Manchester United reserves faced local rivals Manchester City (Elite Development Squad) in the Manchester Senior Cup at Ewen Field on Tuesday evening. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was allowed the luxury of selecting several established first team regulars including: Gary Neville; Wes Brown, Michael Carrick and a welcome return to action for Anderson after a six month layoff due to injury.
United created the first real opportunity in the 9th minute. Chris Smalling punted a searching pass for Rafael (playing left back); the young Brazilian controlled the ball superbly and slid a pass to Carrick. Carrick whipped a cross over with the ball finding its way to the impressive Magnus Eikrem – he delivered a precise cross finding the head of Cleverley, who smacked the ball against the crossbar.
Two minutes later City opened the scoring via Alex Nimely. The build was impressive: Abdisalam Ibrahim, Scott Kay and Nimely were all involved in short intricate passing. Ibrahim attempted to slide a through ball (I believe) to Chris Chantler, good defending from Chris Smalling blocked the pass, but the rebound fell to Ibrahim who slid a short pass to Nimely, he scored with an effort from the edge of penalty area leaving Ben Amos little chance.
After taking the lead City defended from their own half allowing United to enjoy plenty of possession without any real penetration as City were well organised and difficult to breakdown. The pattern of the match remained the same until the 37th minute when Neville fired in a low cross gathered by Federico Macheda. The young Italian tried to spin Reece Wabara, but the City defender blocked his efforts and the ball rebounded to Cleverley. Cleverley attempted a curling shot, but the effort lacked the bend to find the corner of the net. A minute later Macheda had his man, as he foxed Wabara with an excellent turn and powered home a shot past City’s Colombian goalkeeper David González. Eikrem providing his first assist of the game.
After the equaliser United upped the tempo and looked a greater threat as City became pinned in their own half. Darron Gibson had a rasping shot bravely blocked by City captain Ben Mee and good goalkeeping prevented Cleverley from latching on to a through ball. The first half ended with United on top.
As the second half started United continued to push City back towards their own penalty area. After sixty minutes Anderson was replaced by Will Keane. Anderson’s performance was okay considering he hasn’t played since February. He was decent in possession – some nice flicks and passing. He also wasn’t afraid got stuck in. He perhaps was carrying a little additional weight in my opinion, which is to be expected. He will no doubt lose the extra padding once he’s in the full swing of training. Joe Dudgeon also replaced Rafael.
In Nimely, City still offered an attacking threat. He pounced on a poor back pass from Brown and rounded Amos to only have his shot blocked by the excellent Smalling. Another incident he turned Neville, which brought a smart low save from Amos.
After a poor first half Gibson’s influence on the game began to grow. During the 72nd minute he started the move which lead to Macheda grabbing his second goal and a deserved lead for United. From the left wing position Gibson crossed low into the penalty and via a Keane touch the ball arrived to Eikrem. The young Norwegian fainted a pass to the over lapping Neville and passed inside to Macheda, who found the back of the net with a sweetly hit shot. A minute later Oliver Gill replaced Carrick.
Three minutes after taking the lead United virtually sealed the victory by adding a third goal. On the right hand side the pantomimed booed Neville found Cleverley on the edge of City’s penalty area, he in turn found Keane with a short sharp pass. Similar to Macheda, Keane tried to spin his defender and shoot, but Mee blocked his attempt. The ball fell into the path of Cleverley who finished coolly to finally add his name to the score sheet. City pushed forward during the final ten minutes but United were relatively comfortable to run out 3-1 winners.
City played extremely well considering the strength of the United team selected, especially for the first thirty minutes or so. Smalling and Eikrem were stand out players for United. Smalling really impressed with a commanding performance, which included good distribution, several instances of good blocking and strength when required. His best performance in a United shirt and encouraging signs.
United’s Starting XI: Ben Amos, Gary Neville, Rafael, Wes Brown, Chris Smalling, Michael Carrick, Darron Gibson, Anderson, Tom Cleverley, Federico Macheda, Magnus Eikrem.
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