United's first season in EFL Trophy with under-21 side already a resounding success

With three wins out of three, Manchester United’s under-21 side has had a resoundingly successful start to their EFL Trophy campaign. It’s the first time the Reds have entered the competition. The group stage ties were filled with impressive performances.

Teden Mengi stood out in central defence as the 17-year-old continues to adjust magnificently to the step up from the under-18s. Mason Greenwood netted a dramatic winner for United at Doncaster Rovers on Tuesday night and deserves all the plaudits, too.

EFL Trophy offers great chances for United youngsters

While other elite Premier League sides took the chance to play in the EFL Trophy when first invited back in 2016, United did not. It was a decision that made some sense. The competition’s history and traditions have been ruined by the changes in rules.

Most Football League supporters now see it as farcical. But for United and their young players, it represents an unmissable opportunity.

Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images

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Though Doncaster and other teams may not field their strongest sides, this is a taste of senior football that United’s kids cannot get anywhere else. On Tuesday, both Greenwood and Tahith Chong started at the Keepmoat Stadium.

That leaves them unable to play against Chelsea in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday night. But a full match against Doncaster is worth a lot more than even a 10-minute cameo at Stamford Bridge.

Greenwood has already tasted senior football. But for Mengi in defence or midfielder Ethan Galbraith it’s a first chance to test themselves. Galbraith delivered on Tuesday with a swerving volley that drew United level in the second half.

United aren’t even in the top division of Premier League 2. This is a significant step up, regardless of whether the opposition if League One or lower. It’s a genuine challenge for the academy players.

Far too often in the English game, promising talents fade away into the lower leagues because it’s so easy to drift in the youth leagues. In three games now, United have had the quality and commitment to win against senior players with years of experience behind them. Their experience, now, is much enriched by that.

Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images

Mengi an example of impact of EFL Trophy

Take Teden Mengi, for example. Blessed with great physique and strength, he was guilty of relying upon that and his pace to help him out at under-18s level. The step up to under-23s level, but particularly the senior football of this competition has helped him to develop as a defender.

Mengi’s reading of the game has improved greatly, as has his positioning and composure.

Those are the factors that make or break a young defender like Mengi. This tournament has so many faults but the benefits to United’s young players is enormous. Now they are marching onwards to Wembley after topping their group.

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Life-long Manchester United fan with a strong interest in the club's academy. Host of the Manchester United Weekly Podcast and United Through Time. First game at Old Trafford was the 7-1 rout of AS Roma in 2007.