Manchester United's top 20 youth prospects: #16-20

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In a new series, we run the rule over the best talents in Manchester United's youth ranks at present. Any player under 21 who had not yet broken into the first team was eligible for inclusion. Here we present the first five of the twenty.

In order to help run the rule over United's younger players, we enlisted the help of Doron Salomon, a regular youth-game watcher, to pass on some comments about the next generation of United talent. You can also find more of Doron's work on Stretford End.

20. James Weir

One of the more unheralded youngsters in United's academy, James Weir had an excellent season last time out and progressed hugely as he showed glimpses of his potential. A solid, physical central midfielder, he has many attributed to his game without being particularly one-dimensional. There are others for whom hopes will be higher, but if Weir can continue his rapid rate of progression, United may well have a good player on their hands.

Doron: "Last season almost came out of nowhere for James. I certainly wouldn't have predicted that he'd be one of the best U18 players. Can play at right-back or central midfield but better off as the latter. Has a great engine on him, a proper box-to-box player. He holds his own for a little guy too - he's feisty without being reckless. Scored a couple of goals last year, but probably needs to add more and get into better goalscoring positions. It'll be interesting to see how he does against bigger opponents."

19. Joe Rothwell

Joe Rothwell is one of several players in United's academy that have had troubles with injuries of late. Unfortunately for Rothwell, he seems to be continually harrassed with them at the worst times, so there will be a lot of hope that he can stay fit this season. Particularly as he can be a superb player on his day, with a very mature and stylish use of the ball in his central midfield role.

Doron: "A lovely footballer to watch. The really obvious comparison is Carrick - he loves to pass and move and always looks to trigger the next attack. He clearly understands the game well, and has a good footballing brain. He's also an excellent set piece taker and has chipped in with a few goals too. Very strong on the technical side. He just needs to stay fit - unfortunately, he keeps getting bad injuries and has had glandular fever too. He and Pearson were almost ever-present in England youth sides a couple of years back. If he stays fit then United have a really handy player there."

18. Liam Grimshaw

United's Under-18s captain is capable of playing both right-back and centre-back, and was a nominee for academy player of the season after a solid campaign last year.

Doron: "Grimshaw is a bit like Michael Keane in that because he's played right-back he's really good on the ball for a centre-back and likes to bring it out of defence - he's often seen going on marauding runs forward. He's very dependable, and his leadership qualities made him an obvious choice to be captain. Deserved his England call up a few months ago too. He maybe needs to grow a bit more if he's to be a centre-back permanently, however. He seemingly has a good approach to learning and improving - I think he's surprised a lot of people over the last year. I get the feeling he's a very Warren Joyce type of player: he listens, he's disciplined, he does his job and he doesn't hide."

17. Donald Love

The excellently-named Love is not the most cavalier of players in his position, but he is a remarkably solid right-back for his age. Although born in England, he's represented Scotland at several junior levels, and will probably spend some more time in United's academy set-up before looking to move out on loan.

Doron: "Sounds like a classic player from the early 20th century, and in some ways he's a classic fullback too - he has similarities with Denis Irwin in the way he's up and down the pitch. He doesn't try anything too ambitious but rather sticks to what he's good at. Probably better defending than he is going forward at the moment but he's got a great cross on him and has been involved in a fair few goals. I'm expecting him to get a good go at the RB slot in the U21s. Progressing nicely through the Scottish youth system with the national team too."

16. Tyler Blackett

A supremely athletic Manchester-born youngster, Blackett is capable of playing at either left-back or centre-back. Indeed, it was a surprise when Zeki Fryers was handed first-team action ahead of him, as Blackett, a similar player, had been in better form. But with Fryers disappointing at Tottenham Hotspur, Blackett had come on well, earning a place on last year's pre-season tour, although his development has stalled slightly since then.

Doron: "Much-hyped after going on the pre-season tour last year but went on to have a disappointing year. Rarely a fixture in the U21s due to others ahead of him, and ended up having to play out of position - he was seen on the left wing, right wing and central midfield. Even for England he was bizarrely used on the right wing by Noel Blake. I wouldn't be amazed to see more of him at centre-back this coming season - he only turned 19 a few months ago so won't be rushed into a loan just yet but he's a talented player. He has good feet, he's quick and strong, but concentration lapses sometimes let him down and he can be prone to the odd lazy pass.


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