain, Phil Jones’s potential is off the scale. Although spending most of his playing time as a box-to-box midfielder, Jones naturally should become Nemanja Vidic’s successor at centre-back.
The former Blackburn star is a great tackler of the ball and often makes crucial tackles that can prevent goal scoring opportunities. His positional play is questionable at times but as he matures this should be eradicated from his game.
Left-back: Fabio da Silva
As Buttner just misses out and Evra is reaching the latter stages of his career, this paves the way for the other half of the Da Silva brothers. Fabio, currently on loan at QPR, is pacey, well composed and accomplished going forward.
His athleticism and ability to use both feet mean he is at ease chasing up and down either flank. However questions still remain over his erratic tackles and proneness to injury.
Centre-midfield: Tom Cleverley
An up and down season for Tom Cleverley; one which showed early promise but after a series of injures the midfielder has yet to regain his early season’s form. The 23-year-old Cleverley is an accomplished passer with an eye for an incisive ball. Like Paul Scholes, Tom Cleverley has a great ability to float across the midfield enabling him to control the tempo of games.
This style of play would complement Nick Powell by playing the role as a deep-lying playmaker, whilst letting Nick Powell play a more advanced role. The 23-year-old will have to overcome his injuries to remain a consistent player both at club and international level.
Centre-midfield: Nick Powell
It’s been an unfortunate season for young Nick Powell following a series of injuries and lack of first team opportunities. Nick Powell hit premier league stardom after scoring a Paul Scholes-esque shot against Wigan on the 15th September 2012 but has rarely featured since.
The 19-year-old has an enormous amount of potential and could be an ideal successor to Paul Scholes. His attack minded game and ability to shoot from outside will add another goal scoring option to Manchester United’s attack. However to become a truly great midfielder, he will need to develop his passing ability to enable him to spread the ball, floating across the midfield.
Attacking-midfield: Larnell Cole
Yet to make his first team debut, Larnell Cole looks an extremely promising young player. At just 20-years-old the Manchester-born starlet recently scored two goals for the U21 side in a 3-2 victory over Tottenham - helping secure the U21 Premier League title.
Cole has made four appearances for the England U19 side and could have a promising future at both club and international level. The youngster will be hoping to make the 2013/14 season a breakthrough year and feature in David Moyes' plans for the future.
Right-wing: Adnan Januzaj
Adnan Januzaj isa Kosovo-born Belgian winger plucked from Anderlecht’s famous academy in 2011. He shares the same birthday, February 5, as former Manchester United star Cristiano Ronaldo and is fast becoming one of the rising stars in the club’s ranks.
The 18-year-old is in a similar mould to fellow countryman Eden Hazard in that he can play multiple roles during a game enabling him to float across the attacking line.
The Belgian has a wonderful skillset and balance that enables him to get past opposing defenders with ease.
It doesn’t stop there though, the 18-year-old has great creativity and vision which allows him to split defences and play the final ball for goal scoring opportunities. Although Adnan Januzaj has the technical abilities, for him to become a truly great player he will need to work on the physical side of the game to help him cope with life in the premier league.
Left-wing: Danny Welbeck
Danny Welbeck is a player who gets mixed reviews from fans; some find him useful where others wonder why Sir Alex is leaving Javier Hernandez on the bench.The positive of Danny Welbeck’s game is the physicality where he has great pace and strength that make him tough to deal with in and around the box.
However the minus is that too often the 22-year-old fails to determine the right runs to make and is still learning that side of the game. Most worryingly though is the England striker’s lack of ability to shoot. It is simply not good enough for a player of his standard to score only one goal in a season and this needs to be improved upon for him to move up the pecking order.
Centre-forward: Angelo Henriquez
The decision to take Angelo Henriquez over Danny Welbeck as a striker is simply down to goal scoring ability. As we’ve seen this season, Manchester United’s attacking prowess and ability to score goals has secured them a 20th league title.
Prior to his move to Old Trafford Angelo Henriquez was a goal scoring phenomena, scoring 11 goals in 17 appearances for Universidad de Chile. He’s a natural goal scorer who is deadly in and around the penalty area.
His electrifying pace and goal scoring instinct has the potential to cause havoc amongst opposing defenders. However concerns remain over the young star’s development after a poor spell with Wigan this term.
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