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Starting XI: The Manchester United U18s Edition

It could have been a season to remember for the Under-18s

Manchester United v Lincoln City - FA Youth Cup Photo by Charlotte Tattersall/Getty Images

Everything that you need to know about the Manchester United U18s...

(1) For Neil Ryan’s U18 side, it’s been FA Youth Cup or bust in 2019/20. That competition has always been a point of emphasis inside the Manchester United academy, so all involved were undoubtedly thrilled to reach the semifinals before the recent COVID-19 outbreak suspended the season. Whether that match will ever be played is still up in the air.

(2) The Reds last won the FA Youth Cup in 2011 — by defeating Harry Maguire’s Sheffield United in the final. The future United captain made a big impression that day in a losing effort.

(3) This year’s run to the semifinals began with a third-round win over Lincoln City courtesy of a Dillon Hoogewerf brace. The U18s followed that up with another 2-0 win over Norwich City at Carrow Road. That night, Charlie McCann scored a penalty early in the second half and captain Teden Mengi sealed the deal with a strong header late on.

(4) After the big win at Norwich, Neil Ryan spoke about the importance of matches like this:

This is what we want, to put the boys into this environment of stadiums and crowds. It was not a huge [crowd], but a good one and there was noise there and it’s about being able to play under these little pressures that they can build in their head.

Being at this club, it comes thick and fast, where you’re playing in front of crowds, but they all stood up to the test. From the kickoff, we controlled it really well and I’m pleased with the group. The boys who came off the bench applied themselves well, too.

(5) The Norwich win advanced the young Reds to a home tie against old rivals Leeds United at Old Trafford. Dillon Hoogewerf, again, proved the difference. The 17-year-old Dutch wunderkind scored the winner, as he headed a Reece Devine cross into the bottom corner — all in front of the watching Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The only downside, though, came as Hoogewerf limped off with a hamstring injury.

(6) Nicky Butt, the club’s head of first-team development, on the FA Youth Cup and a special night for the kids at Old Trafford:

We’re massive on the FA Youth Cup as a club, as we have been for many years. We’re very good at developing players and not putting too much pressure on the U18s at league level.

When it comes to the FA Youth Cup, it’s time to put the lads on the pitch to go and show what they’ve got and show a winning mentality under the floodlights at Old Trafford. It is when we have to put pressure on them.

(7) Butt continued on striking the right balance between results and development:

There are games where you want to put a bit of pressure on to win, as well as development. Wednesday in the FA Youth Cup is definitely one of those.

When it comes to the FA Youth Cup, it’s very much my belief and all the coaches’ belief, when we speak to the players, that this is not a Saturday game against just another team.

You have to go out and do it because, unless we know you’ve got that in your system, we can’t just say, “It’s development and results don’t matter,” all the time.

(8) A 2-1 in the quarterfinals over Wigan — United goals scored by Shola Shoretire and Deji Sotona — set up a much-anticipated semifinal match with Chelsea. Yep, the same Blues that United knocked out of this competition last season. Sadly, this one has been indefinitely postponed due to the COVID-19 health crisis.

(9) If the semifinal against Chelsea does get played in the coming weeks (or months), the delay might actually benefit Manchester United. As noted above, Dillon Hoogewerf injured his hamstring in the win over Leeds and has not played since. If the time off allows Hoogewerf to heal up and play a part in the semifinals, that would be a big boost for Neil Ryan’s side.

(10) Unfortunately, the U18s’ cup magic hasn’t quite carried over to league play. They sit sixth in the Under-18 Premier League North, with any hopes of challenging for top spot having disappeared a long time ago. On the bright side, the U18s have shown some signs of life lately — thumping Sunderland 4-0 and then upsetting Everton 3-2 at Finch Farm.

(11) There’s a ton of talent in this U18 side, ranging from the blistering pace of Deji Sotona on the left wing to Hannibal Mejbri, Anthony Elanga, and the ambitiously-named Zidane Iqbal. Tops among them, though, is Dillon Hoogewerf. The 17-year-old made the jump to Manchester United last summer from Ajax — and has hit the ground running with seven goals across three competitions this season. He's not big, but packs a lot of power into his small frame. Expect to hear a lot more out of him in the years to come.