Wednesday, 27 January 2016

City u18s 2-0 United u18s

This was about as comprehensive as 2-0 victories get. The only disappointment for Jason Wilcox and his u18s was that City’s forwards couldn’t add a considerably more pleasing gloss to the final scoreline. In truth the game was settled early on. The red card, correctly awarded for what its worth, left City in complete control and killed the game as a contest. Those looking for a narrative, and there was national media in attendance, were probably left disappointed that greater damage wasn’t inflicted on the ten men of United. Credit where its due, the United defence made it difficult for City but the scoreline should have been considerably more comfortable than it ended up. As it often is, it was left to Nmecha to break the deadlock. After a relatively cagey opening twenty minutes the game suddenly burst into life; Nmecha capitalised on some sloppy United play and burst into the area. He was hacked down, the ref pointed to the spot and duly dished out a red card to the culprit. Nmecha himself did the rest from the spot, slotting into the bottom right hand corner with the keeper going the other way.

After that, it was all City. Buckley missed a sitter, somehow firing over from six yards after great work down the right from Duhaney, and Erik Sarmiento exchanged a beautiful one-two with Nmecha before being caught just as he was about to pull the trigger. Nmecha should have had another penalty too, dragged back as he burst into the area. You suspect it would’ve been given if there hadn’t already been one awarded, but it was nervously ignored. The second half didn’t see any notable change in proceedings. City passed it around, United remained resolute and the game went through extended periods of attack versus defence. City’s numerical superiority told and United barely crossed into City’s half. Before the second there was a great chance for Ash Kigbu, heading a Brahim corner just wide, and Lukas Nmecha almost scored a screamer. He delightfully span one, bulldozed past another, and drove into the area before uncharacteristically losing his composure when it most mattered. He fired wildly over from about 14 yards, disappointingly. It would’ve been some goal, but it mattered not in the end as any lingering doubts were quickly vanquished after Brahim grabbed the second. Sarmiento made it, harrying exceptionally on the left to win the ball high up the pitch. He laid it back to Brahim who coolly feinted past one before lifting into the roof of the net with around twenty minutes left to play.

There were other chances, Fernandes notably drilling wide after an opportunity of his own making, but it remained two nil. It was a deserved victory, if perhaps a little underwhelming. Wilcox talked after the game about his dissatisfaction that City didn’t do more, and he was right. A City team at their best would’ve moved the ball quicker, would have been vastly more clinical, and in general put a vulnerable and rudderless United team to the sword. There was a clear gulf between the two, but it wasn’t hammered home. In a weird way, and as it often happens when a team goes up against just ten men, there might have been more space for City if the numbers on the pitch had remained level. United shut up shop to prevent a landslide, and it worked as it only ended up as a relatively respectable, yet forgettable 2-0 victory. Of course, the job was done, but perhaps not the message City’s u18s would’ve liked to send, especially with Khaldoon sat watching in the stands. Individually, Sarmiento stood out. The young Spanish left-back has made a fine start to life at the CFA, and he impressed once again. He’s clearly exceptional technically, but it was a showing of true determination and grit that left him with the plaudits. There was a real tenacity to his display and it was hugely encouraging to see. Davenport was a fiery, battling presence in the heart of midfield as he always is, and Kongolo, though not quite as explosive going forward as he has been in the last couple of weeks, was an assured, competent partner alongside him.

After a great run of form, Dilrosun didn’t have his most effective outing in a blue shirt. His struggled a little to find space as United sat back, likewise Buckley on the right. Neither were bad, but neither reached their usual high standards. Brahim was quiet in the first half, often crowded out as he started at the peak of the midfield three. He was switched out wide left after Dilrosun was replaced and he found considerably greater joy. He frequently beat the right-back and his goal was lovely. He showed a touch of real class to let the ball run across him to give himself the half of yard he needed, before finishing coolly. Nmecha was good. He’s a real prospect and he’s becoming quite a physical specimen now too. He held the ball up well, intelligently linked play with those around him and he got his usual goal too. He’s a very interesting prospect, a complete striker really. Other than consistency and experience, he has no real weaknesses to his game and he’ll surely feature heavily for the EDS next season. There was little to do defensively, with United only really mustering one half shot from the edge of the area throughout the entire game. Humphreys and Oliver strolled the first half before the former was replaced by Ash Kigbu at the interval. It was good to see the young defender back after a spell out injured, and there was one reminder of his power as he drove powerfully past two United challenges towards goal.

Duhaney at right-back had a solid game, supporting Buckley where he could. He had little space to work with, yet he showcased some superbly intricate footwork, driving into the area past United’s left-back. Fernandes grabbed ten minutes ahead of him on the right as a late sub for Isaac Buckley, and he looked as tricky and as graceful as ever. With his first touch he proceeded to turn his opponent inside out three times, yet he could only drag his shot into the side-netting. Patching had a thirty minute runout too, elegantly keeping things ticking over, though like others he found United’s packed back-line a little hard to breach. Grimshaw was literally a spectator. He had absolutely nothing to do other than keep warm on a surprisingly blustery day. He watched as City kept the ball and the referee blew for full-time. The result confirmed City’s place in top four ahead of the league splits in a few weeks time. It left City a remarkable 33 points ahead of United as they extended their lead at the top of the table. The merging of the top four teams from the southern division with those from this league should be fascinating. Chelsea are incredibly strong and they’ll provide a stern challenge, likewise Fulham and Reading. Long before that though, these two teams meet again in the return game at the Carrington training complex. It’ll be a relatively non-event for both teams, with nothing other than local pride at show, but it’ll be keenly fought. You suspect there will be space for City to counter as the away team, and it’ll be another intriguing contest. There will be a report here at City Watch, as ever, after the game.

City U18s lineup vs. United U18s

Monday, 25 January 2016

City EDS 3-1 Reading

After a winless couple of games this was just the tonic Simon Davies’ EDS team needed. It was deserved too. A relatively uneventful first half made way for a confident, composed second half performance, decorated with a couple of stunning strikes from Ash Smith-Brown and Aleix Garcia. Bersant Celina added gloss to the scoreline late on to complete an excellent comeback after Reading had initially taken the lead just past the hour mark. City could have been in front long before that, Bersant Celina missing the chance of the first half. A bustling drive from Sinan Bytyqi had taken him into the area on the right, and he was tripped as he cut across the defender. The ref pointed to the spot, but the usually reliable Celina poorly struck the resulting penalty straight at the keeper. There was a few other chances too, Glendon stinging the keeper’s hands with a shot that was rifling towards the top corner, and Celina had a couple of snapshots that were deflected clear and over.

Reading had a few fleeting attacks of their own in the first half – Adarabioyo used all of his 6’5 frame to gallop back and make a vital a goal-saving challenge as Reading had broke through on goal. The Royals had a goal correctly ruled out too, the linesman flagged as their forward had just gone too soon before he headed home. It didn’t matter though as they were in front barely fifteen minutes into the second half. Adarabioyo was far too casual in possession, Reading broke and Cardwell turned Charlie Oliver too easily before firing past Angus Gunn. A sucker punch, but it was a lesson learned after a careless spell, and to City’s credit, the fight-back was immediate. Ash Smith-Brown scored a screamer from outside the area after he had cut in from the left following some lovely work between Celina and Barker. Barely two minutes later and City were in front, and it was some goal. Aleix Garcia did his best Yeboah impression, thundering home an absolutely stunning volley into the top right hand corner from twenty-five yards. Majestic, and it was deserved for another highly promising performance.

It was left to Bersant Celina to wrap it up and grab the third. Rodney Kongolo continued his own impressive recent form with a bulldozing run from deep that took him past two challenges, before he perfectly picked out the Kosovan in the middle who finished clinically. There could have been more as City found their stride. Barker had one ruled out for offside after he had beautifully dinked a ball over the keeper, though it appeared harsh with the young winger looking level. Celina impudently tried to lob Reading’s keeper too from barely ten yards out, only to see the shot land on the roof of the net, but it finished 3-1, and it was a strong result and much deserved after a few ‘nearly’ performances of late. Kongolo was impressive. He’s recently started to excel for the u18s, adding a real forceful attacking drive to his game and he showcased this again in a complete midfield performance. He was ably helped by Aleix Garcia who is growing into English football perfectly. He looks strong, composed and there’s a style and assuredness to his game that marks him out as an interesting prospect – one that perhaps a certain Spanish coach would find pretty intriguing.

Celina, though perhaps a little wasteful for his own high standards, was once again at very least effective. As he always is. It’s a nice habit to have, and he was involved in one goal and he scored another, despite starting in the unfamiliar role of lone striker. Glendon shuttled about with purpose as City won the midfield battle, and there were signs of the last season’s Brandon Barker returning as he continues to find his feet and confidence again after a difficult couple of months. He beat his man more or less every time, showcasing his exceptional technique, and with some better movement around him he could’ve had an assist or two. He should have had a goal as well, searing forward and lifting coolly over the keeper only to have it wrongly ruled out for offside. After his brief forays in the middle, Bytyqi started out on the right, and he had solid game. Not outstanding, but encouraging at least as he drove at Reading with dynamism and persistence whenever he got the opportunity. After such a lengthy spell out on the sidelines, there’s a long way to go, but the early signs are promising. Smith-Brown had one of his best performances of the season at left-back. Decisive in the tackle, and vibrant in attack, the young England defender was a bright, purposeful presence on the left and his goal was just rewards for a top-class display.

Horsfield over at right-back was decent too, bursting forward a few times as he linked up well with Bytyqi. It’s a trait of his that’s come to the fore recently and it’s most welcome. Adarabioyo had a mixed bag of a game. At times, excellent, totally in control, and at others far too slack in possession. From the confusing to the sublime within moments. His talent is clear however, and consistency will surely come. Oliver had a quiet day alongside him, though he wouldn’t have been pleased with his role in their goal as he was turned too easily. Gunn was a little sloppy in possession, but then again not many keepers are expected to pass goal kicks out regardless of the options available to him like City’s are at youth level. This is often City’s undoing at the EDS level, as teams are wise to it and press highly and it results in a few golden opportunities per game being conceded. It’s high-risk, but there is a bigger picture at play and the club are right to enforce it as they look to ensure their prospects are totally and utterly at ease with the ball at their feet at all times. It will cause problems every now and then, but the reasoning is clear, and for now it will stay. Next up for the EDS is a trip to Bolton on Tuesday night for the Senior Cup, and after that the u18s play on Wednesday in the mini-derby at the CFA.

Friday, 15 January 2016

FA Youth Cup - Leeds 2-5 City u18s

If there was ever a need for a stark reminder of the quality City have bubbling away at this level, then this was it. It spoke volumes that Leeds weren't necessarily bad, yet they were still dumped out of the competition after a pretty comprehensive drubbing. The Yorkshire club has rightly gained a good reputation of bringing through some fine academy players over the years, but despite their best efforts, and they really did put in a shift, they simply couldn't live with the sheer quality at City's disposal. It could have been a few more too if City had settled a little sooner; there was some initial hesitancy as the lack of playing time between Adarabioyo and Sarmiento together on the left side of defence told.  Leeds could've broke the deadlock only ten minutes in after a misunderstanding between the pair saw their forward fire over, but City's class soon told and a goal came via Nmecha. It was brilliantly simple in its execution. One pass took took out the midfield and fed Nemane out wide and he expertly picked out Nmecha in the middle for a tap in. The second came soon after, Tosin Adarabioyo used all of his huge 6'5 frame to rise highest and head home Will Patching's corner. It could've been over by half-time as Nmecha ran past the last line of defence, span his defender but could only see his shot deflect wide, but it remained 2-0 at the interval.

It didn't take long for City to finish the game off. The third was a beauty. Dilrosun, a magnificent menace all night, skipped in field, drove at the heart of defence and fed his fellow Dutch team-mate, Kongolo. The midfielder burst past the defence and finished sublimely. Aguero-esque. He dummied his first shot, sat the keeper down and coolly rolled it into the bottom corner. Lovely stuff. Leeds' dropped their heads, and Nmecha made them pay yet again. He did it all himself too, out-muscling Leeds centre-back to win the ball back and then drilling the ball into the bottom corner. The fifth came courtesy of Kongolo, as his volley from a corner somehow trickled past a whole host of bodies into the goal. From that point onwards City seemed to switch off with the game won. It was a shame, as there was more to be had potentially, and the lack of concentration saw the clean sheet slip. Leeds pulled a couple back - the first being an unfortunate own-goal as Sarmiento couldn't quite adjust his feet, turning the ball into his own net from two yards. The second came via a rather harsh penalty. Davenport appeared to get the ball, even if it was a strong challenge, andthe ref pointed to the spot anyway and Leeds grabbed another. There was some brief moments after that, Brahim going close notably, linking well with the confident Patching, but it ended 5-2.

Dilrosun was exceptional. This was the best I'd seen him since he joined the club at the start of last season from Ajax. He came with a big reputation, but underwhelmed a little last year. We only saw fleeting glimpses of his talent as he perhaps lacked composure, but it was understandable. He was new to the country and the language, and patience was needed. Thankfully he was afforded that time and it's paying off. He's looked good this season. Very. The ball stuck to his feet all night and he ran with pace, purpose, variety and no little skill as Leeds' struggled to get near him. Kongolo arrived in a similar set of circumstances too. A big money signing with a great reputation, but like Dilrosun he started slowly. He'd been willing and eager, but last night was the first real signs of his technical prowess. He broke forward with confidence and his attacking play was vastly better than anything we'd seen from him previously. More of the same could see him surprise a few. Davenport had an oustanding game at the heart of midfield. He only turned seventeen in December, but he plays with a maturity rarely seen in one so young. He excelled, winning challenges and spreading the ball with accuracy as he pinged passes out to both wings. Nmecha was brutal up top. He's growing, he looks bigger than the tall but slight forward who started the season back in August. Add that to his already very good movement, impressive finishing and clear technical ability, and the future looks incredibly bright for the forward.

Patching toyed with Leeds all night. He grew into the game as City's confidence rocketed and he could've had an assist or two but for some slightly over-hit passes. He's a lovely player at his best, and he drew purrs of approval from the Leeds commentary team as he linked up with Brahim late in the second half. Sarmiento once again showed all of his footballing in another fine attacking performance. There's work to be done defensively, clearly. He lacked a positional understanding with his team mates, but given he's still new at the club this isn't surprising. It will hopefully come with experience. Adarabioyo, though at first a little unsure, put in a commanding performance, all power and intelligence. Oliver alongside him was equally as composed, cleaning up what little came his way in a relatively trouble free night. Duhaney made his first appearance after a spell on the sidelines and he looked a tad rusty, but still put in an accomplished performance. Though naturally a right-back, he spent the first half of the season over on the left, and he looked great too. I'm not sure he's quite reached those levels yet on the right, but that will surely come in time. Grimshaw, though not really challenged, and he had no chance with the goals, still impressed. His distribution was fantastic, calmly playing the ball out of defence, totally at ease receiving the ball at any point. It's a necessity for a modern keeper these days, and he'll have no trouble on that front.

Brahim sparkled briefly in an exciting cameo, twice turning magically away from his defender as he showcased some of his vast potential. Buckley worked hard after coming on for Nmecha, but saw little of the ball, and Wood had little time to do anything of note as City went through the motions with full time approaching. The last ten minutes aside, and to a lesser extent the first fifteen, it was a devastating performance. City have a habit at this level of making football look remarkably simple when it clicks. It's a game built on expression, pace and flair. It's great to watch, and it's notable how well City use the width of the pitch. We're blessed with an abundance of highly technical wide-men and their movement, and the ability the midfielders have to pick them out, means we're likely to score seemingly out of nowhere, with the first goal being proof. There's a good feeling about this side. It's a very promising generation, and when you consider that Brahim. Kigbu, Buckley and Wood were only on the bench, with Bullock, Humphreys, Fernandes, Dele-Bashiru, Diallo and Manu Garcia all not in the squad, then you realise how strong things are. This team will at least expect to match last year's run to the final. It's certainly capable. A trip to either Wigan or Derby awaits in the next round.

City EDS 0-1 Everton

Not the finest of games, to be truthful. City never really got going on a horribly miserable night in East Manchester. It was cold, dreary and wet, as it always seemingly is at the CFA, and the game went through the motions for the vast majority of the night. City didn’t deserve a defeat, but at the same time, it perhaps wasn’t really a game that either team deserved to win in what was a rather forgettable encounter. It was an interesting lineup though – Angelino returned, pulling on a blue shirt for the first team since his loan move from New York City. Likewise, Brandon Barker also made his first appearance after his spell at Rotherham came to an unceremoniously abrupt end. They reunited their strong partnership down the left, while over at right-back James Horsfield stepped in for Pablo Maffeo as he finalised the details of his loan move to FC Girona. Ash Smith-Brown stepped in at centre-back alongside Ellis Plummer in the absence of Adarabioyo and Humphreys, and ahead of those two sat Aleix Garcia as he anchored the midfield alongside George Glendon and Bersant Celina. Jorge Intima started on the right-wing and David Faupala stepped in upfront with Ambrose injured and Nmecha away ahead of the FA Youth Cup tie.

There wasn’t much of note in the first half. City dictated play, controlling the ball for most of the 45 minutes, but they couldn’t really break down an Everton defence that was all too happy to sit back and absorb the pressure. Celina did have a half chance, firing into the keeper’s hands after a scuffed Intima shot had fallen to him. Intima himself could have also scored, hitting the sidenetting after some nice linkup play between Horsfield and Faupala. Everton had their own golden chance too, but City were thankful to Angus Gunn who smartly kept out the visitors after a goal-mouth scramble, which kept the scores level at the break. Parity didn’t last long though, and the game’s solitary goal came immediately after the restart. Everton scored what was to be the eventual winner after thirty seconds, and it wasn’t pretty. A ball broke loose after a cross from the left, and a scuffed half-volley trickled in at the near post. It was disappointing, and despite City’s best efforts they couldn’t level proceedings. City did up the tempo, and Bersant Celina came the closest. He was left scratching his head after he somehow managed to strike the post from barely 5 yards. Isaac Buckley had done all the handwork, his pace had expertly taken him to the byeline and his pull-back deserved better. There was a few other promising moments, Barker in particular caused a bit of trouble down the left, but his lack of recent match practice meant his radar wasn’t quite as fine-tuned as normal and his final ball was lacking. It wasn’t to be and the game finished 1-0 to Everton.

It wasn’t a vintage performance, but it was understandable given the rather thrown together nature of the team. There was some positives. Barker, though initially rusty, and he did a pretty torrid first half, grew into the game and he looked like something approaching his usual brilliant best as he created three or four opportunities good moments with some powerful bursts forward. Angelino, too, looked a sprightly presence, clearly refreshed after a few weeks rest following his loan. He looked confident, and there was some of his trademark attacking forays as he tried to get City going. Aleix Garcia only lasted the first forty-five, but he was an assured, firm presence in the centre of midfield. He’s adapting to English football well and he’s clearly getting to grips with the more physical nature of the game. He’s clearly an exceptional footballer technically, and if he can add an almost Gareth Barry-esque cleverness to his game then he’ll be some prospect. Jorge Intima had a mixed game – the Portugese winger offered plenty of energy down the right, and his work rate was admirable, as it always is, but he also guilty of wasting a good chance. His delivery let him down when it mattered too. It didn’t really happen for Faupala. He ran the line well up top, but there was little for him to go off or run onto as City struggled to find space between the lines. Celina, clearly on a high from the weekend, looked lively, though it didn’t quite come off the technically gifted midfielder. There was a lack of any real intelligent movement around him on a night not really built for one touch intricacy. He should’ve scored though, and 9 out of 10 times he probably would have.

Glendon looked infinitely more comfortable when he was moved back to the holding mid position at half-time. He wasn’t bad as such in a more advanced position, but he perhaps isn’t the most natural of attackers and he reads the game well from a deeper position. Sinan Bytyqi sat just ahead of Glendon after he came on for Aleix Garcia at half-time, and it was something of a surprise to see him in the heart of midfield. He’s usually lined up out wide, or just off the striker, but he was a little deeper here as he looked to influence the game from the centre. He’s got the physique for it now at least. That spell on the sidelines has clearly seen him spend some time in the gym. He’s bigger, clearly. It wasn’t a notable runout, but he’s far from match fit so patience is needed, but his potential reinvention could be fascinating to witness. Horsfield had a good, solid game at right-back. He wasn’t tested much defensively, but there was a nice burst forward in the first half that lead to a chance that Intima squandered. Smith-Brown in the middle had a relatively solid game, likewise Plummer, but in truth they had little to do. A couple of stray passes aside, both were content to receive the ball from Gunn in a low-key night. Fernandes looked positive in his brief runout, dropping his shoulder with the same purposeful elegance he always does in the u18s, and Buckley, the u18s leading scorer this year, underlined his growing promise with a sprightly runout. He should’ve created the equaliser, but Celina squandered his good work as mentioned earlier. It was a night to forget in the end though for Simon Davies’ EDS team, but with all eyes firmly on the FA Youth Cup trip to Leeds on Thursday night, it was hard to expect too much else. That game at least should bring a few goals. Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

City u18s 1-0 Everton

City’s u18s kicked off the new year in style yesterday, winning 1-0 against a strong Everton side. This was never going to be an easy game either; Everton are a consistently good outfit at u18s level, and this generation is no exception. Everton sat in 2nd place at kick off, six points behind City, but crucially the Merseysiders had two games in hand. They comprehensively out-played Wilcox’s men in the away fixture too, running out convincing 3-1 winners back in October. They would have felt rightfully confident going into the game, but thankfully it wasn’t to be for the visitors. This was a lot closer and in the end City were good value for the three points. There was a little rustiness evident, but it was understandable. This was the first game back for both teams after the enforced break that youth football takes over the Christmas period – naturally some lacked a little sharpness and the first half was played out mainly at arm’s length. It was cagey affair as both teams prompted and probed with caution, with most attacks breaking down before they really reached boiling point. There were one or two decent moments – Everton nearly broke the deadlock, Grimshaw brilliantly tipping a header from five yards out around the post. City went close themselves as Nmecha headed Sarmiento’s delightful cross just over, and Will Patching had a beautiful 25 yard effort tipped onto the crossbar from a free-kick. Davenport stung the keeper’s hands too with a rasping drive from just outside the area, but it stayed 0-0 at the break.

The second half was a much livelier affair. Whatever was said worked, and City sparked into life immediately from the kick-off. City moved the ball quicker and used the width better. The encouraging pair of Dilrosun and the new boy, Sarmiento, down the left caused all manner of problems and it nearly led to a the opener as a couple of perfectly whipped crosses flashed across the six yard box, with Nmecha glancing one just wide. Everton eventually regained their composure, nearly scoring themselves with Grimshaw coming to the rescue, saving well in a one on one down to his right, but the introduction of Brahim and Buckley once again turned the tide in City’s favour. Both are blessed with an abundance of skill and pace, and it was immediately evident. Buckley was very good, a real live-wire, impishly darting across the backline as he frequently tried to get in behind the defence, and he nearly had a goal too. He fired inches wide of the far post after he’d been played through on goal. Nmecha did eventually grab the winner, however, and it came courtesy of a spot-kick after he had been brought down in the area following some battling work from Dilrosun. He stepped up, dusted himself off and sent the keeper the wrong way. It proved to be the winner as City held out until the final whistle, and it was just about deserved in the end. City were stoic, worked hard, and though they were by no means at their silky best, it was a performance built on determination and a real admirable focus.

It was an interesting lineup with a few surprises. Nemane and Adarabioyo, both EDS regulars these days, both stepped down a level and started amongst side their fellow u18s. Elsewhere, Sarmiento continued at left-back, Bullock came back in at right-back and Oliver partnered Adarabioyo at centre-half, with Grimshaw between the sticks behind them. Davenport took up the holding midfield role and Kongolo and Patching lined up ahead of him. Out wide, Dilrosun and Nemane flanked Nmecha in the middle. There was no Fernandes as he linked up with the EDS ahead of their game on Monday. Duhaney sat out too, likewise Diallo continued his recuperation from injury. Humphreys was away on first team duties and Brahim, Wood and Kigbu only made the bench. Grimshaw was good in goal, making two excellent saves in a generally confident all-round display. He's clearly growing in confidence and this was an encouraging display from the local lad. He was helped by a towering display from Charlie Oliver ahead of him. Oliver's had a quietly impressive season as he's grown into the team and he was good here yet again, reading the game well and distributing confidently as City built from the back. He's always been a warrior, never shirking from challenges, but he's starting to develop a real solid understanding of the game, positioning himself well as attacks form. Encouraging stuff. Adarabioyo wasn't his usual self, disappointingly. It was a mixed performance from the England u19 centre-back, with his usually exceptional high standards falling a little short. He was twice turned far too easily by Everton's centre-forward and a little sloppy in possession. There was some good though, and one effortless last-ditch challenge highlighted his immense ability.

Sarmiento was once again promising at left-back in only his second start for the club. He’s clearly adept at going forward, a real natural footballer blessed with wonderful feet. He went on a few darting, mazy runs as he drove infield right at the heart of Everton’s defence and he was frequently the catalyst for City upping the tempo. Defensively there’s work to be done, as there tends to be with most attacking full-backs, but the talent is there and he should be some player when he fully settles into the English life. Bullock wasn’t at his all action best over on the right, but he did have his moments, linking up with Buckley in the second half and he defended well whenever Everton stepped it up. Davenport was good, sweeping up intelligently whenever the opposition tried to break. There was the odd moment where he perhaps naively followed the ball and not the man, but he’s a promising young player and he’s learning every week, and this was another nuanced, competent display. Kongolo was all effort, and there was one or two nice drives through midfield as he used his athleticism to run past Everton’s midfield.

Patching was solid, perhaps not at graceful best, yet he worked hard and did nearly get on the scoresheet with a moment of magic. Dilrosun was impressive on the left, working tirelessly and he gave their right-back a difficult time with his persistent strong runs. He’s become a real effective winger, something different to the vast majority of wide players these days, and it’s welcome to see. Nemane had a quiet game on the right before he was replaced by Buckley who got plenty of joy up against Everton’s tiring legs. Nmecha was decent, his movement as sharp as ever, though there was a few touches that did escape him, yet he continually worked well up front, frequently showing for the ball as he ran the line tirelessly. Brahim was only a second half substitute and he looked sharp, even if things didn’t quite come off for the gifted young attacking midfielder, but like the rest he played his part as City held on for a deserved win in what ended up a satisfying start to 2016 for Jason Wilcox’s u18s. City are now six points clear having played two more games, and we’ll likely top the North Division before the split is made in a few weeks time. Next up, a trip to Newcastle next Saturday.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

EDS Watch - Bersant Celina 1st team debut

Bersant Celina made his first-team debut today as City strolled to a 3-0 victory at Norwich in the FA Cup, and though it was only for just under ten minutes, it was deserved. I'd be waiting for this moment for some months now, and it was a great relief that the nineteen-year-old finally made his domestic appearance. The young attacking midfielder is a wonderfully graceful little footballer, the kind that would fit into the first team's pass and move style with ease. Elegant, skilful, always with an eye for the spectacular – he’s been a regular for the EDS this season and was a huge part of last season’s run to the FA Youth Cup final. He’s capable of playing in a whole host of positions across the attacking third. Nominally at the peak of a midfield three, he’s also played as a false 9 for the recently formed Kosovo national side, and he’s also lined up out wide for the EDS, acquitting himself well in all roles. This debut was long overdue. 

Though far from the finished article, and most young attackers never are at 19, there is clearly a huge amount of ability within those boots of his, with vast potential for greater things. If he learns to assert himself in a more physical environment, and also learns how to contribute when the team is in something of a fallow spell, then he’ll go far. There are no doubts technically. He’s at his best when the team is confident around him, dropping into space and playing excellent little one-twos in and around the area. The kind of player who would appreciate the talents of Silva and co. He’s a magnificent free-kick taker too – think Yaya’s free-kicks when he went through that brilliant spell of scoring seemingly every other game. He clips the ball over the wall expertly, a real, clean finisher. Celina has done this repeatedly at youth level.

The signs are encouraging, and with experience and a little luck there’s the potential for him to contribute to City’s fortunes in the coming years. For now a loan possibly awaits away from the club, but we can’t underestimate how important steps like today are. These youth players need that experience. That teaser, the carrot on the stick. It eases them in, shows them what it could be like for them in the future and it alleviates any initially understandable nerves that they may have. Thankfully, Celina is a confident player – evident in his two snapshots at goal despite being on the pitch for a handful of minutes – but others aren’t. That’s fine, either way. The important thing is pushing these players out of their comfort zone one by one. This is a step in the right direction. More of the same please, Manuel.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

EDS Loan Report 2015 pt 2

Following on from Friday's piece, which featured Evans, Ntcham, Zuculini, Yeboah, Horsfield and Byrne, I’ve taken a closer look at the seven remaining loan players. Brandon Barker, Jason Denayer, Shay Facey, Angelino, Seko Fofana, Ian Lawlor and Enes Unal are all featured. As ever, it’s been a mixed bag, which is the norm for loans, regardless of the player’s ability. There’s seemingly an underlying train of thought from most that would lead you to believe that for a loan to have been successful, a player must have excelled during their temporary move. This, in general, isn’t necessarily fair or true. Successful loans, on the surface at least, are a rarity. Given the nature of the move, the chances of a player becoming one of the star players almost immediately is highly unlikely, even if they are exceptionally talented. That’s the case for players of any age, be it 18, 25 or 34. There are countless examples of players taking several months to adapt to a new team or environment. It took months before Yaya Toure found his feet in Mancini’s team initially for example. It’s only natural.

Now bear in mind that these are young men, most hugely inexperienced, and it’s only reasonable to expect that things will be a little tricky. A youth loan isn’t about being the key man, creating goals or being a match-winner. That’s great, obviously, and it will happen sometimes, but it isn’t always about that. These moves are designed to test whether the player can adapt to the increased physicality and pressure that comes with professional football. If they’re a little quiet in terms of their influence, so be it, but the important thing is that they don’t look out of place. A club can tell if a young player can handle themselves amongst adults, but perhaps isn’t necessarily connecting with the team through various reasons, be it stylistically or tactically. The players are at Manchester City, so they’re certainly already very capable footballers, technically speaking. The performances will come later when the player has found their feet in the right setup around them. It’s all too easy to dismiss a low-key move as a failure, when it often isn’t the case at all. A young David Silva would most certainly struggle in League One, with his teammates likely on a different wavelength entirely, but the club will know and understand that. Elite prospects develop best alongside elite players with elite coaches, not out on loan. Loans are temporary, designed to test them in a certain way. These moves need to be viewed with those thoughts in mind. With that in mind, on to the players.

Brandon Barker

A curious one, and a perfect example of how depressingly bleak the loan system can be. Exceptionally talented, and arguably the star of last season’s EDS team, it was perhaps surprising that Barker didn’t get the slightly more glamorous loan that his talents deserved – Byrne went to Cambuur, Ntcham joined Genoa, and Angelino left to the glitzy world of the MLS. Barker ended up in a relegation dogfight at Rotherham United. So be it. Even more surprising was the outcome. The winger was named in the starting XI immediately by Neil Redfearn and though Rotherham lost 5-2, he left the pitch as their MOTM having scored a stunning long range strike. Promising, and enough to whet the appetites of the Rotherham faithful. And then he disappeared. He was benched for four games in a row before City recalled him. Hugely baffling and most certainly undeserving, it showed just how unpredictable loans can be – ones to the Championship in particular. There was rumours that club politics came into it; their left midfielder met with Redfearn, bemoaned his lack of an appearance fee and just like that, he was back in the team. It wouldn’t be surprising, and it won’t be the last time a loan move will turn sour through no fault of a player’s own. Either it way, it happened. For now, Barker is back at City. Perhaps January will be kinder to the hugely talented winger and he can pick up a move where he can test himself in a better environment. He deserves it.

Jason Denayer

It’s been a stop-start move so for the exceptionally talented defender. He joined Galatasaray at the start of the season and he was initially thrust into the team at centre-back, before moving over to right-back as their usual choice picked up an injury. He was good, performing with the same assured brilliance that those who’ve watched him closely had come to expect. Technically magnificent, intelligent and composed, he used all his skills to great effect as he slotted in naturally. He was by no means the star man, yet he was performing more than admirably in a position he had no prior experience in. It was encouraging, yet, typically, misfortune struck and his progress slowed. The curse of the Etihad’s injury list seemingly struck the young defender down from a distance and a spell on the sidelines followed. He’s had a couple of niggling setbacks and so far his appearances have been limited. 2016 should hopefully see him free of any knocks and he’s expected to return to full training any time now. There was calls from some quarters for City to recall him as Kompany broke down once again, though I’d be surprised if this an option. Only in exceptional circumstances can clubs recall players from a season long loan. It has to be written into a contract prior, and this is extremely rare. With a little luck, a strong run of games will perhaps be the platform he needs, and deserves, to convince those in charge that he can be a huge part of City’s squad rehabilitation over the summer, especially with the ageing Demichelis surely on his way.

Enes Unal

The eighteen-year-old Turkish striker has found life a little testing in Belgium. He moved to Genk after work permit problems meant he couldn’t kick-start his career over in Manchester. He’s been a regular in the squad, but mainly as an impact sub. There’s been twelve appearances in total, which is a decent amount, yet he’s only managed three starts so far. He has however scored a couple of times, despite mostly being introduced late on to freshen things up. It’s a little hard to gauge his performances, what with the paucity of information available online, but one thing that is for certain is that time is still on his side. He doesn’t turn nineteen until May and he’s an intelligent, considered player if his interviews are anything to go by. He’ll hope for more in the new year.

Ian Lawlor

Life has been good to the Irish u21 keeper so far this season. He spent the vast majority of last season out injured in what proved to be a hugely frustrating campaign. A small twist of fate saw him back in goal for the EDS as his main rival, the hugely talented Angus Gunn, picked up a small knock of his own. He impressed as City’s u21s beat Chelsea 2-0 in a televised game on Sky Sports, and that display, plus his already good reputation gained from representing Ireland’s u21s, saw him join Barnet a couple of weeks back as an emergency loan move. He’s done well so far, with the scorelines perhaps unfairly representative of his performances. He made a whole host of saves as Barnet claimed a 4-2 victory at Shrewsbury, and he pulled off a stunning save too as Barnet beat Newport 2-0. It hasn’t been all perfect, however. There’s been some slight hesitancy – the kind that plagues any youngster as he makes his professional league bow, but in general its been a promising move and his confidence has visibly grown with each game. He’s warmed himself to Barnet’s fans and its a move that will act as a nice starting point to his career.

Seko Fofana

Fofana’s done well so far at Bastia. Whether it’ll be enough to further his career at City remains to be seen, but he’s clearly improved as a player. His time at Fulham last year was hit and miss, in and out of the team as Fulham fought relegation. He was likeable, all energy and full of boundless, powerful runs, but it often wasn’t enough to rely on as the Cottagers craved more experienced heads and consequently he spent a lot of time on the bench. Bastia seem to be caught up in a similar predicament, yet Fofana’s been a mainstay, encouragingly praised for his tactical awareness and calm displays at the heart of midfield. He’s always had raw talent, plenty of it in fact. Yet it was his composure that often let him down, but the signs are good. I’ve caught a couple of games and he’s playing with considerably more intelligence, positioning himself well, sitting far deeper than he ever did for City’s EDS and Fulham. A little more Yaya-like, if you like, dictating play from deep. He’s becoming a key figure at Bastia and that will surely only help his development as he gains a sense of seniority and belief in his own abilities. With 17 starts already, and still only aged twenty, he’ll surely continue to improve. He’ll have to reach a high level if he’s to succeed at City, but there’s time yet.

Angelino & Shay Facey

Angelino and Shay Facey returned to City from New York in November as their loan spells ended. It was a curious move for Angelino. It started well, yet it ended on a relatively lower note. His initial energy gave way to some uncharacteristically conservative displays, with his all-action approach seemingly fading a little as the weeks passed. Given his age, it was no surprise, and it could have been entirely circumstantial too. The MLS is a tough league, in the sense that it’s a crazy one. There’s very little organisation over there and games often resembled a basketball match. Free for alls, with little cohesion or sense. He’s surely learned something, though it’s unlikely to be defensively – those around him offered little in that field and he looked far too naive around his own area at times. It’s a shame as it is the one side of his game that he needs to work on. He’s clearly a very good footballer – his four assists being clear proof. He shuttled forward well, adding a huge amount of skill and intelligence to New York’s attacks, yet we knew that already. The next move will be crucial. He’ll be physically stronger than he was, at very least, but you can’t help but think what he would have learned playing in a settled, organised back four for a few months. A lesson learned perhaps.

As it stands Angelino’s back training with City’s first team as he’s currently ineligible to play until January due to the stipulations of his loan. I’d suspect Angelino will move again, and rightly so. Facey already has. He confirmed a loan move to Rotherham until the end of season on Saturday morning and he was immediately thrust into the starting eleven at right-back. Though Rotherham lost 2-1, going down to a last minute own goal, he drew praise from Neil Redfearn for his energy, reading of the game and tenacity. It’s an interesting move, especially considering how Barker’s loan panned out there, but I guess there’s enough trust from City to allow Neil Redfearn a second player. How he develops in the Championship will be fascinating. He was functional at NYCFC, usually played at centre-back, where he went through a similar run of form to Angelino. He started well, then struggled a little as his inexperience showed, clearly in dire need of a composed, wiser head alongside him. Facey was good when played at right-back for the EDS, and it was heartening to see him start there for Rotherham. He seems to have all the attributes to excel out wide. Fast, tenacious and good on the ball, perhaps a little Trippier-esque. The Championship is a tough league, and Rotherham are struggling too, so it’ll be a baptism of fire so to speak, but his debut showed some promising signs and he’ll learn a lot. I had initially suspected Vieira may have decided to bring him back to NYCFC but for now that won’t be the case. He’s still only twenty and he signed a two-year contract when he returned to City, so the door clearly isn’t closed on him yet at the Etihad. Time will tell.

Elsewhere, I wouldn’t be surprised if Vieira takes another one or two with him – there’s rumours that Pablo Maffeo has been lined up to make the move. That’d be a tad disappointing from a personal perspective. I don’t mind then MLS, but I think he deserves better, even a shot in the first team given his excellent EDS form, or perhaps a move to a strong European league. Hopefully under close watch from City the move could run a lot smoother. If that comes to fruition, don’t be surprised to see another of his EDS teammates join him come the start of the season. NYCFC, though a team in its own right, will clearly be used as a sort of finishing school for City. The ties with Girona in Spain are intriguing too, especially given Pere Guardiola’s involvement at the club. Pep’s brother, of course.

If injuries subside, expect loan moves for a few of the EDS’s stalwarts. Ambrose, Aleix Garcia and Kean Bryan are all out injured, so they won’t be going anywhere, and that may also put on hold any temporary moves for the likes of Celina and Glendon, even Bytiqi who has now recovered from his injury problems. There simply isn’t the numbers in reserve otherwise. Still, do expect more to move on over the next couple of months. Barker will likely move out again. Roberts, too, has spent far too much time watching from the sidelines and his game has stagnated recently which is understandable given his lack of competitive football. The experience is necessary, and they will surely get it in due course. If, and when, it happens, there will be reports on here following their progress.