There’s no hiding the fact that it’s been a difficult start to the season for the Under-18s, losing all five of their opening games. With the amount of quality and depth in every position, this team should be competing at a much better level.
Southampton provided their most recent test, a team who were also winless from their opening fixtures, but, unfortunately, it was City’s U18s who lost 4-2 despite showing great character to get back into the game twice.
But it’s not all negativity as the first two paragraphs suggest. The U18s have shown promising passages of play throughout most games this season, for example, a domination period of possession in the first half against Leicester and a fast-paced start against Nottingham Forest. The problem the U18s have faced is turning those good spells into a full ninety-minute display.
At Southampton, the Saints dominated possession throughout the game despite having fewer shots than the Canaries, with Norwich looking to play on the counter and be a threat on the transition through the pace and power of Pedro Amadou and Errol Mundle-Smith. This striker-pairing was later replaced by Lasean Sealey and Damari Daley.
Saints looked to exploit Norwich in the wide areas, especially in the first half, by playing underlapping through balls between the sides of the two fullbacks – trusting the pace of their wide players.
It was fascinating how Norwich’s fullbacks attempted to combat this. Jaiden Owen had relative success at nullifying Saints on the right due to his excellent recovery pace while Alfie Pinyoun opted for the aggressive approach by tackling the opposition players early, hoping to win the majority of his duels.
Unfortunately, in one circumstance, the attacker was too sharp for Pinyoun, which resulted in him conceding a penalty. More often than not, Pinyoun is extremely effective at winning slide challenges but his execution was inconsistent on Saturday.
Another player who demonstrated an eagerness to be aggressive was first-year scholar Tyler Williams. Traditionally, he plays at left back but for the second time this season, he played as a central defensive midfielder.
Williams always has a tendency to defend on the front foot and playing centrally exaggerated gave him ample opportunity to use this quality. On multiple occasions, he successfully went to ground and made interceptions.
As well as providing security from a defensive perspective, Williams also showed moments of composure in front of goal, which isn’t something normally associated with his game. He also tucked away a brilliant penalty into the bottom corner.
It’s also been a memorable week for 18-year-old goalkeeper, Caleb Ansen. The academy shot-stopper saved his sixth penalty for the U18s team since the start of last season, as well as making his U21s competitive debut against Wolves on Tuesday night.
Despite Ansen getting a call-up to the U21s side, his performances this season have been below the level he’s capable of. He will be disappointed with the manner of some of the goals he’s conceded this season but that doesn’t affect my viewpoint of his potential, as he has some eye-catching qualities.
One U18s player, who’s been absolutely brilliant this season is box-to-box midfielder, Miles Bracking – he is an excitable midfielder to watch who possesses a range of attributes that benefit the team.
Miles Bracking playing CM in pre-season. Credit: disstown
Bracking is exceptionally comfortable with the ball at his feet, gliding past players in an aesthetically pleasing manner, and can pick acute angles of space to function in between, allowing the team to break the opposition press.
A good example of this came at the weekend and culminated in a goalscoring opportunity, when he picked up the ball on the halfway line, wriggled past two players, at an angle before releasing a through ball towards the byline.
This ability to progress the team forward in this manner is excellent for a player of Bracking’s age and showcases his qualities both creative and as a defensive outlet. Furthermore, he tends to play as a right central midfielder which works well as he has the licence to drive away from his standardised position.
From a defensive perspective, Bracking shows a level of maturity to be in the correct position to intercept the ball, and helped by him playing in his natural position every week, Miles will get a feeling of the intricacies of his role. Also, he competes well in physical duels.
Miles has featured in our team of the week picks twice, which underlines his consistency and importance in the U18s team. He would have featured more occasions if it wasn’t for the sensational form of Adian Manning and Uriah Djedje.
With Uriah featuring for the U21s more frequently now, it opens up an opportunity for Bracking to lead the U18s midfield and be that star player, who has similar qualities to Djedje.
Despite Norwich U18s having 16 attempts at goal, they could have easily increased that figure if they were more accurate with their final ball. On too many occasions, they failed to execute that defence-splitting pass often enough, which resulted in the Canaries having fewer big chances.
One player who demonstrated a positive performance off the ball was first-year scholar Toby Chilvers. Due to their main attacking threat being on the counter, it was essential for the attacking players to pick up pockets of space and for the deeper players to find an out ball. Chilvers demonstrated this well over the course of the match.
A player who’s had a brilliant week is 16-year-old striker, Damari Daley. He came off the bench against Saints at the weekend and won a penalty due to his sharpness in meeting a square ball.
He also followed up his lively cameo performance off the bench, with a brace for the U17s in the Premier League Cup against Aston Villa on Tuesday. Unfortunately, the team lost 7-2.
In the closing minutes of the Southampton game, the U18s showed high levels of fatigue from both a physical and mental perspective. After pulling level on 85 minutes, when Williams’ penalty made it 2-2, they were again unable to hold on and conceded two late goals – one from an individual mistake and another down to fatigue.
It’s always hard to judge the U18s on results – at that level, it’s all about individuals developing their game on a daily basis – but there has to be a level of critique across the group this season.
A club with Norwich’s facilities and with some considerable squad depth in the U18s, they should be performing better.
The mindset of most people who follow the U18s at the minute is that a loss is expected, which needs to change as they have the ability to be much more competitive.
This team can still get there, but they need some confidence and belief instilled in them.
Under 18s v Chelsea (home) – Saturday, September 23. KO 11:00am. [U18 Premier League].
Under 21s v Everton (away) – Friday, September 22. KO 7:00pm. [Premier League 2].