United’ were unable to come out on top in the U21 final against Chelsea at Old Trafford, despite taking the lead early on.
United’s silverware hopes were decent prior to the game, as Ben Amos is an experienced bloke at this level, both Saidy Janko and Reece James are in decent form on the right- and left-hand side respectively. Additionally, the lethal striker James Wilson featured from the start, and the 20-year-old Belgian Charni Ekangemene was back into his traditional midfield role after nine games as a centre-back. That was thanks to having Michael Keane, who has enjoyed his loan spell at Blackburn, back in the heart of the defence.
Lewis Baker pulled the trigger after four minutes, but Amos was on par with the effort, parrying it away for a corner kick. Baker had picked up eleven goals and eight assists throughout his 21 appearances on U21 level this season, but it was more to come.
After eight minutes, a through-ball was directed towards Wilson, but the quick Dane Andreas Christensen come out on top in the sprint battle.
Ten minutes Ben Pearson was booked. The ball bounced a yard off the central midfielder and his tackle to retain possession resulted in a booking. Maybe a little bit harsh on the 19-year-old?
Lawrence enters the frame, Blues respond quickly
Ater 12 minutes, Tom Lawrence wrote his name on the score sheet. Janko made an excellent run on the right-hand side, squared it for Wilson, who one-touched it to the 20-year-old finisher. Lawrence dummied two Chelsea defenders in one go and slotted it home in the far corner.
Ten minutes later, the left winger Charly Musonda received the ball on the left hand side, cut inside and slotted in into the bottom corner to equalised. Pearson hesitated to tackle (because of his booking?), Varela got on the back foot and neither Keane or McNair were able to catch up with the Belgian.
Neither side get the breakthrough – yet
John Swift, the right winger, had an effort from nineteen yards after 32 minutes played, but his attempt to curl it around Ben Amos failed slightly and the ball went wide. Swift came on as a substitute against Cardiff last weekend in the 89th minute for his Chelsea first team debut.
Paddy McNair was on a rare visit in Chelsea’s box in the 39th minute, and ended up claiming spot kick rights. Chelsea’s English centre-back Ola Aina ran into the The Northern Irishman when he was trying to bring down the ball, but it was probably fair to let the game go on. With that said, Aina would’ve had no reasons to blame the referee if a twelve-yard attempt had been awarded.
Just before half-time, Charni Ekangemene was booked for a late challenge on Chelsea’s Nathan Aké. Lewis Baker’s attemt went undangerously to a corner after deflecting off the wall.
Danny Higginbotham’s half-time conclusion was that the team with the best attacking supply from the midfield department would come out on top, as there were lethal attackers on either half. He wasn’t wrong.
Chelsea push on
Baker had a huge chance to put Chelsea in front 53 minutes into the game, when Aké found Loftus-Cheek with a through-ball. The latter pulled it back for Baker, who received it not far from the penalty spot, but the 19-year-old skied it way over the bar.
58 minutes into the game, the Blues’ striker Islam Feruz found Ruben Loftus-Cheek in the box, but Amos’ feet saved United on the goalline.
United’s silverware hopes leaving with Wilson?
James Wilson had struggled most of the time, and the lethal striker saw the end of his game in the 67th minute. He partly successfully recovered possession next to the corner flag, but never recovered from the knock he picked up. James Weir replaced him and Tom Lawrence went up top. Wilson ended his season with 29+1 club appearances on all levels, 24 goals and five assists. In other words basically a goal contribution in every game.
Twelve minutes from time, Ben Pearson went on a sublime run, but his disabled finishing abilities cost both him and United dearly, as his effort went straight on Blackman in the Chelsea net.
Baker seals it
Just a minute or so later, Charni Ekangemene miscontrolled the ball, Lewis Baker picked it up and curled it into the far corner. That was a proper spanner in United’s works, and the home side were never able to get back on to level terms.
United’s attempts turn out insufficient
As a last final assault, Reece James was brought off to offer more physicality in the figure of Tyler Blackett down the left-hand side.
Six minutes from time, Tom Lawrence limped off after battling a cramp for some time. He was replaced by the 18-year-old midfielder Josh Harrop.
After 91 minutes, United got a corner and even Ben Amos entered Chelsea’s box, but the delivery from Andreas Pereira was poor. The entire incident culminated in the match-winner Lewis Baker exaggerating an injury for the second time in quick succession.
The scenario repeated after 94 minutes, before Tyler Blackett got United’s final chance of the game. He got some power into his suprising volley from 25 yards, but Jamal Blackman was able to pull of a save and distinguish United’s hope of a late comeback.
On some personal notes, we can start by mentioning Ben Amos. By U21 standards he’s very experienced, with loan spells at Peterborough and Hull among others on his CV. He turned 24 in April and it’s hard to see him stay at United if a Championship or even League One club table an offer that includes regular first team action.
Ben Pearson’s passion to win a game is admirable. He was maybe a little bit handicapped by his early booking, but still put in beyond a man’s shift in the midfield department. If it was one man in this United side who deserved to score his first U21 goal in such a game, it was him, but sadly he needs to improve on his finishing ability.
The Belgian-Brazilian Andreas Pereira is able to show off some absolutely exquisite ability on a football pitch, like his immense winner against Liverpool in the semi-final, but he needs to work on his consistency. However, he’s just 18, and still time to sort out his major flaw. And on his day, he’s a pure joy to watch, after all.
Saidy Janko is basically this side’s Antonio Valencia – apart from the fact that he’s a quality player. He possesses strength and pace, and uses it to take on defenders in a direct manner. Just like Valencia on form, which the Ecuadorian hasn’t been since 2012.
James Wilson has spent the season to, as mentioned, contribute to a goal every game, but his season has been tough on him physically and mentally, and he needs a proper rest. Hopefully he spends his holiday wisely and keeps on building on the platform he has built this season – because his ability as a poacher is absolutely sublime.
United (4-2-3-1): Amos – Varela, Keane, McNair, James (Blackett 81) – Janko, Pearson, Ekangemene, A Pereira – Lawrence (Harrop 84) – Wilson (Weir 67)
Unused subs: J. Pereira (GK), Willock
Chelsea (4-3-3): Blackman – Ssewankambo, Aina, Christensen, Nditi – Loftus-Cheek (Palmer 70), Ake, Baker – Swift, Feruz, Musonda (Colkett 86)
Unused subs: Davey, Beeney (GK), Dabo