It’s been a while since the U18s and U21s played a league game on the same weekend but that was the case last Saturday, with both sides away from home.
It’s been a rewarding period for the U18s, especially on the road where they have won back-to-back league away games. Those two games – against Brighton and Aston Villa – have seen them score ten goals, with six different goalscorers
On Saturday against Villa, they opted to play with four strikers in the starting eleven thereby giving themselves the best opportunity to convert chances that came their way.
The marquee player on Saturday was 17-year-old Errol Mundle-Smith who led the line and delivered a wonderful frontline performance. When his chance came, the young poacher took his goal calmly, diverting it around the keeper before a lovely controlled finish into the bottom corner.
The development of Mundle-Smith’s game was demonstrated perfectly during this game, where he manipulated the ball in a controlled manner throughout. He demonstrated wonderful footwork with the ball, enticing defenders to commit to areas they were uncomfortable going into, resulting in them persistently masking progress up the pitch.
This was espcially apparent for the fourth Norwich goal, when Mundle-Smith dazzled his way past three defenders on the right before playing a cutback across goal for Toby Chilvers to tap home. Chilvers deserves a mention for the inside run, off the fullback, which earned him a goal from a few yards out.
Errol Mundle-Smith in the FAYC against Leeds United. Credit: @norwichcityfc
Continuing the theme of attackers, Damari Daley and LaSean Selaey were used as inverted midfielders against Villa, with the two forwards picking up unlikely positions where opposition defenders found them difficult to mark. The benefit of this was highlighted with City’s second goal when Sealey moved centrally to get into a one-on-one position, which he capitalised on by scoring from a rebound.
Not only did it present Norwich with goal-scoring opportunities but it also gave Sealey and Daley license to vacate their central positions and head to the byline using their acceleration. Their starting positions were effective too as they tucked into central areas, which allowed them to play on the half-turn easier.
Miles Bracking was the scorer of City’s third goal with the ball rebounded to him off the keeper, which allowed the midfielder to neatly tuck home. Bracking has been one of the best players for the U18s this season and deserved his first goal for the team.
Another player who impressed was Bracking’s midfield teammate, Uriah Djedje. The captain delivered a combative performance, regaining possession no less than 18 times. He also showed encouraging moments in possession too, looking to play forward at every given opportunity.
This was demonstrated in the first Norwich goal where Djedje shielded the ball away from the defenders before playing a defence-splitting pass to Mundle-Smith. Djedje has been fantastic over the last two months, playing maturely in and out of possession. He must get opportunities with the U21s to aid his development.
But there is no hiding the fact it has been a difficult season for the U18s, especially the defenders who have conceded 40 goals in the league so far – the worst defensive record in the division. However, one defender who had a fantastic game on Saturday, winning all of his aerial duels, was Lloyd Ofori-Mantaew.
Ofori-Mantaew showed high levels of discipline throughout the 90+ minutes, tracking forward runners from long balls and using his strength to see off attackers. I wrote a piece a few months ago that mentioned the improvement Lloyd needed from a physical perspective, as his understanding of the game was already pretty strong. The challenge now is for him to keep developing from a physical perspective.
A special mention too to Rio Mundle (RB/LB) who made his U18s debut at the weekend. Rio is the younger brother of Romaine Mundle, a Tottenham academy graduate who now plays in Belgium for Standard Liege and is being touted for a permanent deadline-day move to Sunderland.
The U21s were treated to a fabulous away day last Saturday, with a trip to Old Trafford to face their counterparts from Manchester United. Unfortunately, the result didn’t correlate to the fabulous experience as they emerged on the wrong side of a 4-2 scoreline.
Thet were unfortunate to be on the receiving end of an immaculate performance, from 19-year-old United winger, Sam Mather, who scored four goals on the day. Two of them were scintillating strikes, one of which was a superbly placed free kick that Dan Barden couldn’t stop from going into the top corner.
Following an erratic spell between minutes 10 and 40, City found themselves 3-0 down – in part due to said individual quality but also some sloppy moments in possession. Part of this could be attributed to the stadium dynamic and not having experience playing in such vast arenas.
However, City showed some quality just before halftime with a sensational passing move back to front. It featured Waylon Renecke, Guilherme Montoia, and Pedro Lima before Ken Aboh finished the move off in a sublime manner.
The long floated pass played by Lima was delightful as it allowed Aboh to go one-on-one with the keeper, but the City striker opted to chop back inside onto his right foot and squeezed the ball into the bottom left-hand corner. It was his 14th goal of the season.
On the topic of Pedro Lima, he was City’s best player on the day, showing his quality in possession by keeping the ball well in tight midfield areas. Even more impressive was his out-of-possession play where he was instrumental in winning turnovers high up the pitch, especially in the first half. He also showed wonderful anticipation and an understanding of the game.
And it was similarly positive out-of-possession work that gave Norwich their second goal. Adian Manning conducted an intensive solo press, which forced the United defender to play back across goal in a dangerous area. Lima initially reacted to it but the keeper saved with his chest, allowing Manning to convert the rebound for his second goal of the season.
Guilherme Montoia also put in a positive performance at Old Trafford, with the wingback playing with high levels of confidence. He continued to invert in-field with pace, forcing United to drop deeper. He also varied his runs; the Portuguese full-back predominantly stayed wide but also drifted in centrally to add an extra body in midfield. This was demonstrated for the first Norwich goal when Renecke spotted Montoia darted in-field, opening up an angle for the ball-playing defender to play through.
Gabe Forsyth also delivered a mature performance in midfield, playing passes at the correct times while also looking to play an advanced pass when space opened up. Strangely, the left-footed midfielder started as a right-central midfielder, meaning there were more opportunities for him to use his right foot, but that wasn’t necessarily the case as Forsyth conducted a high volume of ball carries with his left foot.
Gabe also showed a good attitude to track back on several occasions, which was vitally important as Norwich were up against a dangerous left winger in Mather.
Both teams are in action this Saturday afternoon as the U18s travel to Fulham in the league, while Norwich U21s play their final game in the PL Cup, away to Bournemouth. The U21s have already qualified for the next phase but a win by a four-goal margin will see them claim the top spot.