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The Academy: United v Wolves – Preview

Paul McGuiness and Manchester United’s Academy boys go in search of their first win of 2012 in the Academy League today as Wolves make the journey to Carrington to face a team they easily beat 5-2 the last time the two sides met at Wolves’ Academy Centre back in October.

United were out played that day and Wolves capitalised on United’s defensive frailties and their inability to recover from losing possession not to mention United’s individual errors in critical areas of the field that gifted goalscoring opportunities to what looked like a decent Wolves team with plenty of promise.

Since that fixture though, the group has improved both mentally and physically, their experience has developed and the manager has found solutions to defensive problems that had him literally shaking his head during the reverse fixture.

Today’s result is far from vital but could go some way to highlighting just how far the team has come since then, also, with the forthcoming quarter final tie at Old Trafford versus Charlton in the FAYC on Wednesday, a performance is perhaps made more important to create that all important ingredient…..momentum.

What decisions does McGuiness face today? I’m not sure if Luke McCullough’s ready to return to action, but if he is, I expect he’ll select a team that gives McCullough 90 minutes but also sees him bolster the fullback berths in the knowledge that they were the areas Wolves had real success back in October. The fullbacks that day however were Luke Hendrie and Charni Ekangamene. Luke had an absolute nightmare but has since shifted back to his more favoured role of central midfield where he’s now starting to show his worth and his full potential. It’s great credit to him that he accepted the managers need for a makeshift right back for a considerable length of time at the start of the season, he no doubt learnt a lot and gained valuable experience despite the fact we now know he’s not going to make a career out of playing there!

As for Ekangamene, if my memory serves me that match was Charni’s first foray into defence after spending all his playing time last season as a somewhat combative central midfielder, a role he’s performed just once this season despite accruing the second most appearances behind Tyler Blackett and missing the start of the season through injury. Charni did ‘OK’ that day all things considered, but his inexperience in the role told as positionally he struggled to tame his marker or his natural tendency to work centrally. Despite that Charni has become a fixture at leftback and certainly improved his game but today I expect he’ll be given a well deserved rest IF McCullough returns.

With Donald Love still injured he also has a dilemma at rightback with James Weir fit and a very positive Academy debut from Liam Grimshaw last week at City. Weir was McGuinness’ choice at Swansea in the last round of the cup and he didn’t let the manager down with his best display of the season that included some great defending and a superb solo run that saw him assist GvV for United’s third goal. Grimshaw on the other hand really did look comfortable there last week and is the more natural of the two players in that position.

Remember, all this is dependant on the fitness of McCullough, if he isn’t fit it’s likely Nicolas Ioannou will again step up a level. However, with Ioannou’s obvious talent and ability to handle this level of football, if McCullough does return it’s a great opportunity to experiment and prepare for Wednesday with him alongside Ioannou in the middle and switch Tyler to left back, personally I think that would give the team the greatest chance of getting a result on Wednesday.

The rest of the team I think picks itself. Rothwell and Lawrence are still out for some time yet, the fitness of Januzaj is unknown, so it’s fair to assume the line up will be similar to that of last week.

One player I think is guaranteed to keep his place for the rest of the season is Jonny Sutherland. His emergence has been a revelation, last week I singled him out as the man to watch and he didn’t disappoint despite conceding three goals. His handling and distribution is excellent, as is his shot stopping and positioning, today will be another chance for him to display his talent as United look to keep Zeli Ismail (fresh from a hat-trick v Bolton last week) quiet, a feat they couldn’t manage in the reverse fixture. Ismail is ably assisted by Cranston, Kempton and Robbie Parry but manager Mick Halsall wasn’t happy with his teams slack defending last week as he watched his team draw 3-3 with Bolton at home. Hopefully United will find Wolves in similar form and create the opportunities that could give the team the momentum they need going into Wednesday.

Possible Team: Sutherland, Blackett, Ioannou, McCullough, Grimshaw, Rudge, Hendrie, GvV, Daehli, Barmby, Byrne
Bench: Jacob, Wilkinson, Gorre, Januzaj, Weir

The game kicks-off at 11:00am with coverage starting on MUTV at 10:45. Look out for my updates from Carrington on Twitter from about 10:15 when the teams are announced (@Rimmerstweets)