While the first team was making its way to the knockout stages of the Champions League, United’s u19s were doing the same earlier in the day.
With advancement already secured, United’s youngsters went up against Villarreal to battle for first place, which would give them a bye past the next round.
The match didn’t start how United would like though, as they struggled to keep up the pace with the much livelier looking Villarreal side.
It was evident from the start that the Spanish side had earmarked Hannibal Mejbri as someone to try rile up with some extra physicality.
The first big chance of the match came in the 13th minute as the ball was played into the Villarreal forward who was afforded too much space by Bjorn Hardley, allowing him to get the turn and have a clean strike but a great save from Radek Vitek kept them out.
United’s back three, a formation they have little experience with, was proving to have problems as Villarreal cut through down the right again and cut back for a shot in the box but it soared over the bar.
It was the 23rd minute when United first showed some intent on the ball with good link up play between Isak Hansen-Aaroen and Kobbie Mainoo as they broke through on the left side but Hansen-Aaroen couldn’t pick out the final pass in the box.
Jorge Pascual was causing constant danger for United’s backline with his running and found himself in a great position as he roamed in behind Teden Mengi but it was Vitek to the rescue again with a great save.
It was a hearts in mouth moment soon after as Mengi hauled down Pascual chasing a ball over the top but fortunately for United, the Villarreal forward was judged to be just offside.
All of the Spanish side’s pressure paid off in the 33rd minute through a fantastically worked goal. Playing down the left, the ball was passed into midfield and a first time chip perfectly placed over Rhys Bennett’s head left him stranded and Alex Jimenez headed back across goal leaving Vitek no chance.
Two minutes later and the lead was almost doubled with another ball over the top causing chaos in the United backline. Bennett allowed the ball to bounce giving the opportunity for the Villarreal player to race in and steal the ball and shoot from 12 yards but Vitek was out again and made a De Gea like save with his foot.
It was a busy day for Vitek though as he was called into action again, a simple through ball down the middle was lazily swung at by Hannibal leaving his man free to run straight in behind. This time the forward tried to round Vitek but he got down to stop again.
The half time whistle went with the score 1-0 but United were lucky to not be down by more.
Neil Wood must have gave them the hair dryer treatment at half time as the United youngsters came out firing in the second half.
A much need injection of energy was evident in United’s play and an early long range effort was taken by Mainoo which was caught easily in the end.
Anthony Elanga started to get involved with back to back runs down the right to win corners.
It was through Elanga that United would draw level in the 62nd minute. A ball straight down the line by Marc Jurado was latched on to by Elanga running in behind and he squared the ball across the goal mouth for Charlie McNeill to slide in and tap home.
This would prove to be the last touch of the match for McNeill as a triple substitution was made directly after the goal, with the introduction of Charlie Savage, Sam Mather, and Alejandro Garnacho. The subs also saw a change of formation to a more familiar back four for United.
In the 73rd minute, Mengi drove out from the back and found Hansen-Aaroen free between the lines. The Norwegian performed a nice turn and got off a shot but it was blocked. The ball fell back down for another attempt but a last ditch slide saw the ball cleared.
Garnacho saw his first involvement in the 76th minute with some dazzling dribbling into the box before he went down looking for the penalty. But there was minimal contact in it and the ref waved play on.
The three subs followed up with some intricate play on the left side of Villarreal’s area ending with space opening up for Garnacho but he couldn’t get his shot off quick enough and it was blocked.
Having completely changed the tide of the match in the second half, United took the lead in the 84th minute. Alvaro Fernandez provided the overlap down the left side and whipped in a low cross for the alert Mather to tuck in from five yards out.
With Villarreal upset at falling behind, the match became a feisty affair with many fouls and late challenges from the Spanish side in the dying minutes.
The final whistle went and United’s youngsters sealed the three points to move them top of the group and in control going into the last match.
United: Vitek, Jurado, Bennett, Mengi, Hardley (Savage 63), Fernandez Hansen-Aaroen, Mainoo (Mather 63), Mejbri, Elanga, McNeill (Garnacho 63)
Unused Subs: Oyedele, Norkett, Fredricson, Hanbury