Butt ready to face Gerrard's Liverpool
Manchester United's Head of Academy Nicky Butt says he had a feeling the Reds would draw fierce rivals Liverpool in the UEFA Youth League as he looks forward to facing Steven Gerrard's Merseysiders at Prenton Park on Wednesday.
The Reds do battle in the 15:00 GMT kick-off and Butt has echoed Gerrard's thoughts that it is a game he would love to have played in at a similar age. The challenge is for the players to rise to the occasion and perform to the peak of their powers on this big stage.
“I think it's good for all different reasons,” Butt told ManUtd.com.
“It doesn't disrupt the weekly training plan too much. Obviously, going away to eastern Europe and different places can mess up the training week and have a knock-on effect for the other teams. But the main thing is it's such a great draw against the big rivals of the club. It's the Champions League and it's massive for our kids and we're really looking forward to it.
"Actually, I had a feeling it would be them, being honest with you. Some of our lads need to rise to pick their games up to a new level because that is what they [Liverpool] will do. That's what happens in Liverpool-Manchester United games.
“I think it's a really good competition for the kids. When I was growing up, with Stevie, the biggest game you play in is the FA Youth Cup at that level. Even though that's big, the next thing the big clubs want to win is European Cups - it's the pinnacle really. First and foremost, you want to win your domestic league but the Champions League has a real aura and prestige about it. Like Stevie has said, I'm the same and I would love to have played in a game like this. I say it to my lads all the time - they should be really passionate about these games as they're so special and it's a small insight into the first team and what some of their heroes do week in and week out.
"These are big games - there's not getting away from it. Whenever you play your rivals, whether you're 12 years old, or 36 or 37 at the end of your career, it's massive. Certainly for me, when I was a player, it was the first game I looked for on the fixture list when I was on holiday. They know how important it is and how passionate it is going to be. Ultimately, Steven Gerrard and his coaching staff will be saying the same to them. They're very much like us, with a massive history in Europe, very passionate about their city and the football club, like we are. They're getting the same messages as us and we need to go right from the first whistle and not leave anything on the pitch.
The short trip to Tranmere Rovers' home will be in contrast to the trip to Belgrade in the play-off to face Brodarac in unusual surroundings, on a 3G surface at the top of a shopping centre in freezing conditions in the Serbian capital.
“You want to get a lot of different environments within the competition,” Butt added.
“We had one last time with the weather and the pitch and going into the unknown. Now it's a bit more familiar for us, only an hour down the road, and most of them have played against each other several times. But take nothing away from the game - I've told them it's one they've got to be up for if we don't want to come unstuck.
"I was looking back at the Brodarac game and maybe I was a bit harsh beforehand and a bit at half-time. If you look at the conditions, it was a really tough place to go to play football. We didn't really play football, we just dug it out, and that's something you learn. Everyone at our level in football wants to play the perfect football match but I don't think there is one.
If the scores are level after 90 minutes, the game will go straight to a penalty shoot-out with Manchester City awaiting the victors in the next round.
"I'm not one for practising penalties,
“ explained Butt. ”You can practice all you want but, unless you go running around the pitch for 96 minutes and then put a few thousand behind the goal, you can't replicate it. They do some of it with the technique work, week in and week out, but I don't think it's the right message practising them. It's not the first team and a needs must that we have to win it that way. It's about enjoying it, the Manchester United way, and if I was sitting them down already and saying you five will be on penalties, it sends the wrong message.
“I hope we get a good attendance, even though I think a later kick-off would have given people more time to get in from school or work. We'll see but we want a chance for them to play in a stadium with a crowd. It'd be better to play a bit later but those are the rules of the competition.”
As for the team news, several players have been drafted into the UEFA Youth League squad but that will not necessarily mean they will be involved.
“We've got a few who have got their international clearance,” explained Butt.
“The new signings, so we've just added them onto it. It's not like it's a massive thing as you can have up to 40 players. They're clear to play so why wouldn't you put them in the squad? You don't know what's going to happen in football. One minute, someone can be struggling in the Under-15s, Under-16s or Under-17s and they get one or two games and are flying.
"That's the reason behind that - all the lads will get a chance if they are on the level to experience this great competition. Everyone is fine - there are one or two little niggles but nothing to worry about. I've got a full squad to pick from.
The Merseysiders are without injured centre-forward Rhian Brewster but fellow striker Ben Woodburn is available.
Defender George Tanner performed well in the 2-0 win at Brodarac in the previous round and is keen to help the Reds progress further in the competition.
“It's a good draw - there's huge rivalry so it's a massive game for us,” said United full-back Tanner.
“I think Liverpool are a good test. They are up there in the Under-18 league and there's big competition between us two at the moment.
"We play them in the last league game and it's very tight at the top of the table so playing them on Wednesday can leave us in good stead for that as well. I know a lot will be made of Nicky Butt coming up against Steven Gerrard, after their rivalry on the pitch, but we don't really worry about that. We'll focus on our game really.
“It's the biggest competition we're going to play in at Under-19 level. It's not often you get a chance to play in Europe and it's good experience for us all. I wouldn't say it's disappointing to draw an English side as we've been away and got that experience of playing foreign teams. We've got to do it against an English team now. We've done well as a squad getting through the group stages and we'll see how far we can go.”