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Starting XI: The Manchester United Academy 2020-21

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Checking in on the next generation ahead of the new season

Huddersfield Town v Manchester United U23 Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

Everything that you need to know about the Manchester United academy ahead of the 2020/21 season...

(1) It’s official: After a long delay, the Manchester United U23s were finally promoted to Premier League 2 Division One last month. Neil Wood’s side finished the truncated 2019/20 season in second place behind unbeaten West Ham and well ahead of West Brom in third. The top-flight of Premier League 2 will be a big step up for the young Reds, but should stand them in good stead as the players prepare for a first team breakthrough.

(2) Last weekend, the U23s continued their preseason work with a 3-3 friendly draw against Huddersfield Town. Mark Helm, Anthony Elanga, and Hannibal Mejbri — all names to watch — got on the scoresheet for Manchester United. Mejbri, in particular, has a shot at superstardom and could be in line for a first team chance later this season.

(3) Here’s Mejbri, cool as you like, with the equalizer against Huddersfield:

(4) Speaking of Huddersfield Town, the Terriers appear to be leading the pack to sign James Garner on loan. The 19-year-old midfielder has been tantalizingly close to breaking into the Manchester United first team over the last year or so, but will be well served with more senior experience on loan.

(5) Other loan news: Tahith Chong, who just signed a new deal in March, will play for Werder Bremen this season. 19-year-old Aliou Traore will also head out on loan, returning to his native France to join Stade Malherbe Caen in Ligue 2.

(6) The Manchester United U21s will be back in the EFL Trophy this season. The Reds won their group a year ago before falling short in the knockout stage. This competition, which pits Premier League academy sides against lower-league senior opposition, riles up some purists — but also provides invaluable experience for the youngsters. United will be in Group B with Morecambe, Rochdale, and Salford City.

(7) Yes, the same Salford City owned by several prominent members of the Class of ‘92. Sizable investment from the likes of the Neville brothers, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, and David Beckham has spurred the Ammies all the way up to League Two. The U21s actually open the season next week (September 9) at the Peninsula Stadium against Salford City and all eyes will be on this one.

(8) At the U18 level, Manchester United plucked both Joe Hugill and Logan Pye from the Sunderland academy. Pye is an England U16 international, while Hugill looks very promising as a goalscorer up front. The Reds will owe compensation for these signings (probably in the six figure range), but both seem like real talents and well worth the minor investment.

(9) In 2019, Manchester United snagged mega-talent Omari Forson after he left Tottenham Hotspur — and, this summer, held off reported interest from Arsenal to hang onto the 16-year-old prospect. Forson is tipped for big things, so remember the name.

(10) Nicky Butt on the academy’s main goal:

As a club ... our goal is to get players into the first team. We’re the best at that. We’re still getting players into the first team now, and that’s the be all and end all. With that, we want to give the kids the environment to become winners and enjoy their football. Young people enjoy it when they’re winning all the time and scoring goals. So it’s a very fine balance.

(11) More from Butt:

We’ve got to do what we feel is the best way: giving young people a chance by playing them young in competitions and letting them make mistakes, letting them get a beating, and letting us all sit there in the changing room really disappointed.

If you look at them around the changing room, you know they’re getting beat but they’re going to become players and it’s much, much better than looking at older boys, who are past that level, winning games. There’s no end product.