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Carnage, finding solutions & togetherness: How Manchester United’s academy won the cup double



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Credit: Man Utd

Manchester United have been chasing their city rivals in terms of youth development in recent years but have bested them in the league and U18s Premier League Cup Final this term.

And it hasn’t been luck. United consciously made changes to their academy setup, knowing that they were falling behind. John Murtough’s intervention, Darren Fletcher’s involvement, and Nick Cox’s leadership have all been parts of the turnaround at Carrington.

The FA Youth Cup victory in 2022 was one moment that seemed to reward the positive movements that were being made. Now, the Under-18s double might be even more impressive.

United won 2-1 against Manchester City’s academy in the U18s Premier League Cup Final on Tuesday evening at Leigh Sports Village.

Not only were they strong and resilient, but Adam Lawrence’s side were smart. They can exist in different game-states, whether that be defending for their lives, playing through the lines with short precise passes or working over long distances.

In fact, three of the side’s most important goals this term – Ethan Wheatley’s second on the night and both of Gabriele Biancheri’s goals against Wolves as they secured the league title last week – all came from Elyh Harrison’s long ball towards the right flank.

It’s always interesting to see a young team be able to work in different ways. It’s exactly what they’ll need when first-team football is approaching.

“Yeah, I think, first of all, one of Elyh’s strengths is obviously the variety of passes that he can play with his feet. So obviously, as a coach and as a team, you’re looking at ways that you could find an advantage or you might be able to play,” explained Lawrence when UtdDistrict asked him about how this United team seemed to be working well in different game-states.

“And listen, the biggest credit I’ll give Elyh is they weren’t hopeful balls sometimes that he was playing. They were hit with like real quality, whether they were direct into Ethan Wheatley to then set off and then have runners at times we built from the back.

“So I guess just depending on the situation or the variety in terms of how we want to play is just finding a solution at the right time. So that’s not anything like that we would have worked on massively. It’s more Elyh’s qualities and his understanding and the team of what’s needed at that moment to then build in the way that we want to play. So, yeah, nice when it comes together.”

Dealing with different situations is exactly what won the young Reds this cup final. After the quality in the first half, they often needed to grind through the moments of City dominance in the latter stages of the game.

Stephen Mfuni managed to grab a goal for the visitors in the 85th minute, but United worked hard as a team to secure the trophy, whether that be through Harrison’s late saves, Biancheri holding the ball in the corner, or Jack Kingdon blocking everything in his path.

“In a lot of finals, it’s going to be small margins that get you over the line,” added Lawrence. “So, obviously, in the last parts of the game, we were under quite a bit of pressure. But in terms of the spirit and the togetherness of the group, that really shone through and got us through. So, yeah, obviously, really proud of the boys in that way.”

While it is only a part of the journey for many of these players, who have begun to feel what it’s like it either train or be part of the matchday squad with the first-team, it is still a huge achievement that should be celebrated.

“Carnage,” replied Lawrence when asked about the celebrations in the dressing room, despite many of the players not being old enough to enjoy an alcoholic beverage.

“I learned my lesson because last week I got drenched at Wolves, so the lads waited for me to get in there then had a right good go at me with the water bottles,” he laughed. “So yeah, it’s like you would expect, a lot of singing, a lot of noise. Obviously, they’ve got to respectfully enjoy these moments, and they’ve earned the right to do that. To celebrate and enjoy it, and then we’ll move on.”

The FA Youth Cup was a special moment for the club two years back. And whilst this game was unfortunately not able to be held at Old Trafford, it was just as significant for a group of players that many fans will be watching closely going forward.