The manager of Manchester United’s under-23s has admitted that his side’s league campaign means nothing compared to the UEFA Youth League campaign.
United have already progressed to the knockout stage of the continental under-19s event under the tutelage of Nicky Butt, with the likes of Mason Greenwood, Tahith Chong and Angel Gomes starring during their Group H campaign.
And while United have a job to do at under-23 level to return to the top flight of Premier League 2, Ricky Sbragia says that his team’s progress is secondary to that of the Youth League side.
“I think the European games are more important than our games, to be truthful with you, and I think it’s a great psychological test for us. How the European teams play and how we can deal with it, and in some cases maybe undermining what we have got against the likes of Valencia and Young Boys and Juventus, I think the group has done extremely well,” Sbragia said.
“And as a group they are strong, they’re very tight, similar to the one in the Under-23s dressing room, and they work hard for each other. But I think their [European] games, for me, are a big bonus and I think Nicky has done extremely well with them and they have got some good results, and I think that’s important.”
Meanwhile Sbragia has hailed the progression of Ro-Shaun Williams and his central defensive partner Regan Poole, the latter having spent last season on loan with Northampton Town before returning to United and could again be heading out on loan in the January window.
“I think both have been excellent this year, I think Regan especially and Ro has learnt from his experience. I think Regan pulls him around and as a pair they are playing extremely well. I think in general they work extremely hard, they’re good people, and their work ethic in training has been excellent.”
And 20-year-old Poole, who United signed from Newport County in 2015, says the year away at Northampton last term taught him a lot as he looks to push his career forward.
“I think I’ve matured as a player, if I’m honest. I didn’t have the greatest run of games but I got quite a few league games under my belt and it opened my eyes,” he explained. “I came from league football and it was nice to be back, and I feel like this year I’ve kicked on a little bit and it’s showing in my performances so I’m quite happy at the moment.”
United now sitting in second spot in the second division of Premier League 2 after Friday’s 2-0 win over Middlesbrough, during which Angel Gomes and Nishan Burkart both returned from injury.
Meanwhile, the under-19s round out their Youth League Group H campaign on Wednesday away to Valencia.