#under23s: Who are the 8 Man United youngsters set for first team chances?

Joel Pereira

joel castro pereira GK

The Portuguese goalkeeper spent the first half of the season on loan with Belenenses. Having impressed in the Primeira Liga, he has had the attention of Benfica, linked with a permanent transfer. He made his first team debut for Man United in January as a substitute vs Wigan in the FA Cup.

Mourinho has repeatedly namedropped Pereira, backing him to “be the best Portuguese goalkeeper of the next generation”.

Born in Switzerland, Joel joined United in 2012 from Neuchetal Xamax after being recommended by European scouts David Friio and Peter Braund. Pereira’s handling is excellent, and his ability in one-on-one situations is superb, as shown for the under-23s just a week ago in a 3-2 win against Tottenham Hotspur.

“My goal is clear: to be number one in the future of Manchester United.” – Pereira in 2013

Demi Mitchell

Demi Mitchell

A winger originally, Mitchell was converted to left-back by under-23s manager Warren Joyce after the loan departure of Cameron Borthwick-Jackson to Wolves. He’s adapted superbly and was one of the most impressive players in a somewhat disappointing under-23s campaign for United.

Having previously played further forward, it’s unsurprising that his attacking quality shines out from deep. It’s not uncommon at United for wingers to be converted to full-backs, and Mitchell has shown the potential rewards of that trend. With great speed and power combined with his crossing ability from playing as a winger for many years, he’s scored five goals from left-back. Against Arsenal for the under-23s, and in a number of other games, he’s been one of the only bright sparks, creating something out of nothing. Defensively is where there are improvements to be made, but he’s done fantastically and deserves a first team chance.

“I think, as a modern-day full-back or wing-back, Demi is perfect for that. He comes onto the game at pace and, once in full flight, he’s pretty impossible to stop.” – Nicky Butt on Mitchell in 2017

Axel Tuanzebe

axel tuanzebe

Made his debut like Joel Pereira in the Cup against Wigan, and became only the second player in Man United history to be named Player of the Year at both under-18 and under-23 level, following in the footsteps of Giuseppe Rossi.

That award on Thursday night followed three consecutive starts for the first team in the Premier League. Played out of position, first at right-back and then in central midfield, he’s rightly earned praise after three solid performances.

On Sunday against Crystal Palace, he’ll be vital to guide his fellow under-23s through their debuts. Captain of the under-23 side, Tuanzebe admitted after receiving the Denzil Haroun Reserve Team Player of the Year award that the ‘dream’ is “to be a leader, a role model at this club.”

Angel Gomes

Angel Gomes

Wonderkid? That’s a common description for any 16-year-old breaking through at a big club. Angel fits it. Having joined United aged 8, he made his debut at under-18 level late in the 2014/15 season as an under-15 schoolboy. Earlier this season, he became the youngest player to score a hat-trick at under-18 level for Man United in more than a decade, scoring thrice as a sub against Newcastle in August.

Despite injury keeping him out of a significant part of the season, Gomes scored 12 under-18 goals this season. Unfortunately, injury also prevented him from being the youngest player for the Reds at the 2017 Dallas Cup and sadly stopped him from captaining England’s under-17 side at the Euros.

The son of Gil Gomes, a former Portuguese U20 World Cup winner, Angel is the cousin of Nani.

Angel became the youngest ever recipient of the Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year award.

Gomes is an attacking midfield. He fills the stereotypes of a small number 10. Excellent passing, vision, finishing, crossing. If he doesn’t have the ball, he’ll demand it, and generally, he’ll be given it. He’s not big, he’s not that strong, he’s got development to do physically. But his technical ability is unmatched in United’s youth ranks, and he’s got everyone excited.

“Angel Gomes is a young talented player we’ve massive hopes for.” – Nicky Butt

Josh Harrop

Josh Harrop

A prolific goalscorer from midfield with quick feet and excellent long-range drives. He clearly impressed José Mourinho last Monday night as he scored a hat-trick, including two in the final 12 minutes, to give United a 3-2 win against Spurs. In that game, he opened the scoring with a goal typical of him, edge of the box, curling finish.

At 2-1 down, he showered the Old Trafford crowd with individual brilliance, receiving the ball within the penalty area twice and, on both occasions, sending Spurs defenders flying with dummies before finishing well.

Harrop has been United’s under-23s’ main attacking threat all season from midfield, usually playing at number 10 or as a narrow winger.

He joined United in 2012 having supported the Reds from a young age. He’s been part of title-winning sides with the under-21s and has impressed in the FA Youth Cup as well as the Milk Cup for United.

Injury hampered his progress in 2015/16, but he has been one of United’s best this season, despite suggestions he could be released come the summer. It is now thought that he’ll be offered a new contract at the club, and he’ll be hoping to impress on Sunday to earn a loan move.

Scott McTominay

scott mctominay

The Lancashire-born Scot made his debut as a substitute against Arsenal. His story is an interesting one. McTominay missed almost two years of football due to growing problems as he went from a small creative playmaker to a 6ft 4in midfielder. He virtually skipped the under-18 age group.

However, while it took him some months to adjust to his new physique, McTominay now has excellent experience playing in different roles. This season, with United’s under-23s not having a natural striker, McTominay has been utilised as a Marouane Fellaini-esque target man. From creative midfielder to target man, to box-to-box midfielder, McTominay can fill most roles in central midfield.

He developed his technique as a youngster, and naturally developed his physique after turning 16.

Matty Willock

matty willock

Matty is one of three Willock brothers playing successfully at the elite levels of youth football. Recently, he made headlines as he played against two of his brothers, Chris and Joe, as United’s under-23s faced Arsenal at the Emirates, the club he left to join United in 2012.

Matty has been in and out of matchday squads for the last couple of months.

A great athlete with a fantastic physique, Willock’s work in central midfield can go unnoticed, like Ji-Sung Park or Darren Fletcher back in the Fergie-era at Old Trafford.

He’s been a key player at under-23 level since the start of the 2015/16 season, having made his debut at the very end of the season before that.

Players like Willock will always go unnoticed, until he pops up with a long-range effort as he has done for both the under-18s and now the under-23s. Has previously been linked with Glasgow Rangers.

Zak Dearnley

Zak Dearnley

It was somewhat a surprise to see Dearnley namedropped by José Mourinho. The English winger has been predominantly playing for the under-18s this season. His under-23 involvement has increased recently, and, like Harrop, he must have impressed Mourinho in the under-23s’ 3-2 win against Spurs last Monday at Old Trafford.

Dearnley was a game changer against both Spurs and, the week before, Arsenal. He himself has admitted comparisons have been drawn to Andrei Kanchelskis, being a two-footed winger who plays on both sides with great pace and great skill.

Zak almost quit Man United a few years ago having first been spotted aged 7 and moving to Manchester without his family aged just 13.

In 2015, he told The Star that his “aim is to make the first team, within the next 15 to 18 months.” He came quite close to being correct.

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