Reading U23s entered into Group F in Premier League International CupOur first ever involvement in the Premier League International Cup has seen us draw into the group stage against Everton, Athletic Bilbao and Hertha Berlin.
The competition, which was established two seasons ago, will involve all 12 clubs in this year’s Premier League 2 and a dozen of Europe’s most talented youth sides battling it out on English soil to win the 2016/17 crown.
Because of the expansion from 16 teams to 24 this season, the group winners from each of the six groups will qualify for the quarter-final stage, and they will be joined there by the two best-placed runners-up.
The competition is for clubs’ Under-23 team – but in the same way as this year’s Premier League 2 operates, entering clubs will be permitted to use up to a maximum three overage outfield players and one goalkeeper for each match, should they chose.
It will be a tough test for Martin Kuhl’s youngsters. That will include a visit to Everton – who our U23s also host at Adams Park in October – and fixtures against their counterparts from Bundesliga side Hertha and Primera Liga outfit Athletic.
German club Hertha – where winger Roy Beerens plied his trade before linking up with us this summer – are also entering the competition for the first time. They can count defender Maximilian Mittelstädt amongst their most recent graduates from youth set-up to senior squad.
Arguably the biggest challenge will be Bilbao – the club’s youth system, currently managed by former Spanish international José Ángel Ziganda, have a quite remarkable track record of bringing Basque players through their ‘cantera’ and into the senior squad. A majority of their first team – including sought-after striker Iñaki Williams – are locally-born products of their own youth system.
Dates and venues of these fixtures will be arranged and announced in due course.
The full group stage draw is as follows:
Group A: Derby County, Sunderland, PSV Eindhoven, Benfica.
Group B: Manchester United, Middlesbrough, Sparta Prague, Villarreal.
Group C: Leicester City, Liverpool, Porto, Wolfsburg.
Group D: Chelsea, Swansea City, Dinamo Zagreb, Feyenoord.
Group E: Aston Villa, Norwich City, Celtic, Valencia.
Group F: Everton, Reading, Athletic Bilbao, Hertha Berlin.