The Under-19s are focused on their UEFA Youth League campaign but their ultimate goal is following their former team-mate into the senior squad

When Manchester United’s Under-19s step out at Leigh Sports Village on Tuesday night, they’ll do so with silverware in mind.

They’re playing Borussia Dortmund in the UEFA Youth League last 16 and, with a number of the group also reaching the semi-final of the Youth Cup last week, there’s a real hope they can end the season with at least one trophy.

However, it will be an absent name on the teamsheet that will provide this group with just as much motivation as a potential first European final.

Back in November, Anthony Elanga was on the scoresheet for Neil Wood’s side as they beat Atalanta in the group stage.Now, he is scoring crucial goals for the first team in the Champions League last 16.

For the academy coaches at the club’s Carrington training base, Elanga’s emergence is a massive success story: validation of the work they are doing and a source of inspiration for all of his former team-mates.

Furthermore, his switch to the first team also creates space in Woods squad for another player to pick up key European experience.

“The idea and the whole purpose of the Youth Champions League is to provide the players with opportunities to excel in this competition and then hopefully push on with the next stage of their development,” head of player development and coaching Justin Cochrane told GOAL.

What a moment for 19-year-old Anthony Elanga! ????

“It’s a little bit of something they’re not used to, that’s away from the routine of the league.

“Of course, we want to win the competition but, ultimately, you can win the tournament and have no players in the first team and the real success is having players featuring in this iconic club’s first team.

“We’re Manchester United, we plan and we train to win and I don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t have their sights set on the final. But that’s not the sole focus of what we do every day.”

United face a Dortmund side who struggled through the group stages but are unbeaten in the league and Travis Binnion is acutely aware of the threat that the German side will pose at Leigh Sports Village.

“Dortmund will be heavily pressing, quite tactical,” Uniteds U18s boss said. “They will ask a lot of questions of us, although I think we have shown we can cause any team problems at any level.”

Worryingly, there is a chance that United might fail to qualify for next seasons UEFA Youth League, which would obviously deny their most promising young players competitive fixtures against Europes elite.

However, should they miss out on a top-four finish in their domestic league, United would arrange friendly games against top continental sides so that the next generation of stars will still get a chance to test themselves against the best.

But for now, at least, they are focused on their current UEFA Youth League campaign and the reward for victory on Tuesday night would be a mouth-watering home clash against Real Madrid or Atletico Madrid.

However, the game also presents the current crop of United hopefuls with a chance to impress the clubs first-team manager.

Ralf Rangnick was at Old Trafford for the FA Youth Cup last week and has already taken an interest in the younger age groups since his arrival in December.

Cochrane is not surprised. Part of his job is ensuring that the clubs brightest talents continue forcing their way into the senior squad and he believes the jump is not as difficult as it used to be.

“There’s not a big distance between the youth and the first team here,” he argued. “At other clubs, they’re on different sites and different buildings but here it’s a joined-up approach.

“We’ve taken a group to train against the first team in XI v XI so he (Rangnick) is fully aware of all the potential.

“We discuss players over various stages of the season and sometimes opportunities open up, or their performances over a sustained period of time push them up there.

“When the time is right, they will get opportunities to train, which some of them have had so far.

“What I can tell everyone is that we have some very good young players and as long as they continue to develop, progress and stick to what they need to do, which is aiming to improve daily, then I think they’ll be some quite good prospects.”

Indeed, for that very reason, Cochrane is urging United fans to come out in force to cheer on players he believes will soon be starring for the first team.

“It’s so important to have the support of the fans,” he explained. “They ask questions about how many will be there and you can see they look for the crowd and they look to celebrate.

“It’s an important part of their development having the crowd there creating a good atmosphere.”

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