Neil Wood.

Wood anticipates a youthful Under-23s side

Friday 06 August 2021 15:51

Manchester United Under-23s lead coach Neil Wood has been delighted with his squad's application during pre-season.

The players are excited to get the new campaign under way, with fans back in stadiums, and a challenging but entertaining schedule on the horizon.

With the UEFA Youth League returning, Wood expects his squad will be made up of players of a similar age (under 19) as a number of options for Premier League 2 football have already departed on loan and others spent the first part of the close season with the first team. 

United's summer 2021 ins and outs


As the latest transfer window closes, we recap the Reds' notable signings, loans and departures.

More loan departures are expected before the end of the transfer window at the end of the month and Wood, who worked with all of the second-year scholars from the Under-18s during the camp in Scotland recently, feels teenagers will make up the vast majority of his squad. The one exception, of course, is defender Paul McShane who has returned in a playing coach role and will feature in some of the fixtures.

"I think we've seen in the last two years, the Under-23s have been almost an Under-18s team, Under-19s at a push last year, and I think it will be the same again this season," Wood told us. "I can't see us being much older than 19s. The same group of players will probably service the Under-19s with the Under-18s coming up behind it as well.

“We're really young and will be really stretched but there is plenty of football and every player will get opportunities to impress out on the pitch and a lot of training time."

Wood was pleased with the energy and effort expended in Edinburgh and during a series of friendly matches against QPR, Hibernian, Stalybridge Celtic and Hull City.

"The attitude of the boys and the mentality in training has been at a really high level," he said. "From the coaching staff's perspective, we're really pleased with how it has gone.

“They're very sharp. You've seen the intensity and how quick it was. The attitude on display was really impressive. We have had a lot up [in the first team] so it is a small group of players and we've used a lot of Under-18s. We're mixing players in - some are carrying knocks and some are newly into the full-time programme so we have to really balance it. 

“We've got some second-year pros and new lads who have come up from the Under-18s and we're making sure everyone gets fair game-time. Certainly, I think the programme looks really exciting with the Under-18s, UEFA Youth League, Under-23s league and then the EFL [Papa John's] Trophy. We have a pool of players here that will service all four competitions and would imagine there will be quite a lot of players moving between all the competitions."

The Reds wrap pre-season up with a trip to Kidderminster Harriors on Friday night before opening the Premier League 2 campaign with a rearranged home game against Leicester City on Sunday 16 August, kicking off at 14:00 BST at Leigh Sports Village.

Wood believes the youngsters can draw inspiration from those who have made a real impact in the senior squad already, such as Anthony Elanga and Shola Shoretire.

"I think they can see that their friends are not too far away," he added. "Only last season, they were sharing the dressing room with some of the boys who got an opportunity to go with the first team.

“It's not too far away but there is a lot of work that goes into that. It doesn't come automatically, it's not just a given you're going to get that. You have to work to really earn that right to get that opportunity and I think they all know that as well. It's not just that you move on to the next age group any more. What you put in is what you're going to get out of it."