Manchester United will play European football this season in new tournament for Under-21s

by Tracey Germaine

Manchester United’s Under-21s will be involved in European competition this season as the Premier League are set to unveil a new European cup competition.

The top eight sides from the Under-21 league will take on eight sides from Spain, Portugal, Germany, Holland and Scotland.

This new initiative from the Premier League is part of the Elite Player Performance Plan which was introduced in 2011 to improve the standard of young players produced by the top English clubs. This European competition will run in conjunction with the revamped Barclay’s Under-21 Premier League.

United will be joined by Chelsea, Fulham, Leicester City, Manchester City, Southampton, Sunderland and West Ham. Liverpool were due to take part but declined the opportunity which allowed West Ham who finished 9th in the Under-21 Premier League to step in.

The European contingent is made up of Celtic, Athletic Bilbao, Benfica, Borussia Monchengladbach, Schalke, FC Porto, PSV Eindhoven and Villarreal.

The 16 teams will be divided into four groups of four with the winners and runners-up of each group advancing to the quarter final stages.  All of the knock-out games will be played over two legs. Teams will be allowed to field three overage players.

The organisers are hopeful that the matches will attract good crowds and envisage that the knock-out phases will take place in the clubs’ main stadiums.

Schalke academy director Oliver Ruhnert jumped at the chance to enter his Under-21 side and is glad that the Premier League have created this competition.

“This is a fantastic new initiative and the Premier League have been very good in setting it up,” he said.

“You need to expose your players to different types of football and different countries in front of foreign crowds.”

The experience gained by the Under-19s several of whom have stepped up to Under-21 level in last season’s UEFA Youth League should hopefully stand them in good stead for this new competition.

One of the main issues at Under-21 level has been the low amount of games available to be played and the gaps between those matches. Hopefully the introduction of this competition will improve this situation as well as ready the next generation for the step up to the first team.

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