Continental experience for Under-23s
Manchester United Under-23s head coach Ricky Sbragia is expecting his players to learn from playing continental opposition in the shape of PSV Eindhoven in Thursday night's Premier League International Cup tie at Leigh Sports Village (kick-off 19:00 GMT, live on MUTV).
The Reds drew 1-1 at Group F leaders Derby County before Christmas in our only outing in the competition this term but follow up the visit of PSV with a final match of the section against Paris Saint-Germain on Friday 25 January, again at Leigh.
The Rams top the table with five points from three games, with PSV second on three points after beating PSG 4-2 at Woking.
Sbragia is expecting his side to benefit from taking on technically sound opponents and he is unlikely to make many changes to the XI that competed against Fulham last Friday.
"It will be difficult," Sbragia told MUTV. "PSV beat PSG, but Derby beat them. They play the usual way - a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formation - and are technically very good. They knock it about but we've got enough to go out there and win the game.
"Against Derby, I felt we should have won it as we had enough chances, we were through one on one a couple of times, but I always felt Derby were maybe stronger than the two European teams. Derby got off to a good start but every game is difficult and it depends as we'll see what PSV bring. We'll play nearly enough the same team and give them the experience they need in Europe.
"The referees are maybe a bit more strict in this competition and pull up a lot of things that don't get pulled up in the English matches, but it's all fair and the officials always do their best."
United are in the process of changing the personnel in the younger age groups, with more players set to follow Ethan Hamilton out of the club on loan. It means individual development is always more important than success at the Under-23 level, particularly in the physical Premier League 2 Division 2.
"I think football-wise, it's been good," added Sbragia. "We're playing in the right manner and try to play from the back. We've been punished when the defending has been a bit slack, we know that.
"In general, though, I'm pleased with them as the results are not doing any justice to how we've played. Most teams look at us and probably have a height advantage. We know, on the physical side, teams tend to be very big and we always mention don't concede at corner-kicks but we missed Ethan. He fills that space and we lost another six-footer. So things like set-plays cause us a problem and, when teams are really direct, we have to deal with it, get on with it and pick up the second ball.
"In general, with the system we try to play, we encourage them as much as we can to play out. That might be taking risks at the back but we want them to take the ball in tight areas."
PSV are likely to provide a different kind of test to the regular domestic opponents and one that should make for interesting viewing on Thursday night.
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