Manchester United hit the FA Youth Cup trail again on Wednesday evening, when facing Salford City in a delayed derby at the Peninsula Stadium, with kick-off at 19:00 GMT.
The third-round tie (which is live on MUTV in the UK and Ireland only due to competition restrictions) is the first official meeting between the clubs at Under-18s level, as far as lead coach Neil Ryan can recall, although Neil Wood’s Under-21s won 6-0 in a Papa John’s Trophy encounter earlier this season.
After losing 1-0 to Chelsea in last year’s semi-final, the young Reds will be hoping to take our fine league form into a competition that we last won a decade ago but always hold dear.
“It’s really exciting to get the FA Youth Cup going again,” Ryan told us recently, after the game was originally scheduled for January until the competition was put on hold by the FA.
“All the players are looking forward to it, as they do every year, and having had the semi-final last year, it was really good experience. I think the boys are champing at the bit.
“Salford will be tough. I watched the last cup game they played and had a look when they beat a strong, spirited Tranmere side [in the previous round]. They’ll be organised and we’re prepared for a tough game. Coming up against ourselves, what more do they need inspiration-wise than playing against us? We’ll make sure we’re prepared as we don’t want any surprises on the night.
“If you look at the club, the infrastructure and stadium, the plans going forward, I’m sure we all know the owners and backers behind it all and it’s a great project going on there. They’ve had fantastic success as a club and with the youth system – I know Chris Casper very well and they have good infrastructure in place.”
Members of the Class of 92’s association with Salford may add a bit of extra media focus to the occasion but it is not something that Ryan and his staff are concerned about. The job in hand must be taken care of before anybody can entertain any thoughts of meeting Liverpool at home in the fourth round, if the Merseysiders, as expected, beat non-league Sutton United in their tie.
“I’ll be honest, no we don’t talk about that [any added spice to the game] at our level,” explained Ryan.
“We’re there to play the game, prepare the lads to play in a cup match and the best thing about the FA Youth Cup is it brings a bit of romance. Of course, there are a lot of United connections at Salford, from the manager through to the owners and so on, so there is an extra spice to it but, from the players’ point of view, they’ll concentrate and focus on the game, when it comes.
“It’s the first time we’ve played them at youth level. We’ve played some Under-19s and Under-23s fixtures but it’s the first time, I know, we’ve played them and it’s a good derby. I’m sure it’ll be competitive.”
The challenge is there for the boys to embark on a run in the competition as we look to follow in the footsteps of the victorious side from 10 years ago, that included Sam Johnstone, Michael Keane, Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard, among others.
“Everyone has seen the draw for the next round but I’d be very disappointed if any opposition were talking about a game into the next round before they’ve played the match,” added Ryan.
“We won’t let that happen. We won’t let the players think that way at all. It’s Salford and we’ll plan and prepare like we do for every game.
“We’ve got a big squad of players and, hopefully, everyone is fit and healthy. My problem is selecting the team and making some players happy and some upset. That’s football, there’s no sugar-coating football at times. Either you’re selected or you’re not.
“The Youth Cup is a prestigious tournament and everyone needs to grasp the opportunity to play as there is always someone waiting for a chance as well. We’ll go with the best group we can go with and challenge the lads.
“It’s a really competitive game, under the floodlights in a stadium, with no crowd unfortunately, but they’ll get that experience and look to progress to the next round.”
Watch the game live on MUTV.