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A Madridista’s guide to the UEFA Youth League

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Because who needs the Champions League anyway?

Real Madrid v Paris Saint-Germain - UEFA Youth League Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images

So, Real Madrid are out of the Champions League and you are looking for someone to root for. It might be anyone but Barcelona or it could be a team that plays in a familiar shade of white allowing you to even wear a jersey during matches, but what if I tell you that you can still root for Real Madrid in Europe?

Unlike their far inferior senior counterparts, Real Madrid’s U-19s are still in the fight for a European title this season and kick off their quest this Sunday. Keen to know more, then read on!

So, what’s this European competition you speak of?

UEFA’s real top prize
The 42

The UEFA Youth League was launched in 2013 as a youth equivalent to the Champions League. The competition is composed of 64 teams, 32 teams having qualified courtesy of their respective senior side qualifying for the Champions League and the final 32 composed of the youth domestic champions of the top 32 associations according to UEFA’s country coefficient rankings (I wish there was a better way of wording that).

Real Madrid have never won the UEFA Youth League, their best finish being three semi-finals, the last one coming in 2016-17 when they were knocked out by Benfica. Last season, they fell at the quarter finals to Hoffenheim. Currently, the most successful sides in UEFA Youth League history are Chelsea and Barcelona whom have both won the title twice.

Having been cancelled along with the rest of European football in March, the UEFA Youth League will end with a salvo of matches that will see the tournament competed in just nine days with teams playing a match every three days. The final will be in Nyon on August 25th.

When do Real Madrid play?

Real Madrid will pair up against Juventus on August 16th at 18:00 CET.

What are Real Madrid’s chances?

Real Madrid’s title chances are pretty mixed in all honesty. On one hand, Real made hard work of the group stages despite an impressive opening win away to PSG and needed results in the final two group game to qualify. At the same time, they did end up topping the table, not to mention PSG didn’t make it out of the group stages which suggests Group A was better than the names on paper suggested.

Alot of big teams haven’t made it out of the groups this year (namely Barcelona, what a bunch of losers) and there is only one former winner (Salzburg) featuring in the knockouts. However, Madrid will likely have to face Salzburg in the semi-finals, with big tests against Juventus and either Rennes or Inter Milan awaiting before then.

Overall, you could argue either way. What is for sure is that there is a reason Real haven’t won this competition before and, should they win it this season, it will be a well deserved victory given the obstacles in their way.

Oh cool, these Juve kids any good?

It’s really hard to say. I’ve scoured the web for someone who’d put their street cred on the line and tell me about the Juventus U-19s, but no one was brave enough to do so. This is their first round of 16 appearance ever after qualifying comfortably from the same group their senior side played in.

They swept aside Atletico Madrid in both matches, most impressively away from home where they won 4-0 which is no easy task. Their 18-year-old forward, Pablo Moreno scored four goals in the groups stages which puts him just outside the top scorers at this season tournament so far.

Monza v Juventus U19 Photo by Filippo Alfero - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

Realistically, Real Madrid’s experience at this stage of the tournament should see them through having always reached this stage, but its rarely that straight forward (last Friday will tell you that).

So, why should I watch kids play ball?

Outside the obvious answer of it being more football (specifically Real Madrid football) to watch over the summer, there are a few reasons to dive into UEFA Youth League action this August.

Firstly, the games have been crazy entertaining. Real’s adventure so far has featured an away win against Xavi Simons (remember him?), a last minute winner in Turkey and a thrilling 6-3 victory against PSG. I can’t promise such story-lines going forward, however, there has been an average of three goals per game so far.

Another reason to watch is whose in charge. Following the departure of Dani Poyatos to Greece, Real needed a coach to step in temporarily and guide Juvenil A over the final hurdle of 2019/20 and current Castilla coach Raul Gonzalez fit the bill.

Keeping a socially distanced eye on training
Real Madrid Fabrica

The legendary former forward never got a chance to play in a tournament like the Youth League, however, his history in the senior competition is legendary. As its former all-time top goalscorer, Raul won three Champions Leagues with Real including the club’s first’s in 1998, breaking a 32 year wait for a European honour. He scored in two finals and few seem better suited to help Los Blancitos break their duck in Europe this season.

But I don’t know any of the players.

That’s part of the fun of watching youth football. Given the long break, Real Madrid will be asked to submit a 40-man (or boy?) squad in the coming days and, if his training sessions are anything to go by, Raul is likely to cast a wide net.

UEFA restrictions allow Raul to pick three U-20 players (Castilla) and the rest must all be born after 1st January 2001. So far, Antonio Blanco, Marvin Park, Miguel Baeza and Pablo Rodriguez have all already trained with the squad as potential members of the Castilla contingent. Before the break, Rodriguez was registered as a Juvenil A player so all four might still feature in the team, after that, there are few concrete picks. Juvenil A’s star midfielder, Sergio Arribas has spoken to the press about the tournament which suggests some confidence he’ll be there while Sergio Santos, Pablo Ramon and Ivan Morante are all likely to be on Raul’s radar for Castilla next season and should also feature.

Even wonderkid Israel Salazar has trained with team and the injury of Andri Guderjohnsen has thrown him into contention to appear in the final list. Basically, watching the game on Sunday will give you the eternal right to say that you saw X player when he was just a kid and always knew he was special.

I do love to brag... You’ve talked me into it! Where can I watch this wonderful tournament?

UEFA will stream matches on their website for certain territories so that should be your first port of call. If you aren’t one of the lucky ones then UEFA have a list of channels where the matches are shown for countries around the world.

I am an educated and pure soul, where will I go for cutting analysis and light-hearted entertainment after each game?

Castilla Corner will be making an active effort to cover all the games on podcast, Twitter and here on the Managing Madrid website. All you got to do is follow the Castilla Corner Twitter account (being a Patreon also helps since most the games are midweek).