Picking an Under-23 Manchester United Starting XI

Max TowleAnalyst IApril 18, 2013

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMER 05:  Nick Powell of Manchester United in action during the UEFA Champions League Group H match between Manchester United and CFR 1907 Cluj at Old Trafford on December 5, 2012 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

As the Ajax, Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund youth academies get hyped beyond proportion, few outside of Manchester are paying much attention to the Red Devils' current crop of youngsters.

Sir Alex Ferguson has made a concerted effort to not only develop youth from within, but to search for the elite fledglings from elsewhere.

Chris Smalling, David de Gea and most recently Angelo Henriquez were all bought to stand Manchester United in good stead in the coming years.

This article will seek to pick a United starting 11 composed purely of Under-23 players, whether they're in the current squad, reserves or youth academy or temporarily out on loan.

The question of how this fantasy side would fare were it to be entered into the Premier League I leave to you, the reader.


Who else but David de Gea should lineup between the sticks for this team of burgeoning talent?

The Spaniard had a rough first season at Old Trafford, but his sophomoric efforts have been nothing short of revelatory.

He has shown an increased reliability dealing with crosses, adding to his already impressive repertoire of acrobatic saves.

Both Ben Amos and Sam Johnstone are fine prospects, but they are second fiddle to the mighty llama.


At right-back we have Rafael, another hugely improved United player over the past 12 months.

The Brazilian may not be the finished article defending against tricky players with pace, but he has shown a willingness to improve in this area, not to mention his increased influence tearing up the right flank to help out in the team's attacking play.

His twin brother Fabio is an automatic selection on the opposite wing, seeing as recently recruited left-back Alex Buttner is 24 years of age.

The 22-year-old has had a mixed season on loan at relegation certainties Queens Park Rangers, but faith must be shown in him once he returns to Manchester.

It is widely believed that he has the greater potential of the two brothers—a scary prospect.

In the middle is the previously-mentioned Chris Smalling, a hulking defender recruited from Fulham in 2010.

The England international started his career playing non-league football at Maidstone United, but this modest stint was short-lived.

He is swiftly becoming a reliable option at the back, providing strength and intelligence in a position United are well stocked in.

His central partner is Phil Jones—one of the most typically English players in the game today.

Jones, 21, is a versatile beast capable of operating at full-back and in defensive midfield as well as centre-half.

His pure desire and willingness to throw himself around the pitch has endeared him to the Old Trafford faithful, who look upon him as quite the cult hero.


Manchester United seem to be a little light on good midfield options at present, and as opposed to a relatively experienced defence, this team of Under-23 players reflects the fact.

I've plucked for the 18-year-old novice Adnan Januzaj on the right wing.

The Belgian midfielder has a heavy array of tricks in his arsenal, and is a creative, imaginative playmaker.

He is yet to make his debut for the Red Devils' first team, but the big names at the club are currently hyping him as one to watch.

Sir Alex himself said: "He and Nick Powell, of the younger players, are at the top" (via ManUtd.com).

On the left wing is another player yet to make his debut for United—Wilfried Zaha.

The deal was struck in January for the 20-year-old to move to Old Trafford this summer, but for now, Zaha plies his trade in the Championship for Crystal Palace.

Despite never having played a game of top-flight football, he has already been given game time in the England team and commanded a hefty price tag in the region of around £15 million (€17.6 million) (via The Sun).

Nick Powell is an easy choice to start in central midfield.

Since moving from Crewe Alexandra last summer, the 19-year-old has been given limited opportunities in Sir Alex's first team.

But when he has played, he has played well. Few could forget his stunning debut goal against Wigan in September.

His partner is the tough-tackling, uncompromising Ryan Tunnicliffe.

The 20-year-old made his first team debut for United earlier this season in a League-Cup clash with Newcastle United, but later had a loan spell at Championship side Barnsley.

Now back with the United reserves team, he scored a vital goal against Tottenham on Monday night in the Premier League's Under-21 competition.


In attack we have none other than Danny Welbeck—a name all Manchester United fans should be familiar with.

Now 22, Welbeck has been given an increased role in the Red Devils' team this season, starting key games against Real Madrid, Chelsea and Manchester City.

Though his goal return has been poor (two in 35 total appearances), he has improved in other areas of his game—namely his touch and constant harrying of opponents.

His partner is Angelo Henriquez, currently on loan at Wigan Athletic.

The 19-year-old was snapped up for cheap last August, having scored a number of goals for his native team, Universidad de Chile.

He also made his debut for the Chilean national team towards the end of last year, and scored a substitute's goal in the friendly loss to Serbia.

So there you have it—a Manchester United team composed of players all under the age of 23.

The team is a little light in some areas of the pitch, but stacked in others. The back four and goalkeeper could easily be included in a starting 11 that Sir Alex would deploy today.

As he remains at Old Trafford, this is the current batch of Fergie's fledglings.

What do you make of this team? How good can this generation of players be in five years?


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