Warren Joyce’s under-23 side put in an impressive performance in their first game of the Premier League International Cup as they picked up three points against an older, strong Villarreal B side.
After an hour delay to kick-off as a result of a power cut, leaving Leigh Sports Village without floodlights as a lightning storm went on overhead, Villarreal began the game more alert than their United counterparts. Right-back Edgar Ié woke up Joyce’s youngsters with a shot on Johnstone’s goal before the Yellow Submarine went even closer to opening the scoring early on, Lazo poking a ball through to Javi Garcia for a clear shot on goal that the Spaniard couldn’t quite reach.
Manchester United Starting XI: Johnstone, El Fitouri, Tuanzebe, Poole, Riley, Scott, Redmond (Olosunde, ’45), McTominay, Hamilton (Mitchell, ’90+4), Harrop (Kehine, ’80), Willock.
The Spanish third division side looked composed when in possession and were controlling the opening stages of the game until Joe Riley conjured up a chance for United to kickstart a period of attacks on Villarreal’s goal. The left-back stormed forward, muscled his way through two defenders before a third tackled him in the penalty area moments before he could poke the ball through to Matty Willock, this week’s midfielder playing as a striker having scored in the Manchester Derby last Friday.
Villarreal Starting XI: Femenias, Ie, Alfonso (Peris, ’45), Bueno, Fernandez, Morlanes, Garcia (Carlos Martinez), Guerra, Gonzalez, Raba, Lazo (Aitor Cantalapiedra, ’65).
Further chances followed, with Harrop booked for simulation in the box after debutante Ethan Hamilton’s marauding charge down the left flank creating an opportunity. Moments earlier, Harrop had United’s first real chance as a long-range sweeping shot softly rolled wide of Femeanis’ left-post.
After extremely heavy rain prior to kick-off, the pitch was extremely quick and Villarreal’s players saw mildly heavy touches roll away at frightening speeds. Harrop capitalised on one earlier before Ethan Hamilton did so in the centre of the pitch, taking the ball away from a Villarreal player, unable to quickly move on the ball because of poor control. Hamilton, 17, drove forward with Harrop by his side, patiently awaiting the ball. The left-winger waited and waited to offload the ball, doing so only when he was extremely close to Femeanis’ goal, at which point Harrop received the ball and scored the game’s only goal with a clinical finish.
United were excellent until the break, where Matthew Olosunde replaced Devonte Redmond in central midfield. Villarreal brought on older players, with two of their substitutes 27 and 30, increasing the challenge for a young United side containing multiple players out of position.
Yet they coped, and coped extremely well. Axel Tuanzebe, the new captain of Joyce’s side, came out of defence to show his usual abilities on the ball. He had a shot parried after a wonderful turn that left his marker for dead, before following it up, only for the flag to up for offside. Later in the game, his composure was key to retaining the one-goal lead during the final few moments.
The largest threat for United came as Johnstone was beaten by a good shot from Mario González, but it struck Johnstone’s right-post and flew away from the goal. Villarreal also had an opportunity from a free-kick in the very final moments of the game, but couldn’t reach a teasing cross to beat Johnstone. Raba had an audacious chip go wide, too.
United, in fact, had multiple chances late on, despite needing to retain their one-goal lead. Tosin Kehinde was brought on at 80 minutes in a very non-defensive substitution from Joyce, perhaps looking to consolidate his lead rather than protect it. Regan Poole and Matty Willock kept the ball excellently in the closing stages, even creating a chance each rather than wasting time by the corner flag. It may not have been excellent game management, but it fulfils the desire for our young players to play the “United Way”.
Overall it was a fine performance against very strong opposition and sets United on their way to progressing in this tournament. For more details on how the tournament is formatted, check our under-23s team profile here.