There were plenty of encouraging individual performances across the U18s and U21s at the weekend but they failed to translate into positive results on the pitch. The Under-21s lost to Sunderland on Monday night, with several first players involved in the opposition’s line-up, while the Uunder-18s were narrowly beaten at home to Leicester.
City U18s 1, Leicester U18s 2
There were plenty of exciting displays from the home side, who played in their normal 4-3-1-2 shape, which put emphasis on the central midfielders being the main creative outlets.
City started the game with a fast intensity in possession, with the midfield constructing fluent passing patterns, which Leicester found difficult to nullify. Hugo Valencia-Gomez, a box-to-box midfielder, was heavily involved in this and showed tremendous courage driving forwards with the ball, as well as connecting attacks to the two strikers. HVG fizzled out the game as it went on, potentially due to the fact that the other central midfielder, Toby Chilvers, struggled to have an effect on the right side. This escalated to Chilvers and HVG persistently changing sides and could explain why Valencia-Gomez’s performance level dropped slightly.
However, on the flip side, a player who looked nervous at the start but grew into the game was keeper Caleb Ansen. After some early apprehension when distributing the ball, his confidence developed after making two impressive saves. This performance was needed, as Caleb had a difficult game against Wolves in a pre-season friendly in which he was responsible for conceding two poor goals. But due to Ansen’s self-belief, I’m confident he will have a good season with the U18s and U21s.
Jaiden Owen’s performance also filled me with joy, as his composure and directness on the ball were pleasing, and gave Norwich an added dimension on the left side. Owen’s speed and combination play with his left-sided central midfielder, Valencia-Gomez was evident for all to see, and gave City a genuine threat on the left. However, there’s an argument to be made that Jaiden could have prevented Leicester’s first goal, as he lost a physical duel on the inside shoulder, which resulted in Leicester playing in behind him. However, he had a hugely encouraging 70 minutes while in possession.
But something the U18s lacked in attack was power. After an eye-catching pre-season, Pedro Amadou would have been the perfect candidate but instead, Gregg Crane opted for technicality in the forward areas with Alex Roberts and a trialist getting the nod.
The problem the U18s had is that Alex Roberts works better when the ball is played in behind but the U18s played into feet too often, which resulted in him getting dispossessed on a number of occasions. Having a physical presence, in Pedro Amadou, would have made the U18s a more dynamic proposition in attack.
One substitute who impressed was defensive midfielder Miles Bracking, who added energy and enthusiasm, which revitalised the U18s’ performance levels in the second half. He was confident driving the ball forward, which allowed the centre forwards to have more involvement in the game. Defensively speaking, Bracking and Djedje were sound from a positional perspective.
Despite the result not going in favour of the Canaries, I was content with the performance levels of the team, and they have the ability to produce something similar in Berkshire, away to Reading U18s, on Saturday morning.
Sunderland U21s 2, City U21s 0
The U21s were also on the losing side on Monday night, with an average performance away to Sunderland. When the team news was announced at 6pm, Sunderland were immediately favourites due to them having an influx of first-team players in their starting XI. New signings such as Nectarios Triantis and Hemir Semedo were involved across the 90, adding valuable quality to the Sunderland side.
City fell behind in the first half, Norwich fell behind but had two glorious opportunities to level the scoring, with one chance being brilliantly crafted by Finley Welch who played in Ken Aboh for a one-on-one opportunity. Unfortunately, his effort was saved.
Over the course of the half, Norwich struggled to build any effective passing patterns, failing to hold onto the ball for any amount of time, which was partly down to Sunderland’s press but also a lack of movement in forward areas.
Despite some difficult moments, the defence contributed to a solid display. Charlie Wilson and new signing Emmanuel Adegboyega completed a steady performance, with the latter also filling in nicely at right back for 20 minutes. Adegboyega’s strength to hold off the opposition attackers was notable, as he was successful in winning duels. With his physical capabilities, it can allow the U21s to be more expansive, as he has the athleticism to make recovery tackles. In addition, 17-year-old Waylon Renecke played at left-back for 70 minutes, and centre-back for 20 minutes, and performed to a good level, improving on his Macclesfield performance the other weekend.
Emmanuel Adegboyega had a promising PL2 debut.
The player that carried the team up the pitch, as well as being its main creative asset was Fin Welch. In a set-up that allowed him, Welch was happy to pick the ball up from deep and drive at the Sunderland defence, allowing the team to gain territory in forward areas. But he was forced to drop deep as there seemed a reluctance from the midfield three to break the lines.
Looking ahead, this Friday the U21s are at home to Nottingham Forest in PL2, and I want to see more bravery from the midfield three to find the two strikers, as there’s genuine quality in the midfield areas. Players like Harry Brooke, Aidan Manning and Ben Watt have demonstrated their quality on the ball but they need to show it more often. In addition, I would like to see Welch, operating as an attacking midfielder rather than a false nine as City need to utilise his imagination and quality..