Manchester United have kept their dreams of winning the FA Youth Cup alive after Alejandro Garnacho’s brace saw them come from behind to beat Leicester 2-1 in the quarter-finals.
United are the most successful side in the history of the FA Youth Cup, with 10 triumphs in total, though they haven’t won it since defeating Sheffield United in the final back in 2011.
Current U18s manager Travis Binnion was Sheffield United’s assistant that night, 11 years later, took a step closer towards finally getting his hands on the trophy — even if that isn’t the ultimate end goal.
The true success of United’s youth academy comes in the shape of all the youngsters who have made it through to the first-team. Less than 24 hours after Anthony Elanga had netted a precious equalizer for the first-team interim manager Ralf Rangnick was present at Old Trafford to watch the latest batch of hopefuls.
It’s still far too early to say who the next hopeful to break through into the first-team might be, but Garnacho is certainly a name that supporters are getting to know about on a more regular basis.
His sensational solo goal against Everton in the last round of the competition went viral — in part helped by his Cristiano Ronaldo ‘Siuuu!’ celebration to commemorate it. Against Leicester, he paid homage again with more moments of brilliance.
Leicester are one of the most impressive sides at U18 level, and they can go top of the Southern section of the U18 Premier League if they win their matches in hand. They marked their authority early on with a barrage of attacks on the United goal.
The Foxes finally took the lead when United made a mess playing out from the back. Vitek pinged a ball into midfield, possession was lost, and Joe Wormleighton played the ball through to former United forward Christopher Popov, who poked the ball beyond the Czech ‘keeper.
United had also gone behind against Everton in the previous round, before hitting back with four unanswered goals, and they almost had an immediate reply again, when Sam Mather curled wide of the post from the edge of the box.
Despite the initial response, United were lucky to keep it at just one. Captain Rhys Bennett failed to clear the ball, gifting possession to the highly-rated Will Alves, who fired straight at Vitek from a tight angle.
Alves, 16, became the youngest player to represent the Leicester first-team when he featured in the FA Cup last month. He’s a player they couldn’t afford to give any more opportunities on a plate.
Binnion’s side needed a way back into the game, and it came when talisman Garnacho got rare space on the break, cutting inside onto his favored right-foot before his effort was deflected into the arms of the grateful Arlo Doherty.
Two minutes later, the Leicester ‘keeper wouldn’t be so lucky.
As chants of ‘Ale-jan-dro!’ came from the youthful supporters seated in the Sir Bobby Charlton stand, United won a free-kick on the edge of the box.
The former Atletico Madrid hopeful stepped up to the ball and expertly slotted it in at the near-post in front of the Stretford End, punishing Leicester for leaving such a gap in their wall. It was not a bad night to score a set-piece as Rangnick watched on.
It remained a tight match after the half-time break, with both sides having decent chances to win it.
Charlie McNeill fired a decent low effort at Doherty’s goal and soon after smashed the ball into the side-netting after some great play from the spritely Kobbie Mainoo to set him up.
Mainoo would play a key role in the winning goal too, as he kept his composure in the final third to pick out Garnacho at the far post. Once again, the 17-year-old showed his class of him, keeping his cool of him as he lashed the ball into the back of the net to seal the win two minutes from time.
Victory means United will host either Wolves or Brighton in the semi-final, with the scintillating prospect of a final showpiece against Chelsea still on the cards.
Binnion won’t be getting carried away just yet, but after another fine comeback win, his side are certainly in with a shout of finally adding to the FA Youth Cup haul.
Sign up to our United newsletter so you never miss an update from Old Trafford this season.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.