Manchester United’s under-21 campaign kicks off this weekend, with the first game taking place on Saturday.
The first month could have a transitional feel, with players adjusting as they step up from the under-18s, while others may begin the season with the 21s, before being sent out on loan deals.
The biggest aspect to note this season is the name change. Per a Premier League decision, this is now the under-21s once again, and no longer the under-23s.
United are in the top flight of the Premier League 2, one of 14 teams in the division. Last season United finished a respectable sixth place, and improvement from seventh the previous campaign.
Early under-21 fixtures
Manchester United’s first under-21 fixture will be held away at Arsenal. Here is a look at the first six games of the season, several of which take place on Friday evenings…
- Arsenal (A) Saturday August 6, 1pm
- Crystal Palace (H) Friday August 12, 7pm
- Everton (A) Friday August 19, 7pm
- Fulham (H) Friday August 26, 7pm
- Carlisle (A) EFL Trophy, Tuesday August 30, 7.30pm
- Liverpool (H), Saturday September 3, 2pm
Under-21 players to watch
As referred to earlier, departures could thin United’s squad and create opportunities for others. For instance, it’s possible Hannibal and Shola Shoretire could begin the season with the under-21s against Arsenal this weekend, before being sent out on loan.
United will also have new under-21 player coach Tom Huddlestone available for selection. Even at 35, he is eligible to play in matches as an overage player.
Marc Jurado: Spanish defender Marc Jurado captained the under-18s last season and will now step up to play a lead role at under-21 level.
The right-back signed from Barcelona two years ago, and he will be inspired by Alvaro Fernandez’s storming performances last season which saw him named United reserve player of the year.
Fernandez, a year older, has earned a loan move away to Preston, and Jurado will hope to continue his own development as he steps up.
Toby Collyer: Manchester United signed Toby Collyer from Brighton earlier this year, with a view to this season.
The 18-year-old is an England youth international and plays as a defensive midfielder, a position where the first team need players. It will be fascinating to see if he can establish himself as a key part of the under-21 side.
Sam Mather: Sam Mather was prolific at under-18s level last season, scoring 10 goals and providing 13 assists.
The 17-year-old did step up to under-21 level last season, but only played a handful of minutes. Now he could be ready to play a more prominent role.
Charlie McNeill: Charlie McNeill began last season leading the line for the under-21s last season, before the return of D’Mani Mellor from loan bumped him back down the 18s.
McNeill turns 19 in September and will now be expected to start kicking on at this level. He has scored 40 goals for United’s academy teams over the past two seasons, and with United short on strikers at first team level, it would be great to see McNeill start to find the net regularly.
Isak Hansen-Aaroen: FA Youth Cup winner Isak Hansen-Aaroen is a special talent, who featured for the first team at the weekend against Rayo Vallecano.
He trained with the first team again this week, and while there could be a promotion in the pipeline for him, his best shot at regular football is still with the under-21s.
The Norwegian midfielder has mainly played for the under-18s since joining. He turns 18 later in August and like McNeill, United will look to him to start displaying his best form for the under-21s.
Mateo Mejia: This could finally be the season Mateo Mejia has been waiting for. The young striker has barely played since joining from Real Zaragoza three years ago, after a series of injuries which required an operation.
Now fit again, Mejia scored the winner for the under-21s against Kidderminster in pre-season. He may only have one season left at United to secure his future, and he will be desperate to make the most of it.