Under-23s in live MUTV action on Sunday
Manchester United face Tottenham in front of the MUTV cameras on Sunday, looking to make it three wins on the bounce in Premier League 2.
The young Reds were beaten at Morecambe in the Papa John's Trophy in midweek but had already guaranteed qualification for the knock-out stages. The return to league action, in the live 17:00 GMT kick-off this weekend, presents the perfect opportunity to show the team's true colours.
Lead coach Neil Wood felt the 4-0 scoreline flattered the League Two team but he will look for a response at the weekend.
“We had a large amount of possession for big periods of the game and dominated the play but couldn't break them down,” he explained to us.
“The biggest lesson for us is they get one chance, and it's a goal. Two chances - two goals.
“The disappointing thing for us, which we have to correct and get better at, is not giving soft chances and soft goals away. We've got to get better at making our chances as well but this was great experience as we don't get these games too often against first-teams.”
The Spurs game should be an entertaining affair, with tweaks in formation an interesting facet of United's play of late at this level. The side even switched to a 3-4-4 formation in the latter stages at Morecambe and the tactical flexibility has helped reap positive results in the last two matches, against Everton and Brighton & Hove Albion.
Arnau Puigmal is one player who embodies this as he is capable of operating at wing-back or in central midfield, and he is showing promising signs of combining well with Hannibal when driving forward, none more so than when bagging the final goal in the 5-2 victory at Brighton and again when unlucky not to open the scoring in the Papa John's Trophy tie.
“We trialled it [three central defenders] against Everton because obviously Marcos [Rojo] and Brandon [Williams] were down,” Wood told us.
“We had some first-team players so we had to change the system a little bit to accommodate them but, when Marcos went off, we flipped it back to 4-3-3. I thought we'd have another go at it in a friendly at The Cliff with all the lads that weren't involved in the FA Youth Cup, so it was a mixture of Under-17s to Under-19s and we played really well.
“Going into Brighton, we tweaked it again a little bit and it worked a treat in the first half. Brighton expected us to be 4-3-3, I think, and were a little bit confused about what we were doing, which helped us. Then we flipped it back to 4-3-3 again when they got back to 3-2 and the pressure started coming. We seamlessly slipped back into formation and got back into the game. It shows a good adaptability and they can take on different messages and the requirements of the different formations. It's good for their learning as well.
“Generally, if you're a good footballer, you can lend yourself to most positions. Arnau did that at Brighton. He started off at wing-back, and I gave him the licence to attack, but also made a little tactical switch - at any point, he and Alvaro [Fernandez] could come inside and play as a double pivot in there with Ethan Galbraith. Good players are intelligent enough to do that and, when we flipped back to a 4-3-3 formation, he went into centre-midfield which is more of his natural position anyway.
“Big credit to him for being able to do that. He's an intelligent player and was able to take that on board.”
There are likely to be opportunities for younger players again, against Spurs, with Fernandez and Shola Shoretire scoring their first goals at Under-23s level in the win over Brighton, and adapting well to life in Premier League 2.
“The most important thing is they step up and make an impact,” stressed Wood.
“And they've done that. Even Hannibal, Will Fish, Shola, Alvaro, Joe [Hugill], all the lads who have stepped up have been training well and working hard. They're fighting to play and fighting to impress. They're making an impact in their own way in training and big games and it's a big positive for me.
“If you're going to step up from the younger ages, you can't just make the numbers up and ease your way in, or have doubts over whether you should or shouldn't be here. Those boys have stepped up and taking the bull by the horns by working hard to improve every day. Once they get a chance, they make an impact in any game they play.
“If they carry on doing that in training, improving individually and as a team as well. I think we can have quite a good season.”
Influential midfielder Galbraith is set to be back in the fold, after making his competitive debut for the senior Northern Ireland side in midweek, while Anthony Elanga should be available to start after coming off the bench at Morecambe.
Teden Mengi and Facundo Pellistri played in the Papa John's Trophy tie but have also been training with the first-team.
Watch the match live and in full on MUTV on Sunday, with kick-off at 17:00 GMT.