Manchester United’s U23’s played their first ever Premier League International Cup match at Leigh Sports Village on Tuesday evening as they faced last year’s champions, Villarreal. United made one change to the team which drew with Manchester City in their last game with 17-year-old Ethan Hamilton making his first U23 start as he replaced Demetri Mitchell. There was also a place on the bench for 16-year-old Lee O’Connor who has impressed for the under 18’s since joining the club from Irish side Villa F.C. this summer.
After an hour delay due to a power cut caused by bad weather in the area, the game kicked off and it was Villarreal who started better with Ié going close in the second minute but his shot flew wide after cutting in from the right. Villarreal went close again in the fourth minute but the attacker tried to pass the ball when clean through on goal and the chance went wide. United began to get to grips with the game following a difficult opening few minutes and had their first chance of the game in the 17th minute as Harrop won the ball in midfield and drove forward with the ball but dragged his 20-yard shot wide of the post.
Following a brilliant run down the left from Hamilton, the ball found its way to Harrop in the box who went down far too easily under a challenge but the referee waved away United’s appeals and booked Harrop. The game was becoming a really competitive affair with both sides flying into challenges with McTominay winning the ball back for United on a number of occasions and Poole making a couple of important interventions. United took the lead in the 34th minute as the impressive Hamilton won the ball in midfield and carried it forward before playing the ball to the overlapping Harrop who finished well with his left foot to make it 1-0.
Following the goal, Villarreal began to come forward a bit more and a couple of efforts from the edge of the box but Johnstone dealt with them comfortably. When Villarreal did manage to create an opportunity in the 42nd minute with a dangerous cross from the right-wing United’s captain Tuanzebe was in the right place to make the clearance. Villarreal then threatened again a couple of minutes later from a 25-yard free kick but Johnstone again saved comfortably. United went in at half time leading 1-0.
United went close to increasing their lead in the opening minute of the second half following good work from Hamilton and Harrop down the left the ball fell to Hamilton in the box but he was crowded out by defenders. Axel Tuanzebe has been praised a lot this season for his defensive work but showed he has the footballing ability to go with it in the 49th minute as he won the ball on the halfway line and drove forward with the ball before unleashing a powerful from 25 yards which the goalkeeper did well to push away before Tuanzebe’s effort from the rebound hit a United player in an offside position.
Villarreal threatened to get back into the game in the 59th as Ié won the ball on the right wing and fired in a dangerous cross but Poole did extremely well to adjust his body and knock the ball out for a corner. United were doing very well to deny Villarreal space in attack with Poole and Tuanzebe stepping in to win the ball back quickly on a number of occasions and Johnstone a virtual spectator for much of the half. Hamilton continued to cause problems for Villarreal down the left and United won their first corner of the match in the 73rd minute of the match from another of his runs.
Villarreal went close to a spectacular equalizer in the 75th minute as Raba’s effort from 40 yards had Johnstone beaten but was narrowly over the bar. They went even closer a minute later as Gonzalez was allowed too much space in the box and smashed a powerful shot past Johnstone which hit the inside of the post and flew across the goal but stayed out. Villarreal were putting a lot of pressure on United in the closing stages as their experience began to show. United responded by replacing Harrop with Kehinde in the 80th minute.
The change seemed to give United a renewed vigor as they got back on top in the game and went close to extending their lead in the 86th minute as Scott’s dangerous cross from a left-wing free-kick was punched up in the air by the goalkeeper and McTominay’s header was blocked on the line for a corner. United went close again in the 89th minute as Hamilton came forward again and found Riley on the overlap but his shot flew wide of the near post. Villarreal went close to 97th minute equalizer but Fernandez’s header flew narrowly wide. United held on to secure an impressive win with Poole, Tuanzebe, and Hamilton all excellent.
Goals: Josh Harrop 34′
Assists: Ethan Hamilton 34
Manchester United: Johnstone; El Fitouri, Tuanzebe, Poole, Riley; Scott, McTominay; Redmond(Olosunde 46′), Willock, Harrop (Kehinde 80′), Hamilton (Mitchell)
Substitutes Not Used: Henderson, Doughty, O’Connor