Young Reds primed for Dortmund challenge
Manchester United’s Under-19s are looking forward to the challenge of taking on German side Borussia Dortmund in the UEFA Youth League last 16 on Tuesday night.
The Reds qualified for the knockout stage by topping Group F before Christmas with wins over Villarreal, Atalanta and BSC Young Boys.
The UEFA Youth League mirrors the UEFA Champions League at the group stages, after which the group winners qualify immediately for the last 16 and the group runners-up head into play-offs, where they play against teams who have qualified for the tournament by winning their domestic leagues.
Our opponents Dortmund finished second in their group and triumphed over Italian side Empoli in the play-offs.
“It’s a big club, a very, very good club,” defender Bjorn Hardley said of Tuesday's opposition.
“I think we have a good team as well, and we are ready for them. Our confidence is very high and I think we have a good team, a good spirit in the team. Everyone pushes each other and encourages each other.
“It’s a knockout phase and everything can happen [like] penalties, extra-time.
“I think the support the last few games is amazing, so I hope it’s going to be a full stadium. Every supporter is going to help us so I hope it’s going to be full.”
The UEFA Youth League is one of several cup competitions that the Academy teams compete in. The Under-18s reached the U18 Premier League Cup quarter-finals and have qualified for the FA Youth Cup semi-finals while the Under-23s gained great experience in the EFL Trophy by playing against senior sides.
For this set of players, many of whom regularly turn out for the Under-23s in the league campaigns, the Youth League can be viewed as the most exciting part of the season.
“I think it’s the pinnacle of our season really,” midfielder Charlie Savage said.
“Dortmund is a tough game. It’s great to play against different teams from different countries. It’s a different challenge, but a challenge we embrace.
“This is our first go at the Youth League as a set of players. We didn’t play in it last year [due to COVID-19] or the year before, and a cup’s always nice, so hopefully we can win.
“I also hope many fans can come and support, because this is like preparation for the Champions League, and the Champions League is 70,000 [watching], so maybe if a few thousand can come down and support us, that’d be great.”
The match kicks off at 20:00 GMT at Leigh Sports Village, where the Under-23s play most home games. It will also be shown live on MUTV.
The platform that this competition provides is clear. It was only a few months ago that Anthony Elanga was scoring in the UEFA Youth League. Only last week he scored his first UEFA Champions League goal.
Playing in Elanga’s position against Dortmund could be pacey French winger Noam Emeran, who joined the Reds in 2019 from Amiens and is enjoying his best season so far.
“We are very excited to play this game,” Noam said.
“We need to be ready, straight on it. It’s going to be a tough test against a great team.
“I have heard about Dortmund, that they are a good, strong team, but we are a very good team as well. We have good players, and I think it’s going to be a great game.
“We play at home [which] is a very good point for us, with the crowd. We just need to be ready for everything that’s coming, [even if it’s] penalties or extra-time.”
Free tickets are available to all supporters here. Kick-off is at 20:00 GMT at Leigh Sports Village. Fans can also watch the match live on MUTV, with coverage beginning 15 minutes before kick-off.