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Manchester United U23 to play seven behind closed doors pre-season friendlies

Manchester United have announced that Neil Wood’s U23 side will play seven behind closed door pre-season friendlies ahead of the new Premier League 2 season which will see United promoted to Division 1 of the league – spending the last two seasons in Division 2 and find out that on a points per game ratio, promotion happened despite the 2019/20 being suspended then cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic. United will be looking to get back into full fitness ahead of the new season.

The club has announced that because of the recent lockdown measures in Greater Manchester, no spectators will be allowed into the training ground, presumable where all the matches will be played. It was also stated that the clubs television channel, MUTV will broadcast highlights of some of the matches at a later date. The U23s will be tested in their pre-season matches, playing a mixture of senior teams and U23 teams, which will be good for their fitness and progress at this level.

United will start on Wednesday against Salford City then face Swindon Town on the 18 August, followed by Morecambe on the 22 August. Neil Wood’s side then face Stoke City U23s on the 25 August, followed by Macclesfield Town on the 28 August. On the 1 September, Doncaster Rovers will be the opposition finishing up with Everton U23s on the 5 September. It is set to be a good pre-season runs of matches for the players, who will be seeking to start the 2020/21 season brightly.

It will be good to see this group of young and talented players get stuck into the game again. Whilst it is expected that some of Wood’s players will head out on loan this summer, there will be many players stepping up from the U18 squad from last season, continuing that conveyor belt of talent at the club, testing them each and every season. Hannibal Mejbri, Charlie Wellens, and Mark Helm are likely to be tested this season. Speaking to the official Manchester United website, Wood said:

“It’s going to be a hard pre-season. Last year, we had the experience of the EFL Trophy and it looks likely that we could be part of that again.

“I wanted the lads to experience some first-team friendlies this year before we even made that tournament because they are challenging in themselves. We’ve got games lined up against the likes of Salford, Doncaster, Macclesfield and Swindon.

“So there are going to be some tough games, considering we’re of such a young age. It’s going to be hard for them but there is some talent there and that can really start to shine through.

“We played Swindon last year and we know how they want to play football. We know they’re not going to turn up and try to boot us off the pitch and injure some of the younger lads, especially as we have a very young squad.

“We want to have that first-team opposition but also would like to have opposition who try to play football and not try to outpower us or be a battle because we’re not going to win them at this stage.”

It would seem that the academy levels of the club are in good hands, giving players the development they need before sorting out their future, whether they are good enough to go straight into the first team, like Marcus Rashford, Scott McTominay, Mason Greenwood and Brandon Williams, or whether they need a loan spell away from the club so they can find their feet in a first team environment. Nicky Butt, the head of first team development understands what is needed and will be keeping’s eye out for players who are ready for the next level.

Written by John Walker

U18s endure mixed start to the 2019/20 season, which can only get better…

Manchester United’s U19s started their season with players moving up into the U23s and others spending their first full season in this age group. There will be changes every year at this level with those who are nearing the age of 18 looking to take their chances in the U23s and continue their development, either at United or elsewhere.

U18 coach, Neil Ryan replaced Kieran McKenna at this level in the summer of 2018 after the latter became a coach under Jose Mourinho in the first team. Ryan’s first season in charge of the U18s saw his Sid finish fourth in the U18 Premier League – eight points adrift of eventual winners, Derby County.

The season started on Saturday 10 August 2019 with United beating Sunderland 3-0 at the Aon Training Complex in Carrington. In that match, Charlie McCann scored from the penalty spot, Anthony Elanga doubles United’s lead with Charlie Wellens scoring the third goal in the victory. United were seeking to continue that run.

The second match of the season was played a week later on Saturday 17 August away to Wolverhampton Wanderers. It was United’s first defeat of the season at this level, losing 2-0. In the third match of the season, United were once again at home with Blackburn Rovers heading to the Aon Training Complex.

United won this match 3-1 with Anthony Elanga scoring a brace and Dillon Hoogewerf scoring his first goal for his new club. A late consolation from Blackburn meant United were not able to keep a clean sheet in the match. Liverpool away was up next for United, which like every previous season would be a fierce match because of the rivalry.

United lost 4-3 against Liverpool in a match which saw United equalise minutes after Liverpool scored with Ayodeji Sotona levelling the first time, and Wellens scoring the second and third equalising goal. The match was lost in the final minute with an own goal, which was a shame for United. United will face Derby County away on Saturday (14/9).

With four matches played and six points on the board, United will be seeking to a return to winning ways against the U18 Premier League champions on Saturday, which might show that this age group already have the mentality to succeed at this level. It will be a tough match and probably a tough season with United aiming to do better than last.

The top scorer of the 2019/20 season so far is jointly held between Elanga and Wellens with both players scoring three goals each. Then with one goal each, Hoogewerf, McCann, and Sotona sit with their efforts. Ryan will be happy with the goals which have been scored, however, he will be seeking for more as United take on better opposition.

In terms of assists, both Elanga and Mark Helm have two each with Reece Devine, who was sent off against Liverpool, also having one. Ryan will need to look at the depth of his squad in order to overcome Derby this weekend with Devine missing from the squad due to suspension. United will be up for the fixture though, against the reigning champions.

Nine players in the squad have played in all of the four matches played so far this season, with just five of those playing each minute across the four matches. Ondrej Mastny, Ben Hockenhull, Reece Devine, Charlie McCann, and Mark Helm have played each minute of the four matches with Lukasz Bejger, Charlie Wellens, Connor Stanley, and Dillon Hoogewerf playing in each of the four matches played.

I am sure that Anthony Elanga, who has already featured twice for the U23s this season and Teden Mengi, who has also played twice at that level, will have Neil Wood, Quinton Fortune and Nicky Butt watching them if they continue to play U18 football this season. With Elanga scoring three times already this season, he’s clearly a player with the talent and ability to find a goal, or three.

It will be good to see these players grow with the team this season, one player in particular with pressure already being applied to his development will be Harvey Neville, the son of Phil Neville and nephew of Gary Neville. Personally, I am looking forward to seeing more of Hoogewerf, Elanga, and after their performances so far this season, Wellens and Helm. This will be an exciting season for the U18s.

What happens at Carrington; Manchester United’s training ground…

Manchester United’s first-team has just four competitive games this August, with participation in the UEFA Europa League and Carabao Cup set to begin next month. With that in mind, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has taken the unusual step of arranging behind-closed-doors friendly matches, in order to give playing time to those who will not be heavily involved until the club begins its journey in other competitions.

One of these games, of course, took place a day after the final match of Tour 2019 against AC Milan in Cardiff, with a much-changed United XI playing the Blackburn Rovers’ under-23 team. At present, United’s first-team squad consists of around 30 players which is perhaps a few too many. This was the case a year ago as well. Solskjaer would struggle to keep every single player match fit with just one game a week over the next few weeks.

Competition in the Premier League is fierce enough that United can ill-afford rotating players for the sake of it. It’s become common practice at most Premier League clubs to start fringe players in the other competitions and then draft them into starting teams for league matches based on their performances in these games. 

These friendlies that United have scheduled offers players outside Solskjaer’s preferred XI to build and maintain match fitness while also attempting to impress the management team. Over the last seven weeks or so, United supporters have seen how much the Norwegian values the fitness of his players. These games will allow him to keep most if not all of the players in the squad at near full match fitness.

Sergio Romero and Lee Grant are unlikely to play this month so the friendly matches will offer the veteran ‘keepers a chance to gain some match practice for when they are needed. The same could be said for Diogo Dalot, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones as well as Ashley Young and Axel Tuanzebe, who were in the squad for United’s Premier League opener but did not take the field.

Marcos Rojo and Matteo Darmian have been linked with moves away from the club and they would no doubt like to remain match fit up until the close of the European transfer window on September 2. Fred, Angel Gomes and Tahith Chong missed out completely against Chelsea and will be given opportunities to force their way into Solskjaer’s plans. Chong and Gomes, in particular, will be eager to impress, having been left out of the reserve team’s matches in Premier League 2.

Alexis Sánchez meanwhile, begun pre-season much later than his teammates and as Solskjaer recently stated, he remains a few weeks behind them. The Chilean has struggled with injury in his time at United and this has undoubtedly affected his form. He’ll be hoping that getting back to full fitness will, in turn, get him back to his best and he certainly won’t be alone in this regard.

The game against the Blackburn team also included players who came off the bench against Milan the day before, and this trend could perhaps continue in the forthcoming matches. Players who come on as substitutes in the first-team matches may start the friendly games and play an hour or so. Their total minutes played for the week would then end up closer to 90, which is no doubt the preference of the manager and the players themselves.

These players will also use this opportunity to impress Solskjaer and force their way into his next starting XI. All in all, these games effectively serve as supplementary matches to the official fixtures. The major drawback, of course, is that they will be played against lower quality opposition, likely to be reserve and youth teams from nearby clubs.

This, however, raises the possibility of Solskjaer including players from United’s reserve and youth teams, although this would also be up to the head of first-team development, Nicky Butt, as well as reserve team manager Neil Wood. Having these players play with members of the first-team will enable them to begin integrating into the side while also allowing the coaches to compare the youngsters with the more seasoned professionals.

This also applies to the opposition teams, where players who impress in these games might catch the eye of United’s coaches and/or scouts. At a glance, this highlights signs of change from previous regimes at United. Solskjaer is taking a different approach to the last few United managers, in nearly every aspect of the job.

Judging by the players he has preferred and those he has signed, it’s quite clear that he favours hard-working individuals whom he can also develop as players. He will no doubt be looking to trim United’s squad over the next few years so he needs to filter out those who don’t fit this profile.  These matches give him the opportunity to begin doing this immediately.

Written by Shiven Nayager

U18 Player Ratings – 2018/19 Season: Mason Greenwood stole the show whilst the likes of Arnau Puigmal, Ethan Laird and James Garner excite

Manchester United U18s season ended in the last few weeks with the club finishing fourth in the U18 Premier League with 12 wins, seven draws and three defeats, scoring 60 goals in the competition alone, finishing just one point behind Everton, who finished third in the league. Granted, there will be a challenge for United in this league next season and they may have to do so without the likes of Mason Greenwood and James Garner, amongst others.

At this level, United also reached the semi-final stage of the U18 Premier League Cup, beating the Newcastle United (1-0), Norwich City (3-0), Chelsea (3-0), and Liverpool (3-2 AET) but falling to a 3-0 defeat against Manchester City. They also reached the fourth round of the FA Youth Cup, beating Chelsea 4-3 in the third round but falling to a 3-1 defeat against Brighton and Hove Albion in the fourth round.

U18 coach Neil Ryan will be pleased with his squad this season as quite a few players stood out, around 10 of which will be too old for this level next season, already turning 18, so they should move up to the U23 squad for the upcoming season. That will leave Ryan with a young team, effectively starting again.

Here are the player ratings for the entire 2018/19 season for each player to have represented United at least once in any of the competitions the club has played in; U18 Premier League, U18 Premier League Cup, FA Youth Cup and the UEFA Youth League. All ratings are out of ten stars; five being the level all players start out at during each game. If the player rates over five stars, they are doing well, less than five, they are not doing so well.

Jacob Carney: The 18-year-old made seven appearances this season, conceding 14 goals, failing to keep a single clean sheet. After making his debut at this level in the first match this season, he spent a period of time with Bury on a youth loan. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Alex Fojticek: The 19-year-old Slovakian goalkeeper made just seven appearances for United at this level this season, conceding 11 goals and keeping two clean sheets. Now too old for this league, Fojticek will move up to the U23 level, where he made his debut in January 2019. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

James Thompson: The 18-year-old English goalkeeper played the most matches at this level, starting 15 times. However, he conceded 26 goals but kept the most clean sheets – five. Still eligible to play at this level next season, Thompson could be the first-choice goalkeeper, however, Neil Ryan may look to give a younger player a chance to shine. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Ethan Laird: The right-back come left-back has made a total of 16 appearances at both U18 and U19 level this season, scoring twice and also assisting nine goals. The 17-year-old is still eligible to play at this level next season but also made his U23 debut last season so there could be scope for him to move up a level. Laird is quick, over short distances and as his stats show, he can get forward and provide for the attacking players. It will be good to see more of him in the future. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Brandon Williams: The 18-year-old right-back, although he can play on the left, will move up a level after this season. He made 28 appearances at U18 and U19 level, scoring four goals and assisting a further four, which is pretty good for a fullback. Williams made his U23 debut in February and will feature in that squad next season. Hopefully, he will continue to prove himself as United need additional fullbacks in the first team, so there is something for him to aim for in the future. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Iestyn Hughes: The 16-year-old right-back is one of the younger players at this level this season, making three appearances, two from the bench, got an assist against Derby County, a match which United won 2-1 – coming from behind. The Welsh starlet will most likely play at this level next season as he will turn 17 in September. He has a good future ahead of him and I look forward to seeing more from him. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Di’Shon Bernard: The 18-year-old central defender has played his last matches at this level this season, playing 25 times at both U18 and U19 level, scoring five goals. He was sent off against Liverpool at U18 level in February, making his U23 debut during the same month. The player his highly-rated at the club and will be looking to continue on the same path, maybe even catching the eye of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer over the next few seasons. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Ben Hockenhull: The 17-year-old central defender has been at United for the last eight years and was one of the younger players at this level during the past season. He made a total of six appearances, starting two of them, but did not score a single goal or add an assist. It is safe to say that this coming season will be more important for him and Neil Ryan, as many players will be moving up to the U23s. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Oliver Denham: This was his debut season at this level and we did not really see much of him. He made one start and also another off the bench. At 17, this was his first experience at U18 level and the central defender will most likely have a bigger chance next season, probably starting more matches and well on the way to becoming an experienced member of this team. The future could be very bright for him and I am sure that everyone will be looking forward to seeing what he can do. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Teden Mengi: The versatile defender, who can also play in midfield, made 21 appearances at U18 level this season, failing to score a single goal but provided a total of four assists. This was the second season at this level for the 17-year-old and as he does not turn 18 until next April, he should be eligible to play at this level for another season but will be a player that an eye is kept on as he will need to move up to the U23s at some point. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Reece Devine: The 17-year-old left back has made 17 appearances at U18 and U19 level this season, assisting one goal. The player has previously played for both Manchester City and Wolverhampton Wanderers in his short career and will be looking to kick on at this club. Still able to play for the U18s next season, although there will be no U19 football, he could stake a claim to his place in the squad as many players will be leaving this group this summer, heading to the U23s. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Lukasz Bejger: The Polish central defender made seven appearances at U18 and U19 level this season, assisting one goal. Signed from Lech Poznan (the club that Manchester City supporters got their goal celebration from) he received international clearance in September and promptly made his debut. He turned 17 in January so will have another season at this level, in which he will be looking to make a name for himself. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

James Garner: The 18-year-old central midfielder made 15 appearances at U18 and U19 level this season, also playing at U23 and first team level, which is something he will want more of. Garner scored twice, once for the U18s and once for the U19s, assisting two goals at this level also. This season will have been a big one for him, playing for United during the pre-season tour and showing so much ability, also impressing both Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Aliou Traore: The 18-year-old French midfielder has probably played his last football for the U18s this season, although he could still be eligible next season. He made a total of 30 appearances at U18 and U19 level this season, scoring four goals and assisting a further nine. The player has previously played for Paris Saint-Germain and Sarcelles. The player is a talent at the club, in his second season, and has already played U23 football, so he has a good future ahead of him. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Dylan Levitt: The Welsh central midfielder has played a lot of football at this level over the last two seasons. This season, he has played 25 times at U18 and U19 level, scoring seven goals and a further eight assists. He also made his U23 debut this season, scoring his first goal for the team in February. He clearly has a lot to offer this club and will most likely move up to the U23s this coming season, continuing his rise to stardom. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Dion McGhee: The 18-year-old attacking midfielder completed his third season at this level, making 22 appearances at U18 and U19 level, scoring four goals. The player only scored his first goal for the club this season and also made his U23 debut in January. His time at U18 level is probably over now and he could see himself being challenged to earn a place in the U23s squad. As an attacking midfielder, he can be the playmaker ins the team and also has the ability to find space behind the opposition defenders. Dion McGhee is a name you will hear more from next season. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

D’Mani Bughail-Mellor: The 18-year-old will be 19 just after the new seasons starts his time at this level is now over. He’s made a total of 20 appearances at U18 and U19 level this season, scoring five goals and two assists. He made his U23 debut this season, scoring his first goal in February. He can play in a number of positions in the attacking midfielder role, whether through the middle of wide, also behind the striker or even as the striker. He could be a name we hear more of next season. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Ethan Galbraith: The 18-year-old midfielder from Northern Ireland made a total of 24 appearances at U18 level this season, scoring four goals and a further four assists. He also made his debut at U23 level in February, presumably getting him ready for the jump up to that level next season. He could well be a player for the future and is highly-rated at the club. This next season, playing at U23 level, could decide his future. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Arnau Puigmal: The 18-year-old Spaniard has made a total of 24 appearances for the U18s and U19s this season, starting at right-back, scoring two goals and six assists. Over the past week the central midfielder has been training with the first team, which could suggest his future could be something special. He’s yet to make his U23s debut but could still feature at this level for a period next season. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Charlie McCann: The 17-year-old signed from Coventry City in the summer and made his debut for the U18s this season, making 23 appearances and scoring five goals and a further three assists. McCann is a ball playing central midfielder who can also cover at fullback, which is good for the future at this level. There is certainly more to come from him at this level next season and he will be looking to make his U23 debut during his second season. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Harvey Neville: The son of United Class of 92 graduate Phil Neville joined United from Valencia last summer. He has played a total of seven times in the U18s and U19s this season and is yet to score or assist a goal for his new club. He has previously played for Manchester City. Neville is a winger who can also play a central role. Many will be hoping for more from the 16-year-old next season although he turns 17 in just over a month. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Mark Helm: The 17-year-old made a total of eight appearances at U18 and U19 level this season, scoring a single goal. The central midfielder will be looking to play more football next season at this level. He made his debut and scored his first goal in the same game. With many players moving up to the U23s next season, perhaps it will give the player the chance to make a name for himself at this level. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Max Haygarth: The 17-year-old central midfielder made one substitute appearance for the U18s this season after joining the squad in July 2018. He has had a lengthy spell on the sidelines through injury which saw him only able to make his debut in February. Next season will be a big one for him, still able to play at this level and aiming to show his ability at this level in order to move up to the U23s, if it all works out for him. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Connor Stanley: The young winger made ten appearances at U18 level this season, six of those being from the bench. The 17-year-old was previously at Birmingham City but moved to United last summer. He is yet to score a goal or lay on an assist but in his debut season, it was a lot to ask for, especially when you take into account that he’s made few appearances. Next season could be his time. He also made his debut for the U23s in February, coming off the bench. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Ayodeji Sotona: The young winger, known for his speed and trickery made just one substitute appearance at U18 level this season and is still yet to score a goal and provide an assist. The player is eligible to represent both Ireland and Nigeria, although he has played for Ireland at U16 level already. There is certainly more to come from this lad and he could be one to watch out for next season. ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Largie Ramazani: The 18-year-old Belgian winger played a total of 22 times at U18 and U19 level this season, scoring just once with seven assists. He made his U23 debut in January, also scoring his first goal at that level in March. He will not represent United at this level next season and will be seeking to impress those at the higher level, possibly seeking to break into the first team under Solskjaer, maybe not next season though – who knows. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Shola Shoretire: One of the youngest player to make an appearance at this level this season at 15-years-old. Shola Shoretire is an attacking midfielder/forward who seems to prefer playing through the middle but can perform in the wide positions. He only made his debut at this level in March, coming off the bench. There is so much more to come from this young lad. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Anthony Elanga: The young Swedish international made a total of 23 appearances at U18 and U23 level this season, scoring a total of four goals and five assists, all within the U18 level. The player can play as a winger or an attacking midfielder and has shown his ability. At 17, he could still feature at this level next season but made his U23 debut earlier this year, so could be an option for Ricky Sbragia’s side also, which will be great to see. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Mipo Odubeko: The schoolboy made two appearances at U18 level this season, scoring one goal. He obviously has a big future ahead of him. His rise into the youth ranks from schoolboy level will be watched by many as the player seems to have the ability which will help propel him in the game. Looking forward to seeing more from him next season. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Mason Greenwood: The 17-year-old made only 18 appearances in all competitions at this level this season but scored 22 goals, adding a further nine assists to his tally. Greenwood also played in the UEFA Youth League (U19s) this season, making five appearances, scoring five goals and one assist, which shows his talent in this team. Although he will still be eligible to play at this level next season, a place in the first team or at least the U23s will be more likely. I would personally like to see his sent straight to the first team. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

It may not have been a celebratory season for this age group but they have achieved a lot. Many will move upwards to the U23 level and will be looking to forge their careers at the club for the long-term. There will be some who make it but others that will not. There are also players in this group who are just starting out at a professional level and will be raring to go ahead of the new season, after a long summer break, of course. Here’s to another season of exciting youth football.

copyright: JW