Mid-season report: The numbers behind MUFC

If you’re wondering whether it would be right or wrong to call Manchester United’s ongoing season a good one, then you’re not alone. It has been an exciting for the fans of the red devils but it’s still hard to place any name tags like ‘successful’ or ‘improved’ on it yet. A positive run in the league that sees the club in a so-called “title race” has been sandwiched the disappointing Champions League group stage exit and recent Carabao Cup semi-final loss to City. A very different season of football which started with no pre-season break, is filled with fixture congestion issues and still hasn’t been immune to repeated COVID contractions and player fitness issues, makes it hard to assess whether United are actually having a good season or not. We try to break through the confusion using our greatest weapon – data. Below are a few detailed data visualizations of some of the underlying numbers that can indicate how the red devils are performing this season and who the stand-out players are.

 

 [Goals vs G-xG, EPL 20/21]

The first viz highlights the Premier League teams who are over-performing on their expected goals like Southampton and Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham and those who are under-performing with respect to their goals scored like Sheffield United and Burnley. All stats used are per 90 minute stats. United and Liverpool have not only been scoring high but also more than expected. This kind of slight over-performance is sustainable and expected for a top team challenging for titles since they would boast of players with the ability to over-perform and score from unexpected situations as well. It reads well for United fans who are trying to understand if this type of performance in the league is sustainable.

 

 [Goals vs G-xG, MUFC in all comps 20/21]

The next logical question will be which United players are over-performing and under-performing on expected goals. This viz highlights exactly that. The players over-performing on xG are Rashford and Bruno. Rashford’s xG in the game against Paris Saint Germain at Old Trafford was just 0.1 whereas his goal against Brighton at home was a 0.3 xG chance. Bruno’s double against Everton at Goodison park had a combined xG of just 0.2.
Worryingly, Anthony Martial has a negative G-xG differential. His blank against PSG at Old Trafford accrued 0.9 xG while he failed to scored at West Bromwich Albion even with an xG of 0.8. Martial has had a reputation of over-performing on his expected goals metric, the best of which United fans witnessed in the 19/20 season where he scored 17 goals in the league with an xG of 10.9 only. Greenwood has also been underwhelming so far with just 3 goals this season after having scored 17 in all competitions in 19/20. If those two can start finishing like their usual selves and support Rashford and Bruno in attack, United fans can expect even better attacking output from the team in the remainder of the season.

 

 [Progressive passes vs Progressive Distance,MUFC 20/21]

This viz maps progressive passes per 90 against progressive distance of thoses per 90 minutues. Alex Telles’ consistently aggressive crossing helps him top progressive distance while Bruno regularly looking for line-breaking passes and assists helps him top number of progressive passes. Nemanja Matic, Luke Shaw and United’s Centre-Backs ensure high progression even with lesser number of progressive passes. Donny Van De Beek and the forwards prefer less progressive passing.

 

[Pressures per 90 vs Pressure success %, MUFC all comps 20/21]

This viz gives a good indication of United’s pressing strategy under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. It highlights how Bruno Fernandes and Fred are press-hungry at the cost of success % while Paul Pogba & Scott McTominay maintain a good balance. Luke Shaw and the centre-Backs prioritize success. It gives a general indication that the attackers don’t press too high, while Bruno and Fred have complete license to go overboard to win back possession and Pogba, McTominay Matic are expected to strike a controlled approach. The defence opts for safety over high pressing numbers. In short, Ole prefers winning the midfield battle the most.

[Carries vs Progressive Distance, MUFC 20/21]

This viz highlights player movements with the ball. Nemanja Matic stands out on both the number of carries per 90 and progression towards goal while Marcus Rashford and Daniel James boast high progression even with less number of carries.

[MUFC Goals & Expected goals Trend in EPL 20/21]

Last but not the least, we take a look at the game-by-game trend of United’s expected goals and actual goals scored in the league so far. It’s clear that the red devils didn’t create enough against top 4 rivals Chelsea and Arsenal and weren’t good value for the win in both games. United should have scored at least one goal in the drab 0-0 draw against neighbors Manchester City. But the team showed great spirit in over-performing on xG to clinch wins against West Ham and Sheffield United even when the team wasn’t creative enough which shows a winning quality lacking in recent United sides against such clubs in the league.

In summary, much of the underlying numbers have indicated clear progress from last season and a genuine forward-thinking approach from Ole Gunnar Solksjaer which have rewarded him with good attacking displays and an unexpected title challenge in the league. The worries have been towards the defensive end where United have let in some goals cheaply often owing to set-pieces. Doubts also remain of United’s performance in big games this season after having done wonderfully well last season in such games. The last worry seems to be over-reliance on a few players. Days in which Bruno and Rashford are shut down result in poor attacking displays like against City in the Carabao cup. Ole will be looking for more from the likes of Martial, Greenwood, Wan-Bissaka and Pogba towards the latter of the season. Who knows, if the missing members step up and things go his way, Ole might be the first United manager post-SAF to make a genuine push for a league title towards the end of the season. As of now, United fans should take solace in knowing that the underlying numbers support the narrative of improvement from last season and they should expect more points in the league at the very least.

The Importance of Bruno Fernandes

It was around 30 mins into the Manchester derby at Old Trafford when the ball went out for a Manchester City throw in and the man wearing no.18 on his back had an exchange of words with the City manager, Pep Guardiola. A bit of back and forth ended with Bruno Fernandes practically shushing the Catalonian. A short 5 second altercation showed exactly what Manchester United were missing prior to the Portuguese’s arrival in the January transfer window. 

Manchester United’s 19/20 season up until the end of the January transfer window had been a huge roller coaster ride. This was a team which could go toe-to-toe with Europe’s finest on their day but fail to win a match they should be comfortably winning on some other day. The young squad assembled by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had potential which was clear to see, but after a few good performances and results, their inconsistent form again dipped and a 2-0 loss to Burnley showcased just how poor United looked on their bad days. The performance was lacklustre and uninspiring much like the season till that point, and if United were down, there was usually no coming back from it. 

“When the going gets tough, the tough gets going” – United lacked someone ‘tough’. A strong personality, a vocal leader, someone who can make a difference when the chips are down and in that process rally everyone around him too. The 2-0 loss to Burnley was followed by United acting swiftly in the transfer window and securing the signature of Bruno Fernandes from Sporting Lisbon for a reported 47m pounds fee (excluding add-ons). Fernandes made his Manchester United debut the following weekend against Wolves at Old Trafford and his impact was easily seen. 

The match ended 0-0 but Fernandes was the best player on the pitch. Constantly demanding the ball, finding pockets of spaces to drift into, Bruno was taking charge. In fact, he was even constantly instructing and talking to teammates and telling them what to do, something about his personality that is known by everyone close to him. This was the type of impact he had after training only for a single day. The goalless draw was followed by 2 consecutive league wins against Chelsea and Watford with Fernandes having a say in both those games. Early signs suggested that the red devils had made a wise investment. Two comfortable wins in the FA Cup and Europa League and a tough draw at Goodison Park followed and then it was time for the Manchester derby.

Fernandes had set up Anthony Martial from a quick freekick earlier in the game and then came the altercation with Guardiola. It was at that moment some started to think United had finally found their talisman, their leader, their ‘strong personality’ in the dressing room. The match ended with United winning 2-0 and they looked comfortable in doing so. The 26 year old’s impact had made the team play better and everything around Old Trafford looked like it was falling into place.

The Derby was the last game played at Old Trafford before the pandemic put a stop on all the footballing activities. After the resumption of football, Manchester United were arguably the best team in the league for the remainder of the season.

Manchester United went unbeaten for the remainder of the campaign upon resumption. In fact, the red devils didn’t lose a single game in the league since Fernandes made his debut against Wolves on the deadline day of the winter transfer window. The first match they lost which involved the Portugese was the 3-1 defeat to Crystal Place on the opening day of the 2020/21 season. His immediate impact was for everyone to see. The 26 year old contributed to 8 goals and 7 assists in the Premier League last season, no other midfielder in the league contributed to more since his debut last season. 

Bruno Fernandes has now scored 18 goals and provided 13 assists for Manchester United in 33 appearances across all competitions, that’s 31 goal involvements in 33 appearances – an outstanding record. In the Premier League, he has scored 13 goals, only Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah has scored more since Fernandes made his debut. He became notorious for ‘only scoring penalties’ towards the end of last season but he has scored more non-penalty goals than any other midfielder in the league since he made his debut. 

If we look past the goals and assists, he also became the first Manchester United player to win back to back Premier League Player of the month awards since Cristiano Ronaldo and was also named as Manchester United’s player of the year despite having been here only for half the campaign. Fernandes also has won 5 man of the match awards for Manchester United so far. He also has a 4.4 sca/p90 which ranks him 10th in the league. SCA means shot creating actions such as a pass, dribble or even a tackle.

Courtesy of Statsbomb and football Slices, Fernandes’ percentile rank compared to the midfielders in Europe’s top 5 leagues is exceptional. 

Some of the stats like the pass completion rate or his non-penalty xG per shot may look a bit low but that showcases his playing style. The Portuguese isn’t afraid to take risks. If there is even a slight chance of setting someone through on goal or even if he gets half a yard of space from a shooting area, he will go for it. 

In football, the great players have this exceptional ability to make everyone think that something is going to happen when they have the ball. Fernandes is one of them. He constantly demands the ball is played to him and wants everything to go through him. Players around Fernandes are prepared to go the extra mile too, making constant runs and finding spaces in dangerous areas for the 26 year old to pick them out with a pass, because they know he has the ability to do exactly that. 

Tactical Analysis

Francesco Guidolin managed Bruno Fernandes when he was at Udinese and the Italian manager claims that Fernandes is one of the most intelligent players he has ever managed. He isn’t the only one to heap praise on the Portugese midfielder, the sporting director who took Fernandes from Boavista’s academy to Novora says “he is the most intelligent person I have ever met”. From using post-it notes to learn new languages and watching the replays of his games right after it is over, Fernandes uses every shred of his brain and his natural talent to become the player he is. 

It is easy to see how intelligent he is. For example, the goal he scored against Newcastle shows how well he reads the game. 

Here, he starts United’s counter attack intelligently linking up with van de Beek with a backheel and sets of running. Van de Beek passes to Mata, who releases Rashford and the counter attack is in motion. 

Rashford receives the ball wide left and continues running into the vacant space which prompts Fernandes to go inside in case the Englishman decides to run it wide and put in a cross. 

Instead, Marcus Rashford decides to cut in and take on Jamaal Lascelles which makes Fernandes make a move towards the outside. In the image, the moment Rashford goes inside, Fernandes starts going towards the outside. 

The Portuguese continues his run and Rashford expertly finds him after drawing 3 defenders towards him. Fernandes then takes a touch and then finishes it into the top corner beating Karl Darlow. 

He reads and understands the game very well and even if his stats seem unbelievable, he can impact games and goals without being directly involved in the goals as well. 

In the 3rd goal that Anthony Martial scored against Sheffield United last season, Fernandes didn’t have an assist but was still involved heavily. 

He receives the ball from deep through Paul Pogba and instantly gives it to Martial behind with an expertly executed backheel, catching the Sheffield United defenders off guard. 

He then makes a move towards the box while Martial finds Rashford out wide in the left side half space. 

He sees Martial making a run inside the box and instantly drops back to provide another passing option to Rashford. 

This catches defender John Egan off guard, who is left ball watching and fails to cover Martial who expertly chips the keeper to complete his hattrick. 

One largely underrated aspect of Fernandes’ style of play is his heading ability and his ability to get into positions of scoring a free header. Now his heading ability isn’t as polished as that of the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo or Robert Lewandowski but his movement and his ability to understand the game allows him to find spaces in order to find a free header inside the box. 

He scored a headed goal against Everton by sliding in between the two centre backs and connecting from a Luke Shaw cross. 

Here, he is inside the box waiting for Shaw to deliver a cross, as soon as Shaw puts his foot to the ball, Fernandes flicks on the switch and makes a run in between the CBs

He meets the cross, fairly unmarked and then slots it home beating Jordan Pickford in the Everton goal. 

What makes Bruno Fernandes so special is his hunger and drive to always improve and be better. “He wants to be the best”, says Giraetta, speaking to Jack Lang for The Athletic. He watches his games in their entirety as soon as he reaches home, even if it’s 2:30 in the morning. He watches them irrespective of the result, when they have won, drawn or when they have lost. Especially, when they have lost. He has a constant drive to become better than he already is. 

For people close to him, they have said he has always been like this. It doesn’t matter if Bruno is playing street football with his elder brother and his mates or if he’s playing with Cristiano Ronaldo for the national team, if there is something he doesn’t agree with, he will say it. He is expressive, an extrovert, and very blunt about his feelings. When Luuk de Jong scored the winner to take Sevilla to the Europa League finals and knock Manchester United out of the competition in the process, a footage was floated around the social media sites of him arguing with Victor Lindelof. Another footage came across when he was seen kicking the door, much to the dislike of the security guard present, after he was sent off in a match he played for Sporting Lisbon. “I’ll pay for the door, you can go f*** yourself” were the words coming out of the 26 year old’s mouth. A true indictment of his personality, he just cannot keep it inside. 

The altercation with Pep Guardiola is no different and that moment totally summed up what Bruno Fernandes is all about and what Manchester United had been missing prior to his arrival. A strong personality who will constantly expect better from himself and from those around him and won’t be afraid to speak up whenever required. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said Bruno Fernandes brings the ‘X-Factor’ to the team and it’s easy to see how. 

If there ever was a “Manchester United player” then Bruno Fernandes is the best player to express. His high risk, high reward style of play, his relentless work rate, his constant drive to win the ball back and demanding the ball is played to him, he is everything that Manchester United players of the old were – a fighter. Fernandes is a fighter on and off the pitch and he won’t settle for anything but the best.

Fernandes isn’t fazed by the pressure that comes with the price tag or the expectations of the fans. He does his job and whenever his team needs someone to step up, he is the one to do it. Maybe he relishes the responsibility, maybe he thrives when the odds are stacked against him. 

Manchester United may have finally found their talisman in their journey back to the top. After all, the fans haven’t named him the ‘The Portugese Magnifico’ for no reason.  

Nicky Butt’s Youth Revolution

Whenever there exists a big institution in any field of life, it is associated with something. It has its own identity, its own uniqueness. Being a part of that institution means something, it holds some value in someone’s life, in someone’s heart. In football, it’s no different. Every club has its own identity, their own traditions. That’s what makes playing for a club special, maybe that’s what makes fans fall in love with a club. 

Ajax and Barcelona are known for their youth development and brand of football, Borussia Dortmund’s loud and spectacular atmosphere at the stadium is revered all over the world, Athletic Bilbao pride themselves in only using Basque origin players to give a few examples. Almost every club in this world has their own identity. Manchester United are no different. Known for their ability for producing some of the finest footballers in English and world football, their youth academy is widely considered as one of the best in the world. Their continued trust in giving youth a chance hasn’t gone unnoticed either with the club having named an academy player in their matchday squad for more than 81 years. 

Although, United’s academy went through a bad phase in the last decade. Having won the FA youth cup 10 times, and priding themselves in their homegrown players making the first team, United neglected the academy for a while. When Louis van Gaal came in, the academy for underfunded and more focus was shifted towards improving the first team rather than improving the academy. At the same time, 4 miles away from Old Trafford, the ones wearing blue were improving and strengthening their academy each and every day. 

From guaranteed education till 18 to better and bigger training facilities, Manchester City were attracting talents from under Manchester United’s nose and United were doing nothing about it. They thought their reputation was enough to attract these players – it wasn’t. The most talented 11,12, 13 year olds were all choosing to go to blue half rather than the red. Even United’s ex players such as Robin van Persie and Phil Neville chose to put their sons in Manchester City’s academy. Manchester United were not the best academy in the city anymore, let alone the country and this was emphasised by the 9-0 loss that Manchester United’s u14s suffered at the hands of their neighbours in 2015. 

That was until Nicky Butt came in as the head of academy in 2016 and the powers at the top decided to invest in the academy once again. These figures aren’t revealed but the chatter around the training complex in Manchester suggests that the investment in the academy has skyrocketed since. United’s recent recruitments do nothing but confirm that. Hannibal Mejbri, touted as one of France’s biggest prospects, was bought in from AS Monaco for 10m pounds. Charlie McNeil, who scored over 600 goals at the u16s level, was poached from the rivals Manchester City. Marc Jurado ditched the world famous La Masia to join Manchester United, same with Alvaro Fernandez and Alejandro Garnaco who came in from Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid respectively. 

 

 

(VALENCIA, SPAIN – DECEMBER 12: Manager Nicky Butt of Manchester United U19s watches from the touchline during the UEFA Youth League match between Valencia U19s and Manchester United U19s at Paterna Training Centre on December 12, 2018 in Valencia, Spain.)

Even though they were announced by the club like a first team signing, the general consensus is that Facundo Pellstri and Amad Diallo would first be training with the reserves instead of the first team. Large sums of money to buy these guys as well, something which again points at how much the investment at the youth level has increased since practically being ignored at one point in the last decade. 

Large part of the credit goes to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The United boss may always find himself under the microscope whenever the first team plays bad and his reign as the first team manager has been a roller coaster ride, but one thing that the Norwegian has changed since coming in is the focus put on the academy. In 2019, the Manchester United backroom staff went through a complete restructuring with Nicky Butt being made head of first team development and Nick Cox replacing him as the head of the academy. Butt reports directly to Solskjaer about which players are ready to step up into the first team and also oversees their transition. 

This has already benefited two players – Mason Greenwood and Brandon Williams, who have gone through seemingly flawless transitions into the first team. James Garner, Tahith Chong and Teden Mengi have all been knocking on the doors of first team football as well. Marcus Rashford is already one of England’s best players, Dean Henderson has impressed whilst being on loan at Sheffield United and Axel Tuanzebe, who has captained the side at every level (including the first team) has shown that he can be a reliable option at the back. United have a lot of homegrown talent representing the first team and that’s a testament to Solskjaer’s CV of trusting youth time and again. 

 

 

(MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – AUGUST 10: Nicky Butt, Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Coach Michael Carrick of Manchester United watch from the touchline during the U18 Premier League match between Manchester United U18s and Sunderland U18s at Aon Training Complex on August 10, 2019 in Manchester, England.)

Nicky Butt has also been a large influence on the academy since coming back to the club in 2016 and spearheading the academy overhaul. Having been part of the famous Class of 92 and also coaching the reserve side in 2012 and a short interim spell in 2016 due to reshuffling of the staff, the former Manchester United midfielder knows what it takes to transition an academy prospect into a first team regular. Butt was quick to install a transfer strategy and a clear plan for the academy in terms of recruitment, which is still being used to this day. An extensive scouting network and cash influx helped with the Red Devils signing players from all across England and Europe. 

“You can judge me and the people who develop for the first team in hopefully two or three years when we’re challenging for titles. If you’re challenging for titles and getting players in the first team, that’s when you know you’re doing an unbelievable job.”

-Nicky Butt, February 2020.

Manchester United have signed 19 players between the ages of 15 and 18 since 2019. Many of them leaving a few of Europe’s best academies while others snubbing United’s main rivals and joining the red devils. 

“I have made the decision to leave this great club – I wanted to thank all my teammates, and the coaching staff at Real Madrid for making me a better person and footballer,”

-Alvaro Fernandez on leaving Real Madrid. 

All the 19 players weren’t cheap. Marc Jurado cost 400,000 pounds from Barcelona. Charlie McNeil cost 600,000 pounds from Manchester City. Logan Pye and Joe Hugill cost a combined 300,000 pounds from Sunderland. Wily Kambwala, the latest recruit from France, cost upwards of 3m pounds and Hannibal Mejbri was brought in for approximately 8m pounds to be made as the poster boy of the academy. Pellestri and Diallo who were both brought in at a combined cost of roughly 40m pounds. 

Since 2019, Manchester United have spent large sums of money on securing the signatures of some of the finest prospects in Europe. This is a testament to the scouting and recruitment strategy mapped out by Nicky Butt and how much Solskjaer is trusting the youth academy of this club. Hardballing negotiations and the supposedly smaller clubs refusing to be bullied by the financial muscle of the bigger clubs has meant that Solskjaer may turn to youth prospects sooner rather than later. 

Let’s have a look at the u23s and u18s academy players who we might be seeing play for the first team in the near future.

Mason Greenwood and Brandon Williams have followed in the footsteps of Marcus Rashford, Scott McTominay and Axel Tuanzebe in establishing themselves as first team regulars. Tahith Chong and James Garner have made a few first team appearances but have been loaned out to Werder Bremen and Watford respectively this season to gather more first team experience. And Even though these are early stages of the season, both have been excelling whilst on loan. 

Looking at the u23s led by Neil Wood, Hannibal Mejbri is the player that stands out. Still only 17 years old and Mejbri is one of the most important players for the u23s and is regarded as the next big thing by many French scouts and journalists. His signature made a lot of headlines in the last year and he might be on the verge of playing for the first team this season. 

 

 

(BURTON-UPON-TRENT, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 30: The Manchester United team (Back Row L-R: Will Fish, Lukasz Bejger, Ondrej Mastny Teden Mengi, Hannibal Mejbri, Anthony Elanga. Front Row L-R: Martin Svidersky, Shola Shoretire, Charlie McCann, Mark Helm, Reece Devine) ahead of the FA Youth Cup semi-final match between Manchester United U18s and Chelsea U18s at St Georges Park on October 30, 2020 in Burton-upon-Trent, England.)

Ethan Laird, Teden Mengi and Ethan Galbraith have all impressed at the u23s level as well. Laird and Mengi have already made their debuts for the first team with Laird featuring in the 2-1 loss to Astana in the Europa League last season while Mengi came on to play a little cameo against LASK last season. Brandon Williams had to change positions in order to accommodate Ethan Laird at right back and it was said that Laird would have even made his debut before Williams before suffering a horrible injury sidelining him for almost a year. Mengi has really impressed Solskjaer and there is a high possibility that we might see him play in a few cup games this season. Ethan Galbraith recently signed a new long term contract with the club and has made steady strides in his development. 

Looking further into the reserve teams, Dilon Hoogewerf is another foreign talent poached by United in the last year – this time from Ajax. Ajax were unhappy that he left but the 17 year old said United’s vision and plan for him did the trick in convincing him to move. Anthony Elanga and Noam Emeran are two 17 year old wingers who have shown promise. 16 year old Zidane Iqbal is another talented attacking midfielder who has roots in England and Pakistan. Alvaro Fernandez and Joe Hugill, who were acquired this summer have hit the ground running and are already playing for the u23s. Hugill was brought in from Sunderland and the 17 year old has already netted 4 times in 5 games. Pellestri had a promising debut and there is a lot of excitement among the Red Devils faithful about the arrival of Amad Diallo who is touted to be one of the biggest prospects coming out of Italy.  

Signings of midfielder Isak Hansen-Aaroen from Norwegian second tier club Tromso and goalkeeper Radek Vitek from Czech club Olomouc show exactly how vast United’s scouting network is. Manchester United have totally revamped their academy in the last few years and have laid a solid foundation for the first team manager to build upon. If a situation arrives for the first team manager to turn to academy, he has a vast array of promising players to choose from.

Manchester United have always held the reputation of giving youth players a chance to play in the first team but in the recent past, it has taken a bit of a hit. Young players didn’t find the Manchester United academy attractive enough and would consider their other options. The total revamp of the academy has meant that promising young players may turn to Manchester United to learn, grow and develop.

“Youth. Courage. Success” is the Manchester United motto, the Manchester United way. From the ‘Busby Babes’ to the ‘Class of 92’ and their stunning record of having at least one homegrown player in their matchday squad for 81 consecutive years is what the club is all about. This is their identity, their philosophy, something which was lost for a while. For all their other struggles, they are getting their identity, their philosophy back. Playing for the Manchester United academy has again started to mean something. 

Scout report: Marc Jurado

Manchester United haven’t been very active in the business of wonderkids over the past two decades, which other top teams like Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund seem to thrive on – either in terms of performance or profitability, or both. A drastic change in United’s academy project has seen Nicky Butt lead the Devils into a new era of focus on academy youngsters and buying high potential players for the same. Coupled with manager Ole gunnar Solskjaer’s trust in youth and the academy setup, this summer has already seen the club renew contracts for Harvey Neville, Tahith Chong, Greenwood, Brandon Williams, James Garner, Ethan Laird, and Dylan Levitt while recruiting fresh talent in the forms of Isak Hansen-Aarøen from Tromso, Alvaro Rodrigues from Real Madrid’s academy, Radek Vitek from Olomouc, Joe Hugill from Sunderland and Marc Jurado from Barcelona’s famed La Masia.

Marc Jurado is only the second player in United’s history to have been signed from FC Barcelona’s youth academy and the first ended up being a decent player. Gerard Pique could not make it at the club but went on to become one of the world’s top defenders. Marc Jurado was born the same year Pique arrived at United in 2004. Now 16 years old, he arrives at Old Trafford aiming to make a bigger mark than his predecessor.  

Career History:

Jurado was born in Sabadell, a town 18 miles from Barcelona, on April 13, 2004,. He played for his local club, CF Can Rull, from the age of four to seven before impressing enough to be picked up by FC Barcelona’s La Masia academy. He has been playing for the youth team for the past nine years. In his second season for Barcelona, he recorded the fastest goal for the FCB Benjamin C side (Under-10s) as he stole the ball straight from kick-off, dribbled past two UD Viladecans defenders before coolly slotting past the keeper to score within five seconds. This is also the record for the fastest goal at any youth level at Barcelona. His crowning moment for FCB Infantil A (Under-12s) came as he scored in a 2-0 win against fierce rivals Real Madrid in the Mediterranean International Cup 2016 tournament. He has been a prominent figure in Barcelona’s Cadet A (Under-16) side and was due to be promoted to the Juvenil B (Under-17) for the 20/21 campaign.

Playing Style:
When it comes to playing style, Jurado is your quintessential modern right-back, bombing forward with speed and skill to overlap and support the attack. Most consistently associated with jersey #2, the first noticeable aspect of Jurado is his immense speed and acceleration which he uses aggressively to dribble past players and take up good attacking positions on the right side of the pitch. He has a huge reputation as a capable attacker having once scored 6 goals in a season for FCB Cadete B. Technically strong, Jurado fits the usual La Masia graduate pattern of being very adept at passing, link-up play and ball control while he is no slacker in his defensive duties utilizing intense pace and stamina to get back in position and mark wingers. Jurado loves playing 1-2s to burst past opposition often linking up with the right sided attacker or central midfielder for a classic give-and-go. Armed with a very capable left foot, Jurado also has a penchant to cut inside and release the opposite fullback or dribble in central areas himself towards the opposition box which explains the occasional goal he scores and offers a more unpredictable dynamic to his attacking play. A few of his goals have come via headers and volleys from corners indicating his value as a set-piece threat. He has been deployed mostly as a right back but has also been used as a right winger on some occasions to utilize his attacking traits.

Transfer Saga:
Barcelona had no intention of letting Jurado go as they secured Ansu Fati, Ilaix Moriba, Pablo Paez and Ilias before offering a lucrative 3-year contract, worth up to €300,000 per year, to Jurado to convince him to stay as well. They viewed Jurado as a key part of their promising generation of youngsters. But Jurado was certain he wanted to leave for better opportunities which probably says a lot about the current condition of the Blaugrana in terms of giving chances to academy graduates in the main squad. They have lost a few youngsters in recent years who have opted to try their luck abroad instead. It also says a lot about the great recent work Nicky Butt and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer have been doing in terms of youth promotion. Reports first emerged in April 2020 suggesting United had contacted Barcelona regarding Jurado and their pursuit worked soon after as they received the confirmation of Jurado soon after.  

“It is never easy to leave the team that has given you everything,” Jurado wrote on his official Instagram account to confirm his departure. “FC Barcelona has been my second home, my second family, where I have trained as a player but also as a person. Today I have to say goodbye but not before thanking each of the people who have helped me since I started in 2011. I have been fortunate to share my passion with a fantastic generation with whom I will always be linked. We started as children who only wanted to run after the ball and I said goodbye, nine years later, being able to call them friends. Only we know the immense luck we have had with all the coaches who have trained us and helped us to continue fulfilling our dreams.”


What next?
His contract expired on June 30, 2020 with the Red devils having to pay a compensation fee of £175,000 for the youngster. Jurado shared an image of his departure gate ahead of his flight to Manchester on 27th August with a caption “A new dream is coming.”. The pacey defender was seen strolling through Manchester in a denim jacket and jeans post which he self-isolated for 14 days before joining training. Jurado has linked up with the Manchester United Under-18 side for the 20/21 season and is already off to a bright start having scored in the 2-1 friendly win against West Brom U18 earlier this month. Jurado’s path to the main team won’t be easy with Aaron Wan Bissaka (22 years old), Fosu Mensah (22 years old), Diogo Dalot (21 years old) and Ethan Laird (19 years old) seemingly ahead of him in the pecking order. But with Dalot’s long-term future up in the balance given his recent loan to AC Milan, Fosu-Mensah’s injury concerns, Laird yet to make his senior debut and manager Ole’s heavy trust in the academy, Jurado will know he has the time and opportunity to make a mark for the reserves first and then make the step up in a few years. 


(Photo by Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images)