After an up and down season last year finishing mid-table in eighth place, the u23s return to action today for their season opener against Leicester City.
Initially scheduled to be on Monday, the game was brought ahead one day to a revised time of 2pm.
The match can be watched on MUTV at a delayed time of 8pm, this is down to bizarre “broadcasting restrictions which mean a Premier League 2 fixture cannot be screened if a Premier League game is taking place at the same time.”
After several departures in the summer and an increasing list of youngsters heading out on loan, manager Neil Wood is expecting a very youthful and thin squad to deal with.
With a new look side, we run through who can be expected to be u23s regulars this season.
Featuring in recently friendlies have been Ondrej Mastny and Dermot Mee. Having made eight u23s appearances last year and previously being u18s first choice, it is likely Mastny will command the gloves in this year’s u23s group.
Meanwhile Mee will act as the backup, after spending parts of last season with Fulham’s u18s for playing time.
Also still in the u23s group are Matej Kovar and Paul Woolston. After a disappointing loan at Swindon Town last year for the highly talented Kovar, it can be expected he will look to continue his foray into senior football with another loan. Woolston is continuing to recoup from injury after signing a new one year deal in the summer.
With Reece Devine’s loan move to St. Johnstone, the left-back position will be sewn up by the Spaniard, Alvaro Fernandez. After an impressive first season in Manchester, Fernandez will be looking to add continued consistency to his game and take on a bigger leadership role as one of the now experienced players.
On the other side, there are no natural choices available. Having used a myriad of make shift options last season, Wood is going into another year with no natural right-backs at his disposal. This has led to midfielder Charlie Wellens stepping into the role, who finished off the season their last year and has featured during u23s pre-season.
Marc Jurado is available for call up from the u18s but it is expected he will remain there, where he has taken on captain’s responsibility.
Moving into centre-backs and the options are equally thin. After a full season of largely only one centre-back in Will Fish, Neil Wood faces the same prospect with Bjorn Hardley being the only natural choice.
After Fish’s loan move to Stockport County, options have gone down to the bare bones leading to the arrival of Joseph Oluwu on trial. The former Arsenal academy player has featured during pre-season but no confirmation has been made whether he has been offered a permanent deal.
The unorthodox return of Paul McShane in a player-coach role also bolsters the options of who will partner Hardley in the heart of the backline.
Midfield sees an influx of promotions from the u18s with Martin Svidersky, Charlie Savage, Zidane Iqbal, and likely Isak Hansen-Aaroen and Omari Forson who are both still eligible for u18s football.
Having captained the u18s last season, Svidersky will be looking to claim the anchor role in midfield.
The more advanced 8 and 10 roles will be largely dependent on the futures of Shola Shoretire and Hannibal Mejbri. Featuring with the first team during pre-season the pair have recently dropped back down the u23s where they will command starting roles but it is yet to be seen how long they’ll be back down there.
In their absence, Hansen-Aaroen is the stand out star who will certainly garner a regular role with Savage and Iqbal battling for the remaining spot in the starting XI. Equally adept on the wing, Forson may see his earlier chances there.
The forward line most notably will contain the goal machine pairing of Joe Hugill and Charlie McNeill. Both preferring the centre-forward position, one will have to make way with it expected McNeill will be deployed as a winger or in the number 10 role at times.
Pre-season has also marked the return of D’Mani Mellor from a lengthy injury. The 20 year old’s experience and hard work will be important to the young squad and his versatility as a winger or striker will be certain to see him as a regular in the side.
Anthony Elanga, currently out with an injury, also remains a possible option after his impressive showings with the first team but he is unlikely to feature often for the u23s with first team involvement or a possible loan being more beneficial for his development.
Rounding out the forward lines are Dillon Hoogewerf, Noam Emeran, and Mateo Mejia who is also returning from two years of injuries. A complete contrast to the backline, Wood will be spoilt for choice with the talent at his disposal in attack.
Wood and his new assistant Neil Ryan will be hoping for a finish higher up the table this season. But with such a young squad they will know match results are not the objective but rather development results. A outlook which has seen the recent introductions of Anthony Elanga, Shoretire, and Mejbri into the first team fold which continues to use the most academy graduates.