DJ Buffonge in action.

U23s: Young Reds enjoy rare Dutch test

The Manchester United Academy is enjoying a busy start to 2019 after an exciting and eventful first half of the campaign at all levels.

2018 concluded with an epic FA Youth Cup victory over holders Chelsea and progression in the UEFA Youth League after facing different tests from Juventus, Valencia and Young Boys in that prestigious competition, while this year kicked off with four youngsters experiencing life with the first-team squad at the warm-weather training camp in Dubai, as well as one – Tahith Chong – making a promising debut for the senior side against Reading.

On Thursday evening, new challenges lay in store for the Under-23s with the visit of Dutch side PSV Eindhoven in the Premier League International Cup; Paris Saint-Germain’s U23s will be the next overseas opposition to head to the Leigh Sports Village next Friday.  

U23s head coach Ricky Sbragia shuffled his pack for the Group F fixture in the competition which pits domestic Academy sides against elite young teams from the continent, handing several players some valuable game time. Paul Woolston made his competitive debut for the club in goal after signing on the back of a successful trial last year. Matty Willock was back in the engine room following his loan at St Mirren while there were also starts for Italian defender Luca Ercolani and no.10 DJ Buffonge, with Matthew Olosunde back from injury and on the bench, alongside four Under-18s and keeper Alex Fojticek.

Matty Willock.
Matty Willock made his first Under-23s appearance of the season.

As was anticipated, the tie was an ideal opportunity to come up against a different type of opponent with PSV adopting a patient passing approach, providing a real contrast to the more direct and physical style often encountered in Premier League 2 football.

The first shot of the game came from the visitors' Matthias Verreth but it was straight at Woolston and comfortably handled by the keeper, who then kept out a header by captain Joel Piro. United started to ask questions of the Dutch defence with DJ Buffonge's low drive going wide, after some neat play by Willock, while PSV no.1 Youri Roulaux was out smartly to beat Zak Dearnley to a clever through ball by Aidan Barlow on 21 minutes.

Brazilian forward Mauro Junior was prominent as PSV enjoyed a spell of pressure, twice failing to find the target after intricate skill and movement enabled him to find shooting opportunities from promising positions. Although Buffonge's free-kick was helped around the post by Roulaux as the half drew to a close, Mauro Junior served more notice of his intentions with a decent attempt from distance. The shot swerved and dipped over Woolston but, ultimately, dropped wide of goal.

In the second half, Dearnley had a drive pushed away by Roulaux as United created the clearer of the openings, even if it remained a cagey affair. Largie Ramazani came on for his debut at this level and immediately displayed a wonderful piece of control that preceded an ambitious attempt wide of the target. Looking capable of making a breakthrough on the break, Dearnley led one charge but opted for a shot rather than a pass or cross and it was beaten away by Roulaux.

PSV responded with a block by Ro-Shaun Williams and clearing header by Lee O'Connor typical of the kind of resolute defending on show all evening. When substitute Bertalan Kun did fire in a shot on target, Woolston was equal to it, making a smart stop. Lennerd Daneels then went closer to finding a winner when his goalbound effort was deflected wide by skipper Williams.

Dion McGhee became the second young debutant for the Reds, when replacing Willock, and the closest we came to a goal was when Callum Whelan's deceptive well-struck drive moved in the air to force an awkward save out of Roulaux with time running out. Maxime Soules's flicked header missed in stoppage time as Woolston kept a clean sheet.

United are on two points after two games but still have a chance to qualify, particularly if PSG are defeated convincingly next time out, with PSV exiting the competition. Derby County top the group on five points.

Zak Dearnley has a shot.
Striker Zak Dearnley manages to get an attempt on goal.

United: Woolston; Tanner, Ercolani, R. Williams (c), O'Connor; Whelan, Willock (McGhee 84); Barlow, Buffonge (Ramazani 65), Bohui; Dearnley.

Substitutes not used: Fojticek, Olosunde, B. Williams, McCann.

NEXT UP

United conclude the Premier League International group with a tie against Paris Saint-German at Leigh Sports Village next Friday (19:00 GMT kick-off), while the first team are facing Arsenal in the Emirates FA Cup fourth round on the same night.

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