Manchester United defender Luca Ercolani admits it will be an emotional afternoon for him when he competes against Juventus in the UEFA Youth League on Wednesday (15:00 GMT kick-off).
The Italian defender returns to his homeland for the Group H encounter, having helped Nicky Butt's side defeat the Bianconeri youngsters 4-1 in the previous outing in the competition.
The Reds are in fine form, topping the table with three wins out of three, but this will represent a stern test against a Juve team that will be keen to exact revenge for the Leigh Sports Village reverse, when they finished the game with 10 men.
In an exclusive interview with MUTV, the centre-back explained that it will be a sentimental occasion when he turns out again against the club he admired as a child.
“It will be a nice day,
“ he said. ”My family is probably coming to watch and friends will be watching on television. The game is on Sky in Italy. So, it will be emotional, but I will be 100 per cent focused on the game and then we’ll see what happens later.
“I remember Juventus with Pavel Nedved. Hopefully he will be watching our game, because he is in charge of the staff at Juventus at the moment.
“I’ve been to Juventus twice with my dad – one time in a Champions League game against Chelsea, where Juventus won 3-0 in the group stage, and one time it was the semi-final of the Europa League against Benfica but unfortunately they got knocked out. But it’s a nice stadium, the atmosphere is brilliant. It is probably half of Old Trafford in terms of capacity but the atmosphere is very loud. It’s a nice ground.
“I think they built it in an English style. The seats and the crowd are very close to the pitch, so you can actually feel the atmosphere. In Italy they call it the 12th man, because they say when Juventus play at home, they always feel that extra man next to the players.”
United have been exciting to watch in the competition and harbour hopes of going far in the competition, having qualified for the knockout stages for the first time in 2017/18, only to go out to Liverpool after a play-off win at Brodarac in Belgrade.
“I’m quite sure [we can go further],
“ he said. ”This year, it will be important to go through as first in the group, because last season we went through as second, and we had to play an extra game. So, it will be important then to go through to the quarter-finals, so then it is only a few matches to the final. The squad is very strong in the cup.
“For me, it’s a pleasure because when you play with players like Tahith [Chong] and Mason [Greenwood], you know they’re going to score some goals. For a defender, it is nice. But, in general, I think it is a very strong team, and I think we have the ability to go further than last season hopefully. But now, one step at a time, we’ve got Juventus and if we win this game, hopefully, then we’re pretty much through to the knock-out stages, so it’s a very important game.
“It was a challenge against Juventus [last time] because you know you play against mates, you play against Italian guys. And also to test yourself, watch your level because you never know, they play in the Italian league, we play in the English one. So I really enjoyed it, yeah. And fortunately we got the right result.
Coach Butt, of course, has a wealth of experience at European level from his playing days and can pass on some expert knowledge to his young charges.
Although the match represents a real challenge to the side, Ercolani is confident the right preparation will ensure United can pick up another positive result.
“Obviously he [Butt] has given us a lot of experience,
“ added the Italian. ”It is always nice to have a coach who has the experience that you’re having. First of all, because the respect that you have for him is very high, and the feedback that you get from him is very good. He’s a really competitive coach and I love being coached by him.
“He's very honest. He’s straight to you. You know what you have to do with him. In training, he makes sure everyone knows their job. So, when you go on the pitch there is no excuse, you have to perform.”