When Manchester United’s teamsheet for the 2-0 win over Burnley on Sunday included Jesse Lingard and Paul Pogba in the starting XI and Marcus Rashford among the substitutes, it was the 3,926th consecutive occasion on which they had named at least one academy graduate in their lineup stretching back almost 81 years.
It is a record the club is rightly proud of, showing that their commitment to developing players dates back to long before the famed ‘Class of 92’.
Pogba may well continue to divide opinion after his missed penalty at Turf Moor, but Lingard was a constant thorn in Burnley’s side. Meanwhile, it was an educational afternoon for Rashford, who came on as a second-half sub only to be sent off within 10 minutes for a petulant, retaliatory head-push on David Bardsley.
Below the first team, though, United continue to thrive, with a number of players catching the eye in the early part of the season at under-23 and under-18 levels…
Ricky Sbragia’s reserve side are unbeaten so far in 2018-19 having made the drop to Division Two of Premier League 2 after a disappointing season last term.
Whereas the under-23s struggled for goals 12 months ago due to a high turnover of players, this time around they have started well in front of goal. The highlight has been Angel Gomes’ first three goals at this level following his promotion towards the end of last season, while fellow US tour inclusion Tahith Chong joined him on the scoresheet in the opening 2-2 draw at Derby.
Attacking midfielder DJ Buffonge has also started the season on the right foot with two goals, while 17-year-old Jimmy Garner has not looked out of place after making the step up from the under-18s.
The central midfielder, who started for Jose Mourinho’s first team against the San Jose Earthquakes in July and then came on as a late sub in the win over Real Madrid, has shown a maturity in the centre of the park which belies his speedy elevation to reserve-team football.
At the back, the return of Regan Poole from a year-long loan at Northampton to play alongside Ro-Shaun Williams has made Sbragia’s outfit a far more solid unit than they appeared at times in their relegation campaign last time around, while Lee O’Connor’s excellent progress continues to catch the eye at left-back.
Friday’s 1-0 win over Stoke City at Old Trafford, secured by Gomes’ first-half strike, whet the appetite for another appearance at the Theatre of Dreams, with Reading visiting on September 14 in United’s next under-23 fixture.
Just as the under-23s sit in fourth place after four games, so too do Neil Ryan’s under-18 side after suffering their first defeat of the campaign at Middlesbrough on Saturday.
Prior to that 3-1 reverse, the youngsters had been in fine form despite having been pegged back three times on the opening day in a 3-3 draw with Derby County.
Mason Greenwood, who scored twice in that game, netted one in each of the following victories against Liverpool (3-1) and Stoke City (5-1) to take his early tally to four following his 17-goal season in 2017-18, although he did fail to hit the mark from the penalty spot against both Derby and Stoke.
The win over the Potters at The Cliff featured a stunning full debut in the under-18 age group for Charlie McCann. Coming off the left of the attack, the 16-year-old addition from Coventry City netted twice in the one-sided result, including one effort inside four minutes when bamboozling the Stoke back line.
Later in the same game, Warrington-born Mark Helm came off the bench for his first 10 minutes of football in a United under-18s fixture and netted United’s fifth.
One player worthy of particular note so far this season has been Arnau Puigmal. The Spanish midfielder has been switched to right-back by Neil Ryan and has taken to the role superbly for the most part.
His driving runs on the overlap were a particular threat against Stoke, while on Saturday at Middlesbrough he netted United’s only goal.
United appear to be in good hands at this level under Ryan, who replaced Kieran McKenna as coach this summer following the Northern Irishman’s elevation to first-team coach.