Indeed. Some of the football in the highlights was really encouraging and impressive to see. The players in this U-16 group seem to be really good. Better than those that moved up this year on this small showing, anyway.
Don't go along with that. I think people have been a bit harsh on this years U18s, forgetting that they're actually first years and that the actual overhaul in the lads that get played in these games is probably greater in this years U18s than it was when Rodolfo took over. Not having a go at you specifically mate, I just think Marsh and this years U18s deserve more credit than they receive.
When Borrell came in he still had Wisdom, Ince, Robinson and, until Ngoo was signed, Dalle Valle, who had been with the U18s for the youth cup run the season previous. I think one of the 'keepers (Bouzanis?) too.
From last years U18s Marsh has had Morgan who goes between the age groups. Rafferty and Dunn got a bit of a taste towards the back end of last season but they weren't any more a part of the U18s set up than Sinclair etc have been this. Apart from that you've got the likes of Sumner and Mukendi who have been around the fringe of the U18s for two years but never really involved in either. Brad Smith would've been an interesting one. He seemed to start the season for the U18s, but also played the NextGen games, so it looked like he was in the same boat as Morgan, going between both groups.
The core of this U18s side is almost made up entirely of first years, other than Morgan. Nacho has come in and is 18, and Sokolik is playing a bit now and I think he's 18 as well, but the vast majority of this side started the season aged 16, and they're in 2nd place still I think. The title was unlikely, but players being unavailable for the WBA game didn't help.
This crop aren't as exciting as last years side, but I think it's a better side than Rodolfo's when they were mostly first years. The thing that really kicked that side up a notch was bringing in Sterling and Toni Silva around the same time. Sterling in particular was just obviously special from moment one. Before they were involved I wouldn't have said Borrell's U18s were particularly exciting. There was the one awesome result in the Youth Cup away to Leicester (their only defeat of that season I believe), where Ngoo was unplayable. Really though, they were inconsistent and not particularly enthralling. Adorjan couldn't really get a grip in games in that first year. Then in came Sterling and Silva and we had 3 really good wingers for that level and we just ripped teams apart over the last 5-6 games. Stoke, Huddersfield, Leeds - battered by great wingers and a team that suddenly had 3 more gears than it did previously.
I think you can draw a parallel between Sterling (and Silva's) arrival and Ibe's for this years U18s. Still haven't been quite as prolific as Borrell's first years were the back-end of that season, but we look a much more dangerous side as a result, because bringing in a special talent, especially out wide, will do that.
I actually think a lot of the first years in this U18 side are as impressive as Borrell's lot. Baio, Lussey, Dunn, McLaughlin, and now Ibe and probably Pelosi all look like they'll at least make it up to the reserve/NextGen team, and all of them apart from Pelosi are first years. What will be interesting for me is how many of them actually end up there next year. Ibe and McLaughlin are already involved. Dunn and Pelosi have been on the bench a few times (and Peterson) and Baio was with them at the weekend.
People will compare each U18 team for a long time with the one Borrell had last year, but that was a special circumstance to some extent. Everyone bar Ince (and a couple of the goalies) stayed with the U18s into their second year (Wisdom, Robinson and Flanagan moved up to the ressies through the year, but were still available for the youth cup). Also, the club bent over for last years U18s to quite a large extent with the way they treated the reserve team throughout the second half of the season, especially when Segura tookover the ressies. The reserves decided to pick fringe reserve players like Bruna and Saric, and U18 players that never got a game like Regan and Sokolik, rather than dipping into the U18s during the title run-in (something I'm sure McMahon would've loved to do earlier in the season).
I can't see Marsh or any other U18 manager having that luxury for a while. Chances are with the NextGen being an U19 tournament, most of the better second year scholars will be being used for that from now on. I'd be surprised if this years first years were kept together as a group for next years U18s. Chances are it'll be the same situation again next year where the squad is made up mostly of first year scholars.