This season a new competition has started for Under 19 teams of all the Champions League qualifiers. The teams are all in the same groups of 4 as the senior teams are and the top 2 go through to the next round.
United are at a bit of a disadvantage over some of their rivals as United don’t usually have an U-19 team, instead having an U-18 team and an U-21. Nicky Butt is in charge of the team with Paul Scholes as his assistant.
It’s been a mixed bag of results so far with United winning the opening game against Bayer Leverkusen at Salford, 4-3, with the winning goal coming from the spot in the last minute following a see-saw game
The second game saw us go down 2-1, away at Donestk, with United falling victim to a late goal.
Next game saw Real Sociedad visit Salford and although the 1-0 loss suggests a close game, the truth is that they took United apart and should have won by a few more goals. It was with some trepidation we made the return visit to Sociedad but the fears were unfounded as United came away with a 2-0 win. Once again, it was the Basques who had the majority of possession and chances created but it was United who took their chances for a moral boosting win.
The most recent game saw us away at Bayer Leverkusen. The Germans had looked a very well organised team in the leg at Salford and were very quick on the break, although United did get through their defence on a good few occasions.
United lined up with Joel Pereira in goal, a back four of Janko, Grimshaw, McNair and Rowley. A midfield of Byrne, Rothwell, Pearson and Weir, Andreas Pereira (no relation to the goalkeeper) playing behind lone striker James Wilson.
Saidy Janko was quick to catch the eye as he held off a couple of strong challenges to win and then clear the ball. Janko was signed on transfer deadline day from FC Zurich after he had impressed United scouts and coaches during last season Blue Stars Tournament. He was born in Switzerland and has a Gambian father and a Swiss/ Italian mother. His first couple of months were held up at United and, due to red tape, he couldn’t play until November. He is a strong looking lad who looks like he can play anywhere on the right side of the pitch but he was played at full back for this game. Leverkusen soon took a grip of the game and were keeping good possession of the ball whilst United too often looked for a long ball to Wilson which rarely reached its target. Just past the quarter hour mark, that possession led to the opening goal from Marc Brasnic who’s shot from outside the area beat Pereira in net at his right hand post.
United continued to look lethargic and 10 minutes after the first goal things got much worse for United as centre back and captain, Liam Grimshaw was sent off for a foul when he was the last man. The Leverkusen player took the ball in his stride and as he ran across the path of Grimshaw, he clipped his heels and off he went.
One of the big differences these boys will have noticed is the way the games are refereed. In this country, refs, in the main, don’t like flashing cards about, instead relying on talking to players and making it plain to them just what the ref expects. On the continent its completely different as the refs mirror their senior officials and are happy to book players for every challenge. This season has seen players sent off in this competition for challenges that wouldn’t merit a yellow card at home. You can argue that players have to learn from the off about foreign refs and what to expect and that British officials are not preparing them for when they step up. Whatever the argument, I know I prefer the British way where some of the best refereeing performances are seen at Youth level where common sense can prevail.
The free kick for the Grimshaw foul was from just outside the box and was whipped over the wall and onto the crossbar. Sadly for United, it was Leverkusen who were more alert as Barendt followed the ball in and headed the rebound into the net. 2-0 down and down to 10 men, United had a mountain to climb now.
The only half chance United created in the first half was a lovely turn and shot from James Wilson that flashed wide. Wilson is a rare breed at United, a home grown striker that should make the grade. He is a wonderful talent with bagfuls of skill and speed to match. Although mainly left footed, he scores goals with either foot and isnt bad in the air either. The way he rounds a keeper when in a one on one with them is a joy to behold and I truly think he is the best young striker I have seen at United in decades.
At the break, it remained 2-0 and United looked like they had no chance of making a recovery. That thought lasted a full 6 seconds of the second half as United were awarded a penalty and Leverkusen had their keeper sent off! A lightning quick break from the kick off led to a ball being played in for Wilson who beat the keeper to the ball and was brought down for the penalty. The red card was harsh as Wilson was heading away from goal when brought down but that illustrates my earlier point about overseas refs.
Wilson took the penalty and beat the keeper with ease to put United right back in the game. This turned the game on its head as United started to knock the ball about with confidence and created clear chance after chance
Just before the hour mark Callum Evans (no relation to Johnny) and Josh Harrop came on to replace Rowley and Byrne, Harrops arrival having a very good effect on the game as he began to grow into his role. United really should have been level when a close range Wilson header hit the Leverkusen keeper in the face and from the rebound he repeated his trick this time keeping a McNair shot out with his face again.
Ben Pearson was by now running the midfield show. This small stocky lad reminds me of Nicky Butt in many ways although he does have work to do if he is to be thought of as a possible future first teamer.
United had the Germans pinned well back into their half and the feeling was that it was just a matter of time until the equaliser went in and would it leave enough time for United to go hunting for a winner
U-18 top scorer Ash Fletcher came on for the last 10 minutes, replacing Andreas Pereira in an effort to get that all important goal and with 2 minutes of normal time to go he almost did just that but his header from a free kick went agonisingly wide.
That was Uniteds last chance as 3 minutes into injury time, Leverkusen broke out of defence and in seconds the ball was in the United net to put the game beyond doubt. There was still time for James Weir to get sent off for a second yellow card.
3-1 to Leverkusen it finished and means that United must beat Donetsk at Salford to progress to the next round, anything less and we are out.