Manchester United Under-18s coach Neil Ryan says everybody is excited to face holders Chelsea in the third round of the FA Youth Cup at Leigh Sports Village (kick-off 19:00 GMT).
The Reds were handed the tough draw against a club that has has lifted the coveted trophy in six of the past seven seasons, and were beaten finalists in the other. The Londoners have dominated the youth scene of late and are within one Youth Cup success of matching United's proud record of 10 victories.
Chelsea knocked Paul McGuinness's side out of the competition in 2016, when Marcus Rashford led our attack, and also secured a triumph in the Under-18 Premier League final last May after both clubs topped the respective northern and southern divisions.
Clearly, this will be the ultimate test for Ryan's boys, who defeated the Blues 3-0 in our last outing - an Under-18 Premier League Cup tie at the Aon Training Complex. Two of the key contributors in that excellent win - James Garner, who played in defence, and top scorer Mason Greenwood - were on the bench for the first team's defeat to Valencia in the Champions League last Wednesday.
So morale will be high, even though the visitors can potentially draft in more experienced players who are still eligible for the competition - with some of these already gaining senior and much Under-23s experience.
“It’ll be a great opportunity to test ourselves against a really, really good youth team,” Ryan told Inside United, the official club magazine.
“They have an incredible record and it’s a challenge we set to our boys. The third round is now an opportunity to take on the holders and it’s going to be a great night of football for us so we’re all really excited about it.”
“You want to test yourselves against the best opponents and you couldn’t get a more special occasion than the FA Youth Cup. We’ll prepare ourselves right and get ready for it.
”I think the Youth Cup past is around this building and everywhere you go within the club. It’s part of our jobs as staff as there are enough people who are experienced to talk about the history and legacy of the Busby Babes and obviously the Class of ’92. They’re the two stand-out groups in the FA Youth Cup and made a real statement with regards to football, particularly with the five Youth Cups the Babes won in the early days.
“Our boys are more than aware of that history. All the boys who come through our Academy get that education progressing through the ranks from the age of nine, all the way through. The history, culture and legacy is drip-fed into our boys and they are more than aware of how important this competition is to us.”
U18s: United 3 Chelsea 0Video
The club last won the tournament in 2011, with a stellar group that contained the likes of Sam Johnstone, Michael and Will Keane, Ryan Tunnicliffe, Jesse Lingard, Paul Pogba and Ravel Morrison.
Ryan saw first hand how that team grew in stature as the competition progressed, pulling off great victories against Chelsea and Liverpool along the way, and hopes some new names can come to the fore in this season's
“It’s exciting for me too. I remember when we won the FA Youth Cup in 2010/11 with Jesse Lingard, Paul Pogba and that group,” he added.
“Having coached them at the younger ages, I remember the excitement of that for me personally. It’s really thrilling for me to pit my wits against a top, top team and we want to get everyone prepared for that as best as we can. I’m really looking forward to it.
”I remember watching the majority of those games in 2010/11 during the run to the final and I watched the final itself, of course, against Sheffield United. Through the whole club, we could see it was a special group coming through at that point and you could tell what would happen, in the right environment, which it was, with the training and coaching that went into that group. It was of a very, very good level, the stuff going on, and, in the end, we won the trophy. A lot of the boys in that group have obviously gone on to bigger and better things.
Pogba's first Chelsea trip Gallery
Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard got an early taste of Chelsea away, in a 2011 FA Youth Cup semi-final.
“I think you’re proud of any player who goes on and does well – whether it’s in our first team or another club. There were boys in that Youth Cup-winning group who aren’t playing for our first team now but we’re still proud of their achievements. Like we say, every player has a special connection to the club. They had the opportunity in 2011 to write their names in history, and that is the chance we want to give to our boys this year.”
The big game will be shown live on MUTV and a home tie against Brighton & Hove Albion awaits in round four, with the fixture to be played before 19 January 2019.
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