Adnan Januzaj is a player that I've been extremely curious about because Sir Alex Ferguson and members of the Manchester United coaching staff -- particularly the ones at the reserves and youth levels -- have been raving about the Belgian. The 18-year-old was on the bench for last season's finale at West Bromwich Albion, but he was never able to get onto the pitch in order to make his first-team debut during that wild 5-5 draw. With Guillermo Varela being the only summer signing thus far -- and he's yet to join the club for the pre-season tour because of his recent involvement in Uruguay's run to the final of the Under-20 World Cup -- it was Januzaj and Wilfried Zaha that I looked most forward to seeing in this friendly versus the Singha All-Stars. I've already done a Zaha running diary back in February when he was on loan still to Crystal Palace, and in order to pay close attention and learn more about Januzaj, I decided to do one on him for this pre-season friendly. Here's a minute-by-minute commentary on the Belgian's performance in Bangkok.
Pre-game: New United manager David Moyes will deploy his side in a 4-2-3-1 shape. Januzaj will start the match on the right side of attack.
2' - The youngster hustles backs well after an uncharacteristic giveaway from Michael Carrick deep in United's own half. The Singha left-back went surging forward, but the Belgian did well to track his run and make him a non-threatening option on the break.
3' - Januzaj gets his first touch on the ball as he receives the ball near the right touchline at the halfway line. He immediately takes on his marker and beats him to the left with quickness and a feint move to the right that got the defender off-balance before carrying the ball ten yards. He eventually releases a pass to Tom Cleverley and the 18-year-old followed that with a run into the box. United's attacking move breaks down with Alexander Buttner at the byline. That was a bold and skilled move by the 18-year-old.
7' - Anderson plays a lovely angled-ball for Januzaj into space down the right that splits the Singha left-center-back and left-back. The Belgian then picks out Cleverley in the penalty area and cuts a pass back for him. A Singha defender just gets a slight touch on the ball and it's enough to disrupt Cleverley's attempt. Even before Januzaj received the pass from Ando, he had his head up -- presumably examining the possible runs United players could make near Singha's goal.
8' - Januzaj receives the ball from with his back to goal, near the touchline, and in a deep position on the right while holding off the defender. He carries the ball backward about 10 yards, plays a simple pass for Rio Ferdinand, receives the ball back, and then plays a nice forward 20-yard ball for Cleverley. The youngster displayed an eagerness to work the ball.
12' - Ryan Giggs rakes a long diagonal to Januzaj in the attacking third on the right touchline. The youngster tries to take on his defender but is tackled -- he then follows this with a foul on the defender. He clearly is not afraid to take on players.
13' - Januzaj has popped up on the left side of attack now. The movement between Danny Welbeck, Anderson, Januzaj, Giggs, and Cleverley is becoming increasingly fluid.
14' - He takes a corner from the left-side. The out-swinging cross is easily cleared.
15' - On the left-side, Januzaj confidently takes on his marker again and turns him around a few times with some tricky, confident dribbling -- the crowd is delighted. The Belgian had no support from his fellow attackers, though, and only a throw-in was won by him.
19' - Januzaj continues to operate on the left, with Giggs on the right.
20' - The youngster tries to combine with Welbeck on the left in a one-two. The Belgian did well to turn in a tight space and play the first pass, however, Welbeck over-hits the return pass.
22' - Fabio whips in a good cross and Januzaj meets the ball with his left-boot on a near-post run from about 5 yards out. The ball sails over the crossbar, though. The midfielder may have done better had he attempted a header instead.
24' - Januzaj is now back on the right-side. He receives the ball and as the defender immediately closes him down, he uses a clever touch and spins off to beat him down the touchline (the crowd is beginning to react to every touch of his now). He then eventually plays a simple ball for Cleverley. The Belgian really seems to do well floating around in order to find pockets of space.
28' - He receives and attempts a 360 turn before passing the ball into midfield again. He's tried this spin move at least twice now.
31' - Januzaj ghosts into the box on the left side after a move is building up from a short corner. He receives, turns, and creates separation before hitting a 'shot-cross' that goes out for a Singha goal-kick. The separation was created from a move he's used a few times now -- he feints right, gets the defender to shift his balance that way, before cutting and using his acceleration to knock the ball past the defender with the outside of his left-boot.
38' - Januzaj receives out wide on the left in the attacking third. He takes on his marker, beats him to the byline, before cutting back a cross across goal that is easily cleared.
39' - The Belgian plays a wonderful 50 yard pass down the touchline for Welbeck to run onto. The Englishman then clumsily knocks the ball out of bounds with a horrific, accidental touch.
43' - Januzaj overhits a corner from the right side.
HT: Manchester United 0-0 Singha All-Stars. Moyes' side are not playing well, and it can be argued that Singha has had the better quality of chances. Januzaj is a bright spot, though, as he's been the clear best player on the pitch. He really seems to enjoy floating around looking for space between the lines -- he's basically acted as an interiore thus far.
46' - The youngster starts the 2nd-half on the right side.
52' - Januzaj receives out wide near the right touchline. His marker intelligently tries to show him right and the midfielder is unable to beat him. He also ends up fouling him after being dispossessed. The youngster needs to show that he can go right so that he's not predictable when he takes on defenders.
54' - The Belgian drifts into a central position before releasing a wonderful 20-yard through-ball for Welbeck. The striker's attempt is saved. Singha's defenders seemed a bit confused on what to do when Januzaj floated into that central space.
63' - Januzaj has moved into the No.10 role now after United makes three substitutions in this friendly. Zaha is on the right and Jesse Lingard is on the left. In the opening 18 minutes of this half, the Belgian has been much quieter than he was in the first-half.
69' - Januzaj and Lingard have been interchanging since the latter has come on. The former tries a cross from the left touchline for Welbeck, however, it's floated in and easily claimed by the Singha goalkeeper.
71' - Welbeck and Januzaj apply some pressure on the Singha back four and this forces a turnover in a dangerous area. On a 2 v 3 break, Januzaj unleashes a shot from the top of the 'D' (about 23 yards out) that is saved relatively easily by the Singha 'keeper. The decision to shoot appeared to be the right one.
75' - On a long, patient attacking move, Januzaj again exhibits a good understanding of space. Early in the build-up, he drifts wide and then makes an overlapping run when Zaha begins to go at his marker. Januzaj, twice, receives near the right touchline and opts for a safe pass into the center when he was about to be doubled up. He's doing well to release the ball quickly and move it when a second defender gets drawn to him.
80' - Januzaj wrestles the ball away from a Singha midfielder in United's attacking third. He's then fouled, but the referee doesn't call it. The 18-year-old definitely needs to pack on some muscle, but he shows good tenacity in that battle.
82' - Januzaj makes a subtle decoy run that pulls away a defender from Welbeck. The build-up eventually leads to a Zaha shot off the post.
85' - More fluidity between Januzaj and Lingard. The former picks up the ball near the left touchline. From here, he fakes a cross and beats his marker by dragging the ball by the Singha defender with the inside of of his boot. He then plays a quick one-two with Lingard and as the Belgian drives towards goal after beating a defender, he attempts an off-balance left-footed shot that is easily saved by the Singha 'keeper. A beautiful move, but Januzaj may have had better balance on the attempt had he hit it with his right-boot. In this match, he's heavily favoring his left-foot.
FT: Manchester United 0-1 Singha All-Stars.
United as a whole were very disappointing. Januzaj, though, made the match enjoyable as it was fun to see his talent shine after hearing so much about it. He was very good in the first-half, and even though he faded as the match wore on, he still had some impressive moments in the 2nd-half as well. Overall, I'd probably give him a 7/10 rating for this game.
Januzaj definitely appears to be a modern attacking-midfielder that can be deployed anywhere in the band of 3 in a fluid 4-2-3-1 system. He shows a willingness to take on defenders and the ability to beat them. Despite this though, he's not really a traditional winger. The Belgian is more of an interiore type -- stylistically, think in the mold of a Juan Mata, David Silva, Shinji Kagawa, and Santi Cazorla -- in that he enjoys floating around looking for space and creating it for others when he's deployed out wide. He also looks well-suited to play in the No.10 role if asked.
It's difficult to project, exactly, how high Januzaj's ceiling is. For a versatile attacking-midfielder, he doesn't appear to be glaringly lacking in anything absolutely necessary. He's yet to fill out his frame. However, that's obviously not much of a concern since he's just 18-years-old right now. He doesn't shy away from a challenge so that's obviously a positive. He shows good quickness and acceleration but it was difficult to assess his pace in this match due to him not really having any full out sprints. The youngster also displayed, at times, the ability to use his body in order to shield the ball from a defender.
Technically, Januzaj appears to be quite gifted. His first-touch was always clean, he's comfortable in tight spaces, he constantly asks for the ball, and he's shown an ability to skip by defenders before circulating the ball. His vision combines well his ability to play a defense-splitting through-ball. There weren't too many opportunities, though, to see him hit long-range passes in this friendly. He apparently has impressed in the past in taking set-pieces and he was willing to take them versus Singha, too. At one point, Januzaj appeared to want to take a direct free-kick that was only about 22-24 yards out -- Giggs, though, pulled rank and decided to take it. Perhaps the only weakness he displayed was an unwillingness to use his right foot.
Januzaj is a good prospect, but it's uncertain if he's ready to get regular time this season with the first-team. Perhaps he'll get some cup games supplemented by more Reserves games, or maybe he'll spend the entire season or part of it on loan. Or maybe he'll break into the first-team and force Moyes to play him through merit. The 18-year-old is a very good talent and one United fans should be excited about.
And finally, here's Moyes' assessment of his young talent after the match:
"I thought Adnan played well tonight and was a plus for us. He was the pick of the group. It's always good when you give a young player a chance and he shows up, which I thought he did tonight. And the more he plays like that, the more opportunities he's liable to get."