United Youth

Manchester United Reserves & Academy News

Youth Cup Preview: The big stage awaits as U18s take on Chelsea

Posted by nickogs20 on November 27, 2008

ChelseaThe biggest night so far in the careers of most of this current crop of United academy starlets beckons as they meet Chelsea at Old Trafford this evening with a place in the fourth round of the FA Youth Cup at stake.

The competition may still be in its early stages, but for the majority of the squad this will be their first run-out at United’s famous stadium, hopefully in front of a bumper crowd. Kenny Strickland and Danny Welbeck both started in both legs of the 2007 final against Liverpool, but for the rest of the squad (even Matt James, who came on as substitute in the first leg of the final in 2007, and Gary Woods, who was on the bench for both legs), this is a big step up from anything they will have experienced before, and how they deal with that step up will go a long way to deciding whether they progress.

The Reds come into the game in fine form, having won four and drawn two of their last six games in the Premier Academy League. Paul McGuinness’ side have lost just once all season, boast the best defensive record in the country at academy level and have scored four goals in each of their last two games. It’s also worth remembering that the bulk of this side have already won a trophy this season, the Northern Ireland Milk Cup back in August – that should give them valuable experence when it comes to cup football.

McGuinness has pretty much a fully-fit squad to choose from (long-term knee injury victim Scott Moffatt and a couple of other niggling injuries aside), and as such is presented with a number of selection dilemmas ahead of the game. We can (probably) safely assume that Gary Woods will start in goal, Joe Dudgeon will fill the left-back slot, Matt James, Oliver Norwood and Davide Petrucci will all start in midfield and Kiko Macheda will feature in attack.

That leaves a number of positions with question marks, including three-quarters of the back four. Two from Strickland, Scott Wootton and Oliver Gill will line up at centre-back – Strickland and Wootton would be my guess but Gill has played the last three games. If Reece Brown has recovered from the injury he picked up 12 days ago against Bolton, he should start at right-back, with Ryan Tunnicliffe likely to get the nod if Brown is still out. One other possibility is Strickland moving across to the right.

Danny Welbeck - will the Reds striker see his first academy action since January?

Danny Welbeck - will the Reds striker see his first academy action since January?

In midfield, much will depend on the formation the Reds choose to utilise, which in itself will likely depend on whether McGuinness decides to call on the services of Danny Welbeck. Such has been his progress that the Mancunian striker, 18 yesterday, hasn’t played at academy level since January, but Danny remains eligible for selection in the Youth Cup and the temptation to introduce a player who recently lit up Old Trafford with a goal on his Premier League debut to the side will be hard for the United U18 boss to resist.

If Welbeck does come in, it will surely be in partnership with Macheda upfront, meaning a change to the system the Reds have typically used this season, whereby Macheda has led the line alone, supported by the deep-lying Petrucci and advanced wingers. Look for either Petrucci or Norwood to take up a nominally wide midfield role with license to roam if Welbeck does come into the side, with Robbie Brady or Cameron Stewart coming in on the opposite wing in a more orthodox fashion. If Welbeck isn’t involved, the Reds will almost certainly continue with Macheda upfront alone, the spare place going to another winger – again likely to be either Brady or Stewart, although the impressive recent form of schoolboy Ra’vel Morrison may force him into contention.

Competition for places on the United bench is likely to be fierce in itself. Conor Devlin will be the sub keeper, the odd one out of the Strickland/Gill/Wootton selection puzzle will presumably fill another place while Nicky Ajose, Evandro Brandão, Joshua King (if fit), Chris Curran (likewise) and any of those mentioned above who miss out will all compete for at most three spots.

It’s incredibly tough to predict the starting XI, but what the hell, I’ll stick my neck out and predict the following: Woods; Brown (Tunnicliffe if not fit), Strickland, Wootton, Dudgeon; Norwood, Petrucci, James (c), Stewart; Welbeck, Macheda. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Welbeck not included though – the Academy have been in impressive form without him and will fancy their chances either way.

We’ve covered Chelsea in more detail here, but in basic terms, their form thus far this season indicates a team with lots of attacking potential and the ability to beat anyone on their day, but a defence that is definitely there to be got at.

This United side undoubtedly has the ability to get at that defence and, while defensive records don’t tell the whole story, having conceded the least goals of any side in the country there will be a confidence within the side that they can keep the potent Chelsea attack at bay. On paper, especially with home advantage, a United win looks the most likely result, but this is cup football and, if anything, there is even more unpredictability surrounding cup football at this level – witness the Reds’ desperately disappointing exit at home to Carlisle United last season. Tonight is all about rising to – and dealing with – the occasion, as well as the opposition. One thing is for certain – Paul McGuinness will learn a lot about his players.

The game kicks off at 7pm, with MUTV’s live coverage (with commentary from Gary Neville) starting half an hour earlier. Admission at Old Trafford is £5 at the turnstiles (£2 concessions). We’ll have a full report up later on.

One Response to “Youth Cup Preview: The big stage awaits as U18s take on Chelsea”

  1. tom said

    joe dudgeon is my english teacher’s son

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