We are only four games into the 2023-24 academy season but one player who has been in scintillating form for the Under-21s is midfielder Adian Manning. In addition to his fine form, he has scored twice this season with one of his goals coming at Carrow Road.
He has played in two different positions so far although the majority of his games have been as an attacking midfielder. He has also played in a deeper central midfield role. The pleasing element of this is that he has adapted his game to play in both positions with a high level of maturity.
To focus on Manning’s positive attributes, his sharpness during matches has been outstanding. Finding rhythm in midfield can be challenging at times due to the intensity of the press that some teams deploy but consistency has not been a problem for the former Watford midfielder. Adian’s sharpness can be measured by his brisk decision-making and how well he responds when under pressure.
Also, Adian has been intelligent in using his body effectively when in possession. With the U21s preferring to build from the back, it is vital that the midfield players are accomplished at receiving the ball in dangerous areas, as well as finding solutions to keep the ball in those same areas.
During the last four matches, Manning has handled that specific challenge well by winning fouls and getting his body on the ball first before the opposition can intercept. This reiterates my point about his sharpness as he consistently gets to the ball first before his opponent.
Adian Manning celebrates his first goal for Norwich U21s.
On the subject of speed, Manning’s forward runs into the opposition box have been particularly eye-catching. Due to him playing most of his minutes in the attacking midfield position, there is an expectation that he will provide late runs into the box to occupy defenders. A perfect case study for this was Adian’s goal against Chelsea at Carrow Road where he made a progressive run forward and his endeavour was rewarded with a finish past the Blues’ goalkeeper.
The timing of Manning’s run was interesting to view as he didn’t arrive in the box immediately, meaning he avoided the initial ball in and then waited to pounce on the second ball. This was effective as Adian is more talented with the ball on the floor, compared to the ball being floated into the box aerially.
From a technical perspective, Manning has a wonderful left foot that enables him to dictate sequences of attacking play and relishes playing long diagonal passes to the opposite flank with that left foot, which forces the opposition to shift across the pitchy. One example that highlighted the quality in his left boot was a sensational strike against Nottingham Forest, where he fired a venomous shot home to take the 21s into a 2-0 lead.
Despite the high quality of his left foot he also identifies the need to play sensibly in possession with high levels of composure. He plays quick simple passes when under pressure, which enables the team to progress the ball further up the pitch. He demonstrates an understanding of the right balance between playing basic and expansive football. Composure is one of his biggest assets and is even more apparent when he is under pressure in possession.
Furthermore, Manning’s intelligence in finding space in the last four games has been exceptional. he can operate on both flanks, but prefers the left to provide width for the team, as well as providing an outball for the defenders if they are under pressure. A good example of this came against Sunderland in the opening fixture of the season when he peeled off a defender on the left flank and erformed a slalom-type run down the left and into the penalty box.
He is also effective at manipulating space centrally, finding pockets of space for the midfielders to play into, with him and Finley Welch looking to roam from their central advanced positions. They provide an interchangeable attacking dynamic, which makes it hard for the opponent to pick up, and linking to that, Manning links up well with the striker partnership with his ability to pick up space between the central midfielders and the opposition centre-backs.
By keeping a close proximity to his two strikers, they are able to combine multiple times in the attacking third. The game against Leicester provided good examples of this when Welch, Ken Aboh and Manning linked well and were cohesive in attacking areas, resulting in Norwich having twice as many shots as Leicester – a particularly impressive stat when playing away from home.
Overall, Adian Manning has been instrumental in the U21s performances over the last four games operating at a skillful level, while showing great maturity on the ball.
As mentioned above, his two major attributes are his composure in possession, regardless of how the opposition is trying to nullify him, and his sharpness, both of which showcase his commitment and the attitude he puts into his training.
Under 18s v Southampton (away) – Saturday, September 16. KO 11:00am. [U18 Premier League].
Under 21s v Wolves (home) – Tuesday, September 19. KO 07:00pm. Colney. [Premier League 2].