Football Tactics for Beginners:The High Defensive Line

Introduction:The high defensive line is a high risk style of play that see’s a team push up in order to shut down the amount...
Ritesh Gogineni
Editor/Founder of The False 9.

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Manchester United Youth Rankings 2016 #1- Timothy Fosu-Mensah

This is the tenth and last post in this series,where reddit users /u/monsieurryan and/u/rdzzl have rated the ten best players playing for Manchester United’s youth teams.
The Previous posts are as below.

Coming in at number one was a player who was not on the list last year. A year ago his talent was already evident. But myself and /u/rdzzl decided not to include solely because he was only 6 months into his Manchester United career at that point in time. Now that he has had 18 months at Manchester United he has clearly cemented his place at the top of our youth prospects. Able to play at right back, centre back, central midfield, and attacking midfield Timothy is capable of playing virtually anywhere. This is probably down to the fact that the way the Dutch teach the young players is very different from most other countries where they are able to play in various different numbers (eg. #4, #6, #10, etc). So even before coming to us from Ajax, Fosu-Mensah was already technically ahead of many of his peers. His best positions would be central defender and central midfielder. Although I prefer the latter for him as he isn’t as reliable as a defender as he should be. And it seems that the coaches are grooming him in the midfield role when they are able to. As a midfielder he good passing range (accuracy varies form time to time), he is a great tackler, and he has a tenacity about him that midfielders are allowed to have over their defensive counterparts. As a midfielder you can be a little rash and make a mistake from time to time but as a defender you have to be more cautious and calculated in what you do. For these reason I believe that Fosu-Mensah’s future lies in the midfield, potentially as a holding midfielder. Still only 17 years old his future is looking bright. Expect to see him in the first team sooner rather than later. /u/monsieurryan

I think it is worth mentioning that one of the main reasons I prefer him in midfield, is that I find both Williams and Tuanzebe to currently be better central defenders than Fosu-Mensah. That said, it does not mean he is less of a talent there. I do however agree with /u/monsieurryan when he says that Timothy looks most exciting in midfield. He is a huge presence on the pitch by his sheer physique, as he sprints around winning challenges and presses opponents into less dangerous areas. His way of doing this reminds me of ex-youth player Charni Ekangamene, just that Timothy is clearly better and at a younger age at that. Looking at players that are familiar from the Premier League, I see him similar to someone like Ramires or Kanté. Mind you, this is more of a style comparison than talent or ceiling projection. Perhaps the in-form Kanté of this year’s Leicester is fitting for how I would like to see Fosu-Mensah deployed. It would be silly not to utilise his impressive physique. And while we’ve seen players go the path through right back (Sergio Ramos, more recently Kurt Zouma) to centre back with impressive physique and ball playing skills, I think the midfield is where these players are best utilised. Not only does it offer more possibilities for developing the forward aspect of the player’s game, but it also lets him be a more active part of the play when we do not have the ball.

Short term, however, I would not mind seeing him given a stint at right back for the first team. Maybe as early as in the cup this year, or through the pre-season and in to next year. What I am certain about, is that he needs to be playing sooner rather than later. Looking at his fellow Ajax graduate, Richedly Bazoer, it is evident the best players from this year of the academy is capable of. I had the pleasure of watching Bazoer live a few weeks ago, and while he is no doubt way better on the ball than Fosu-Mensah, they show striking similarly in how they cover ground and the attitude on the pitch. Play time has seen Bazoer make enormous leaps from “big talent” to “world class talent wanted by a plethora of top clubs” within a year. Fosu-Mensah needs the arena to do so. In many ways, I feel a bit sad for him that he left for us. As commonly discussed in these series, it worries me that our club is struggling. It seems like the door is half-closed for many of the talents that otherwise could have been given minutes on the pitch or at least a spot on the bench. Now, I am not saying the youngsters haven’t been given minutes under Van Gaal, because they obviously have. But these are youngsters that have had a chance to prove themselves for him. McNair and Blackett were both largely impressive during the pre-season when LvG arrived, and were given minutes throughout the season. Lingard has been rated for a long time, and was also good in the same pre season. Injuries stopped him from getting minutes the same season. Borthwick-Jackson has in many ways been very lucky with the amount of injuries we have had, and has really taken his chance. However, someone like Smalling or Blind simply can not be rested for a game against Bournemouth or whatever bottom half team you want to use as an example, as we look like we might lose at any point. This means that a player like Tuanzebe, Fosu-Mensah, Williams etc… They can not get the minutes we so often saw Sir Alex give to our young players. And I fear this might be the case for some more time. If it turns out like this, what happens with Fosu-Mensah? Without the chance, and the minutes, how is he going to have a development like Kurt Zouma, John Stones, or Richedly Bazoer has during the last year or two? The absolute best talents needs to be thrown in to the pool, no protection, to see if they can swim. If they don’t, at least that is identified. Then we can send them to swimming classes at the Championship or bottom half Premier League clubs, bring them back, and throw them out in it again. End of rant.

Timothy Fosu-Mensah’s qualities are many. I more or less agree with the description of co-writer/u/monsieurryan where strengths and weaknesses are identified. In all honesty, I was a bit surprised when I saw how hyped people were about his on-the-ball skills in the beginning, as I didn’t see them anywhere. He would try many passes, and a lot of those would end up anywhere from out of the pitch, at an opponent, or hit a team mate with a perfect run. His consistency at this is an area in which he should take notes from his mate Richedly, or closely study the best dynamic midfielders in the world in order to incorporate the accuracy and consistency in passing. He seems to be able to find spaces (visually) without always being able to utilise them. Now, this is also naturally something that a player can get better at with time, and he is still very young. But it is important that this aspect of his game is rigorously worked on for the next months or years. This is what separates the Djemba-Djemba from the Kanté, or the Wilshere from the Carrick. You know what I am getting at. The ball playing skill makes for more options in terms of versatility on the pitch for the player itself, but also for when the manager sets out to pick the team. He is probably already good enough to see out some minutes to close down games we are 2-0 or 3-0 up in, as a defensively minded midfielder. Yet, I wouldn’t trust him to make the right choices in an accurate manner at 1-0 home against Arsenal. Hopefully that’s where we’ll see him go from here.

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