On 9th March 2022, Manchester United Women U-21s were crowned the champions of the League Cup as U-21s skipper Poppy Lawson collected the trophy and led this talented team to glory. Alyssa Aherne grabbed two goals while both Keira Barry and Rebecca May scored a goal each. This was the first time fans, like myself who do not have the privilege to watch Manchester United Women U-21s, often referred to as the United Devs, were able to watch the young Red Devils LIVE on our respective devices as the game was streamed on the FA Player platform.
Fast Forward to 17th April 2022 and the Devs have won yet another title as they topped the table in the Northern Division after defeating Everton 3-0 at Walton Hall Park and have been crowned the champions of WSL Academy League Final. Healy’s side have entered the WSL Academy League Playoff final, where they will face the champions of the Southern Division – Chelsea. The two-legged play-off final between United and Chelsea will take place at Cobham (Chelsea’s home) on 20th April 2022 and at Altrincham (United’s home) on 27th April 2022; away goals to be counted.
Several members of Manchester United Women’s Supporters’ Club (MUWSC), also known to some fans as Barmy Army, were present at Walton Hall Park for this game. Prior to the kickoff, United were 2nd in the league with 47 points in 19 games while Aston Villa were at the top with 50 points in 20 games; United’s GD of +65 was way superior to Villa’s GD of +35 which meant that United only needed to get the 3 important points against Everton.
Here are some of the standout players from Sunday’s game:
In a season where United devs have boasted a massive GD of +68 in the league table, the quartet of Karna Solskjaer, Maria Edwards, Alyssa Aherne and Eleanor Ashton have formed a formidable partnership and have wreaked havoc on opposition teams. Match going fans witnessed a similar sight as Maria Edwards scored a hat-trick to guide United to the play-off final. A former championship boxer, Edwards has scored 33 goals in 25 games for the U-21s this season across all competitions. YES, THOSE ARE SOME OUTRAGEOUS NUMBERS. Stats alone won’t do justice to evaluating a talent like Maria Edwards. Nicknamed the Baby Goat, Maria is often fondly called Maz by the United fanbase.
On Sunday, Maz put in another one of her vintage performances as she scored two brilliant goals. Devs’ set-piece specialist Rebecca May, who captained the side in the 8-0 win against Liverpool in their last game, won the penalty in the second half as she was brought down inside the box. Maria stepped up and scored from the spot. This was her fourth hat-trick of the season representing United Devs.
Last season, Maria spent some time at Championship side Blackburn Rovers and her performances earned her the Rovers Young Player of the Year award at the end of last season.
With such stellar performances, Maria will surely be a part of the first team sooner rather than later.
SAFIA MIDDLETON PATEL
In February 2022, Safia Middleton Patel was selected in Manchester United Women’s senior team’s matchday squad for their game against Arsenal in the league. She became the first player of Indian origin to be a part of Manchester United senior team’s matchday squad. The young Welsh goalkeeper has been appreciated for her modern-day goalkeeping skills and kept a clean sheet in Sunday’s game against Everton, her third in a row for club & country.
In the recently culminated international break, Safia was selected in Nic Anderson’s Wales U-19s squad for the Women’s U-19 Euro qualifiers against England, Belgium and Iceland.
Many people praised Safia’s performances in these three games, especially in the England vs Wales game. Even though the game ended in a 3-0 win for the Young Lionesses, Safia kept them at bay in the first half and made some fantastic saves.
The talented goalkeeper joined FA Women’s Championship side Blackburn Rovers on dual-registration with Manchester United Academy in November 2021 and won the Academy League Cup with Charlotte Healy’s United Devs side in March. Her talent didn’t go unnoticed as she earned herself a well-deserved spot on Leicester City Women’s bench in their game against Everton in the WSL on 12th March 2022; Safia had joined Leicester on a non-contract basis for only one game due to the unavailability of several Leicester first-team goalkeepers.
Safia has a bright future ahead and will only improve with time.
Keira Barry was the talk of the town after her performance in the League Cup Final as she scored a goal in that game and 3 days after receiving the winners’ medal, she was named in Marc Skinner’s matchday squad for United’s game against Reading in the WSL. Fellow devs player Niamh Murphy, who is a full-back, joined Barry on the bench for the clash at Select Car Leasing Stadium.
On Sunday, Barry was a part of the front three alongside Maria Edwards and Karna Solskjaer and the young prodigy played on the right flank. She made an instant impact on the game as she provided an assist to Edwards in the first half which led to the latter scoring United’s first goal.
The talented right-winger has been at the club for 6 years now and in March, was named in the England U-17s squad for Women’s U-17s Euro qualifiers. Barry came off the bench and scored for England in their 2-1 loss to France.
A graduate of United’s prestigious Regional Talent Center, i.e., the RTC, this is Keira’s first season with the U-21s and it’s safe to say that she has made a name for herself!
Now, this is a name that many of you might be familiar with! Carrie Jones has been a part of the first team since last season and her performances in the Conti Cup group stages this season are something that might catch one’s eyes. The young Welsh playmaker can play anywhere in the front four but it is the general consensus among the fanbase that Carrie’s best position is the No.10.
An excellent controller of the ball, her game can be compared to that of United’s star player – Ella Toone; both Ella and Carrie can be called ‘Raumdeuter’ which is the German word for SPACE FINDER or SPACE INTERPRETER.
Coincidentally, in United’s second league game of the season against Leicester City which ended in a 3-1 win for United, Marc Skinner compared Toone to the OG Raumdeuter – Thomas Muller.
On Sunday, Carrie was toying around with the Everton defence and regularly took advantage of the space and tested the Everton GK occasionally.
In the last international break, Carrie got the chance to play for Wales against France and was applauded for her performance and causing a dent in the French defence.
A regular name in the Wales National team, Carrie joined United from Cardiff at the age of 16 and joined the United Devs squad. Still only 18, we still haven’t seen the best of Carrie Jones yet. Carrie has stepped up every time she has been given the opportunity this season – Conti Cup games vs Durham (assist) and Manchester City, instant impact against Arsenal in the league in November coming off the bench. But with tough competition in United’s first team’s attack, she hasn’t been able to cement her place in the first team yet but she has much to offer to this United side in the coming years.
All these players justify United’s YOUTH COURAGE SUCCESS motto. But while we appreciate the players, it is equally important to mention the name behind these players’ development and success:
Healy is the Head of Manchester United Women’s Academy & is the head coach of Manchester United Women’s U-21s. After joining the club in 2019, Charlotte was tasked with the creation of an academy programme for the club and bridging the gap between U-16s and the first team. It is safe to say that she did her job very well as she led the Devs to this season’s WSL Academy League Cup trophy; this was the club’s first-ever trophy since United Women’s FA Championship title.
Healy has been doing an exceptional job as the head coach of the U-21s as she has transformed the academy into one of the best in the country. Charlotte has been applauded a lot by fans and media for her efforts which led to the devs clinching the Northern Division and the League Cup. Job’s not over yet as United face Chelsea in the playoff final. But one thing is for certain, Charlotte Healy’s presence at this club has benefited a lot of young players. With a fantastic backroom staff, Healy and her team are helping the sport by developing the next generation of superstars.
It’s a shame that the WSL Academy League games are not streamed; there are plenty of fans out there who are interested in knowing more about the upcoming stars and with no accessibility, it is really frustrating. People talk about visibility in women’s football a lot but they forget about accessibility. When games are available to watch, when there are platforms streaming games for free, the demand will automatically increase.
I can only hope that at least the two-legged play-off final between Manchester United and Chelsea gets streamed.
Written by Atanu Wadhwa
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