Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Stoke City 2-3 City u18s

This was a tough game. You'd have been forgiven for thinking that this would have been something of a walk in the park for City's u18s. They've been irrepressible recently, riding high at the top of the league as Stoke watched bleakly on from the foot of the table. On paper it didn't bode well for the midlands club, yet, typically, they took the lead within two minutes. It was a real sucker punch too, a soft, avoidable goal that followed some questionable defending. Duhaney was initially guilty, poorly heading the ball backwards straight into the path of on-rushing Stoke forward. He broke down the left, cut in and somehow managed to score from a nearly impossible angle - the shot tamely trickling past Haug at the near post. It was unexpected, and it set the tone for a frustrating hour for City. Stoke sat back, happy to invite Wilcox's team onto them, and it proved a test of patience as the game broke into an extended game of attack versus defence. There was some chances, Fernandes and Davenport both stinging the keeper's hands, Buckley went near too, hitting the side netting from just inside the area, but City couldn't break the deadlock and went in behind at half-time.

The pattern repeated well into the second half. Nmecha was brought on at the interval, and he nearly levelled things moments after the kick-off, just missing a drilled Dilrosun cross-shot as it flashed by. Eventually the persistence told, and it came from an unlikely source too. Rodney Kongolo broke character and wandered forward, and he was the first to react to a deep Dilrosun cross as he volleyed home to the keeper's right. Barely ten minutes later and City had their noses deservedly in front. Patching drove forward through midfield before spreading the ball out wide to Dilrosun. He looked up and curled in a delightful first time cross to Nmecha who fired into the roof of the net from six yards out. It should have been comfortable from that point. Sadly, it wasn't. City once again switched off, allowing Stoke far too much time on the ball and an equaliser came against the run of play. A low cross in from the right lead to a swept finish past the helpless Haug. Credit where it's due, City struck back immediately. With more or less his first real involvement, the substitute Brahim drove straight at their right-back and he was brought down in the area. Nmecha missed the resulting penalty, but his blushes were spared when Isaac Buckley picked up the ball ten yards from goal and fired through the defender's legs into the bottom left-hand corner with barely a minute left. Cue pandemonium in the blue dugout and the referees whistle barely seconds later.

Erik Sarmiento was impressive. The summer signing from Espanyol has had to sit on the sidelines while he waited for international clearance and this was his first full start at this level. He was very encouraging at left-back, typically Spanish with his distrubition - sharp, precise and intelligent. He was effective going forward too, twice setting off on marauding runs that saw him swerve past three or four challenges as he drove into Stoke's half. A promising debut, and clearly a very exciting player. Duhaney had a slightly quieter game over on the right, though that's understandable seeing as he's spent most of the season on the opposite flank. Humphreys had a mixed game, sometimes impressive and strong in the challenge, he was also caught out on a couple of occasions as the defensive line didn't quite get the offside trap right. Likewise Oliver, though the centre-half did put in some impressively strong challenges, twice sending Stoke players flying - albeit fairly. Davenport was good in midfield, keeping things ticking over as City pressed, and he pushed forward whenever he could too. Kongolo was similarly effective, bustling about to good effective in a nitty gritty midfield battle. He took his goal well and if he can continue adding goals to his game he'll go up another level.

Patching cut a slightly frustrated figure in the first half, though his influence grew as Stoke tired and it was his forthright play that lead to the second goal. He turned well and quickly drove at Stoke which left them out of position for the eventual Dilrosun cross. He's capable of this, and it was good to see his positivity rewarded. Fernandes wasn't his usually exciting flamboyant self, and despite a couple of decent moments he found himself crowded out as Stoke sat back. He was replaced at half-time for Nmecha, who went up-front with Buckley moving wide. Nmecha immediately offered a much more natural threat up top. His movement and intelligence, combined with a natural striker's instinct, and a greater threat out wide as Wilcox audibly encouraged Dilrosun and Buckley to hug the touchline, helped City turn the tide. He should have had a couple of goals at least, weakly seeing his penalty saved, but it didn't matter in the end as City collected all three points. Buckley struggled a little in the first half - he's the kind of player that revels in running in behind defenders, yet Stoke sat incredibly deep and it was notable that he was much more at ease when he switched out wide to the right in second half. It was a move that allowed him to have a run at his fullback one on one, and that eventually won the game for City as he isolated his defender, cut inside him and finished in his usual, emphatic style. I do prefer Buckley out wide, personally.

Brahim was only a substitute, replacing Dilrosun for the last ten minutes. He made an immediate impact though, setting off on a trademark run that lead to a foul by their right-back and a penalty. He was good, as ever, and played his part as City attacked with intensity and struck the late winner. Dele-Bashiru had little time to make an impact, yet settled in well as City held out. It was an intriguing game, and another example of the admirable character that the academy coaches have instilled into these players. They never know when they're beaten and it spoke volumes that despite Stoke equalising, and Nmecha missing that penalty, I still knew City would win. It just felt inevitable, as often is the case at this level. The u18s pull it out of the bag when it matters. They've lost once all season, and it's not hard to see why. It's all very well being exceptionally talented, but the work ethic is needed, as is self-belief and a commitment to the game plan. These players have that in abundance. This result put City three points clear of Everton at the top of the table, though the merseysiders do have two games in hand. The clubs meet on the 9th of January which should be a fascinating encounter. Elsewhere, the u16s carried on their remarkable run of form. They were exceptional as they trounced Stoke 6-0. Tyrese Campbell bagged four, taking his tally to 29 for the season…in December. Jadon Sancho and an own goal gave the scoreline sufficient gloss. It's some generation that. One we'll surely see a lot of in the next couple of years. There's no football over christmas for the academy teams, disappointingly, so there will be a small break on here most likely, but look out for a few pieces on loans and so on. Have a lovely christmas all!

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

FA Youth Cup Preview & Analysis

City's u18s started their FA Youth Cup campaign on Tuesday night, earning a 2-1 victory down on the south coast against Portsmouth. Brahim Diaz won the game late on, scoring a magnificent solo goal in a game that City should have won at a canter.  City were irrepressible, yet they spurned countless glorious chances to add a deserved gloss to the scoreline. Lukas Nmecha had initially opened the deadlock early in the first half before Portsmouth made City rue their wastefulness and grabbed a predictable equaliser. Harvey Bradbury, the son of former City striker, Lee, levelled proceedings mid-way through the second forty-five before the current man of the hour, Brahim Diaz, clinched victory with a piece of individual brilliance. It set up a fourth round tie with Leeds United in January ahead of what could be the start of something hugely promising. This is a highly talented squad with numerous players vying for a starting spot and Wilcox and his group will fancy their chances of matching last year's run to the final at very least. This felt like a good opportunity to take a closer look at the players involved, the set-up and the likely approach Wilcox will take this year.

To put it simply, the options available to Wilcox are ridiculously strong, and hugely varied too. The club are rightly taking this competition seriously, and they're following last year's ideology that saw the eligible EDS players integrated with the current standouts from the u18s league campaign. Aaron Nemane, Cameron Humphreys, Rodney Kongolo and Tosin Adarabioyo are all very much EDS regulars these days, despite their youth, yet they dropped back on Monday to work with Wilcox and will continue to do so throughout the duration of this competition. The formation the club instills throughout the academy set-up, a fluid, attacking 4-3-3, facilitates this pretty well, allowing players to move up through the age groups seamlessly, fully knowing what's expected of them in their roles. A player can move from the 16s to the u21s and slot in with ease, theoretically. And it was was no different on Monday night, Daniel Grimshaw sat behind a back four of Demeaco Duhaney, Tosin Adarabioyo, Charlie Oliver and Jacob Davenport. Ahead of them, Marcus Wood and Rodney Kongolo anchored the midfield with Brahim Diaz pushing on, and the front three consisted of Javairo Dilrosun and Aaron Nemane either side of Lukas Nmecha. Different names, but the same system. It was a strong line-up, with an equally as strong bench too. Haug, Dele-Bashiru, Fernandes, Buckley and Humphreys made up the numbers.

Grimshaw is the current number one, and it was a pretty simple decision to give him the starting spot. The Manchester born keeper has usually been the first choice for the u18s this year, and he's played well, yet he's ably supported by the tatlented Kjeti Haug, who's impressed when afforded the chance. Charlie Albinson, I think, is overage for this so there will no involvement there. If so, there's the promise of the u16's Joseph Hilton in reserve, plus the u15s keeper, Curtis Anderson - currently England u16s first choice. At right back it seems a clear choice between Demeacho Duhaney and Callum Bullock. Duhaney usually lines up on the left for the u18s, despite being naturally right-footed, yet he started on the right against Portsmouth, with Bullock nowhere to be seen. Perhaps an injury forced the change. Either way, both are strong options. Bullock's shone for the u18s this year - a tough, committed defender with an excellent cross, he's capable of bustling back and forth all day long. Duhaney is very much the modern full-back, at his best gliding forward with pace, all fleet-footed and technically proficient. Jacob Davenport is an option at left-back, and he started there on Tuesday, though usually he's a holding midfielder. His intelligent reading of the game suits the role well, likewise Marcus Wood, also a midfielder, who's stood in at left-back a few times this season. Lewis Blackshaw, a whippet-like first year scholar with boundless energy, has impressed when afforded an opportunity and there's the new Spanish import, Erik Sarmiento, now eligible. He made his debut for the EDS on Monday night and could be another left-back option. He looked encouraging in his brief run-out. 

At centre-mid there's huge competition for places. Marcus Wood is yet another with leadership qualities. The Sale born midfielder is a really likable player - he's a commanding influence and he offers plenty of drive in the heart of midfielder. Rodney Kongolo, one of the more experienced members of the team and a frequent member of Patrick Vieira's EDS teams this season, was chosen alongside him on Tuesday. He brings plenty of energy, desire and a solid box-to-box game. Jacob Davenport, when not at left-back, is a likely option too. He's great there, expertly snuffing out danger as it develops. Injury ruled out Manu Garcia, yet he might've not been involved anyway. Certainly eligible, the exceptionally talented young Spanish midfielder has been an EDS regular and on the periphery of the first-team this season, so his involvement may be circumstantial. However, given Adarabioyo and Nemane's involvement, you'd expect he would be. And rightly so. Only a substitute last year at this level, the gifted playmaker will be a key figure when fit and one of the team's stars. For now though, Brahim Diaz is the go-to option at the peak of midfield three. A real gem, mercurial and with an eye for the spectacular, the sixteen year old with the huge reputation has really come alive for the u18s now after a few weeks feeling his way in. He looks marvellous. Think Kinkladze with Tevez's attitude. He's only young, but like Garcia, he has the world at his feet.

Manu Garcia
Will Patching was surprisingly absent on Tuesday, though he was involved with the EDS on Monday night. Whether this is permanent, time will tell, and it could have just been a necessity given the paucity of options that Simon Davies had available to him with injuries to the Garcias, Manu and Aleix, and Kean Bryan. Either way, Patching is a fantastic talent. Graceful, skilful and a beautifully gifted midfielder, he'll be a key man if used. Sadou Diallo is another brilliant young midfielder. Composed and measured, the England youth international has been a regular at the heart of midfield down at the CFA, and it speaks volumes for the talent around him that he may have a fight on his hands to gain a starting spot. Tom Dele-Bashiru is fast becoming something of a mainstay of the the u18s squad, despite still being an u16. It's no surprise. He's a beast, a true powerhouse of a midfielder, capable of driving through midfield with a real ferocity, with a finish to match it too. Given his age, he may just find himself as an impact sub at this level, but he'll prove some option. His u16 partner, Matt Smith, the current Welsh u17 captain, is another exceptionally gifted, well-rounded midfielder and after making his u18s debut the other week, he could be another who finds himself involved eventually.

Out wide City are stocked full of attacking talent. A regular last year, and a current starter for the EDS, Nemane is still eligible. It's easy to forget how young some of these players are, and Nemane is a prime example. A stocky, small winger, he's a real handful with a great low centre of gravity and dangerous turn of pace. At this level he'll prove a real goal-scoring menace on either wing. With Nemane on the right, Javairo Dilrosun started on the left, and it's been a great year so far for the Dutch forward. He struggled a little at times last year in his debut season, but he's settled into life in Manchester well this year and he's been excellent all season. A tricky old school winger, he's capable of running the length of the pitch with his powerful, lung-bursting runs. He's added a goal threat too this season and I suspect he'll be a regular here. Fernandes is another wonderful player. In most teams the Spanish winger would be a star, yet here he's just another one of several gems. Impossibly tricky and a genuinely top class finisher with either foot, he's destroyed countless left-backs this season despite his small frame. So has Isaac Buckley. Equally capable through the middle as a number 9, and I suspect that's where he'll often find himself, Buckley, like Fernandes, is a a real livewire. Both are absolutely exceptional at dropping their shoulder and bursting past their opponent, with their goal tallies being clear proof.

Jadon Sancho is the dark horse, still only really an u16, the mesmerising forward has made his debut for the u18s this year, scoring two on his first full appearance, and he's proved a star at youth level so far. He models himself on Neymar, and it tells. If he carries on his progress, don't be surprised to see him involved later on in the campaign. Lukas Nmecha is the current first choice up top, and rightly so. Nmecha is a exceptional talent. Already a regular for the EDS, despite only turning 17 last week, Nmecha has a hatful of goals this season and it's not hard to see why. He possesses a real striker's instinct, always in the right place, and he's technically great too. His close control and ability to twist and turn in tight situations brings to mind players like Anelka and Berbatov, and it makes perfect sense that the club are already testing him at u21 level. Zack Faour will most likely be the backup choice behind Buckley and Nmecha, and though he hasn't perhaps quite lived up to the hype that surrounded his transfer, he had started the season relatively well before disappearing recently. Joe Hardy has been involved sporadically for the u18s this season, and you do feel for him given the vast pool of talent around him, but he's another with a good reputation and he may be used at some point. Further down the ranks, Luke Bolton and Tyrese Campbell are repeatedly tearing things up at u16 level, and I wouldn't be surprised if either followed the examples set by Tom Dele-Bashiru and Jadon Sancho this season.

It's a huge squad, but a talented one. City are among the favourites for this competition and so they should be. This is a team with hundreds of possible combinations of personnel, and Wilcox has numerous ways of setting up with every game. With pace, think Brahim, Fernandes, Buckley and Dilrosun, or with strength and power - Wood, Kongolo, Diallo etc, there's different approaches depending on the opposition, and it'll prove incredibly useful. Given the high profile of the competition, with last year's FA Youth Cup having plenty of support on television, it could prove to be a breakout year for some of the players involved. It's a huge platform for many and providing there's a real hunger and thirst from the squad, it could end spectacularly well. Expect there to be some rotation, and it'll be interesting to see if Manu Garcia is used when returned, especially considering he'll be vying for a spot against the likes of Patching and Brahim. I suspect he will, but I don't envy Wilcox - I wouldn't know where to start when choosing this team, yet its a nice dilemma to have. I suspect we'll know a lot more by the time the next game comes around. The date of the Leeds game has been set as the 16th of January, at Elland Road too, but these dates are often provisional with matches often rearranged at this level. As ever, there will be full reports of each game on the blog as it happens. Next up, Stoke for the u18s away on Saturday.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

City EDS 3-1 Southampton

This was an intriguing night. The game itself wasn't particularly memorable, but there was a plethora of subplots at play even before kick off; it was Simon Davies' first game in charge of the EDS since Vieira moved to New York, there was the surprise inclusion of Kelechi Iheanacho and Patrick Roberts in the starting eleven, plus the bench contained Erik Sarmiento, a Spanish youth international signed in the summer from Espanyol yet to make his debut. Will Patching started in midfield too, unexpected given the u18s' FA Youth Cup game tonight. The game itself was so-so, an indifferent performance with sporadic moments of individual quality, and it was a scoreline that, in truth, flattered City. Nevertheless, City did start brightly. Bersant Celina reveled in the movement of the experienced front three of Roberts, Iheanacho and Faupala. He played some lovely passes early on, notably picking out Patrick Roberts who was wasteful when played through. It was the Kosovan that broke the deadlock, and it was a peach too. Some nice intricate football saw Iheanacho roll the ball back to Celina twenty yards out, and he placed a perfectly curled shot into the far right corner. The second came courtesy of some neat work down the right, Roberts freeing Iheanacho in the area who squared for Faupala who turned six yards away from goal and finished well.

It should have been a stroll from that point, but some sloppiness and a lack of focus invited Southampton back into the game. After a few half chances had gone begging, usually from problems of City's own making, the away team pulled one back. A late and high challenge lead to a penalty and the Southampton forward, Ryan Seager, sent Angus Gunn the wrong way on the stroke of half-time. The second half was a relative non-event. Southampton had some decent moments, and perhaps should have equalised. The combination of Angus Gunn and Pablo Maffeo frequently came to the rescue, sparing the blushes of their teammates around them who were far too generous in possession. Eventually City confirmed the three points. Angus Gunn brilliantly set Kelechi through on goal, launching it over Southampton's backline and the Nigerian international got to the ball first before lifting the ball over the onrushing keeper. Southampton's defender seemingly recovered to clear it, but it fell straight to Patrick Roberts who drilled home clinically. It distinguished any real hope that the visitors had of grabbing a (probably deserved) equaliser.

Maffeo was the standout. Positioned at centre-back, he was simply outstanding as he strolled out of defence like a seasoned pro, and made he countless excellent last ditch tackles too. How he hasn't made his first team debut yet is beyond comprehension. He just exudes composure and class and he frequently swept up the messes caused by those around him. Plummer was sadly very poor, looking lost and far too hesitant, likewise Smith-Brown who had a day to forget, though he was offered little cover ahead of him from Faupala. Horsfield was functional at right-back, though he's another that perhaps isn't currently quite reaching the level that City demand from their young talent. Gunn behind them made a few excellent saves and was the instigator for the counter attack that lead to the third goal. He remains a brilliant prospect, another surely set for first team football somewhere sooner rather than later. Celina was the pick of the bunch in midfield, though he did fade in the second half. He was at his silky best early doors, dictating proceedings as he went hunting for the ball. His finish was typically Celina and technically perfect. It was a quiet outing for the u18 regular, Will Patching. Promoted in the absence of the Garcias and Bryan, he did little wrong, though mainly just kept things ticking over alongside Glendon without ever really exerting his authority on the game.

Kelechi had an odd game. At no point brilliant, and in truth on the periphery for most of the game, yet he still technically claimed three assists. Not something to be shirked at, I guess. It was great to see the forward involved though. That match sharpness is essential. Sporadic appearances for the first team are fine for his development, but games are crucial. Patrick Roberts being the clearest example - the winger had a pretty poor game. He scored, but very little came off as he ran frequently into traffic or misjudged passes. He needs games, it's clear. He's a wonderful talent, but one that clearly feeds off confidence, and that doesn't come from sitting and watching in the stands. The u19s games are far too infrequent to have any real effect. He can still be with the first team and get minutes at this level. Likewise Kelechi. Hopefully this wasn't a one off for both. Faupala grabbed a goal in a mixed performance. A strong, direct runner - he offered an outlet initially before fading as Southampton found their way back into the game. There was a debut for the new signing, Erik Sarmiento too. He only grabbed ten minutes at left-back though and it was hard to gauge anything of note, though he did whip in a couple of nice crosses. Sinan Bytiqi finally made his long awaited comeback too, and he looked strong and industrious as he tried to make things happen. Intima came on with little time to make impact as the game wound down. Overall, it was a decent three points, if a little unsatisfying. Thankfully, Simon Davies agreed. Next up is the FA Youth Cup, later on tonight. A full preview should be online just before kick off.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

City u18s 7-2 Derby

And to think, I nearly watched the first team instead… this was magnificent. The u18s more than justified the decision to make the trip to the CFA, comprehensively outplaying the midlanders with a phenomenal display of attacking football. It was scintillating from the off, and Derby simply couldn't handle the drive, energy, pace and sheer skill of the forward line of Dilrosun, Buckley, Fernandes and Brahim. A whole host of chances were created and this could have easily ended up double figures as City returned to the top of league on goal difference. It didn't take long for City to break the deadlock, Davenport picking out Buckley over the top who raced onto the lofted through ball before guiding the ball over the onrushing keeper. The second came barely ten minutes later, Joe Coveney rising highest to head home a Brahim corner, and Buckley had his second, and City's third, with half hour on the clock. Stationed at right back for the day, Marcus Wood linked well with Tom Dele-Bashiru before whipping in a delightful cross that Buckley reached before the keeper for an easy finish. The fourth was yet another Joe Coveney strike, firing home the rebound after a mazy Brahim run and shot was blocked into the path of the centre-back. 

It was five before half-time, this time the goal coming from the left-hand side as Dilrosun, a thorn in Derby's side all afternoon, breezed past his marker before drilling home from twenty yards with a thunderbolt of a strike. The whistle went for half-time as the referee momentarily put Derby out of their misery, yet little changed after the interval with City immediately prompting and probing from the kick off. Eventually the sixth came and it was Buckley again, grabbing a hugely deserved hat-trick after Dilrosun was freed down the left after a great cross-field run by Brahim. The dutch winger looked up and squared the ball across for Buckley to fire into the roof of the net. Simple, yet devastatingly effective. Derby, to their credit, kept their heads up throughout, and they pulled one back as Blackshaw was caught a little far too up the field, perhaps understandably given City's relatively trouble free afternoon, and City were made to pay as they broke down the right and played into the middle for an easy finish. The six goal margin was restored not long after, and it came from a piece of individual brilliance goal. Paolo Fernandes, outstanding throughout, picked up the ball, sumptuously left his defender for dead and ran straight towards goal before finishing coolly. Majestic. Derby pulled yet another back, but it felt irrelevant as eventually it finished 7-2.

Matt Smith & Javairo Dilrosun
Individually they were all good, some outstanding, but this felt notable for many reasons. It was a young team, vastly changed from the previous game, and it felt like something of a coming of age for many - Brahim in particular. The sixteen Spanish maestro has found settling into life in the u18s a little tough so far, but here he was simply sensational, repeatedly picking the ball up at the peak of the midfield diamond before spinning away, darting straight at the defence and skipping past challenges at ease. The Messi comparisons suddenly made sense. How he didn't score was beyond me, hitting the bar, having several shots blocked and nearly scoring a magical first time volleyed lob after connecting with a long ball over the top. Fernandes over on the right was equally brilliant, Dilrosun too - both wide men had the beating of their fullbacks all day long and the goal they each picked up was hugely deserved. Buckley was excellent, terrorising the Derby back-line with countless perfectly timed runs, utilising his lightning pace and quick feet to terrific effect. He deserves a call up internationally, and surely it's just a matter of time. Dele-Bashiru was everywhere. The u16 is a monster in this form - all action, power and skill. He made countless challenges in midfield and drove forward repeatedly. Davenport alongside him, too, was his usually precise self, starting attacks from deep with ease.

The centre-back pairing of Latibeaudiere and Coveney, in truth, had little to do in a game that was very much about those playing ahead of them, but they were good when called upon. The former is still only fifteen, and its remarkable considering the composure he exudes. Both him and Coveney strolled through the game, never really getting out of second gear, and the brace for Coveney was just rewards for a competent, mature display. With Duhaney and Bullock both sat out ahead of the u19s UYL game on Tuesday, Marcus Wood stepped in at right back and he did well. Strong in the tackle and consistently on the front foot, he claimed an assist with a delightfully whipped cross from the right, with his weaker foot nonetheless. Blackshaw too provided energy down the left and Haug had no chance with either goal in a game that he was largely a spectator. There was a debut at this level for Matt Smith, the u16s midfielder, and he slotted in seamlessly, as did Luke Bolton, his fellow u16 teammate, as City played the game out in the final moments. Joe Hardy had half hour and nearly had a goal for his efforts too, guiding an effort wide with his first touch. All in all, this was a wonderful day, and it only served to highlight the strength in depth City have at this level. Diallo, Nmecha, Patching, Adarabioyo, Oliver, Kigbu and others all sat out ahead of the Uefa Youth League game on Tuesday, yet the transition was seamless. There's talent in abundance coming through behind them and given the slight dip in form recently, a performance of this magnitude was long overdue and highly welcome. Next up, Tuesday, as the u19s play Borussia Monchengladbach.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

City EDS 1-2 Atheltic Bilbao

A disappointing night at the CFA. City crashed out of the Premier League International Cup at the first stage, the defeat condemning Vieira's men to a limp group stage exit as their defence of last season's title came to a premature end. In truth, City beat themselves. An unremarkable Bilbao were gifted victory as two wholly preventable goals, both atrociously defended, saw them take the three points despite being out-played for the vast majority of the match. It was a confident start for the EDS too, Ambrose spurning two excellent chances within the first five minutes, and there was decent efforts from Garcia and Celina, yet it remained level at the break - City perhaps lacking a cutting edge that their efforts had deserved. The longer the game went on the more predictable the outcome came. There was a creeping sense of inevitably that City would rue the wasted chances, and so it proved. Bilbao scored not longer after the restart, and it was entirely preventable. City have mistakes in them at this level, and their commitment to the passing style often does cause problems when it's not at its most fluent. This was one such occasion - a flimsy pass across the backline was intercepted, Adarabioyo lost out, perhaps unconvincingly, in a 50-50, and Bilbao broke through to take the lead.

To City's credit, there was an immediate fightback. The one true moment of quality in the game saw City level quickly after. A double one-two between Celina and Nemane, the former setting the young winger away down the left, saw the ball squared back once again to the Kosovan international who finished with nonchalance, caressing the ball into the far corner past the out-stretched hands of the Spanish keeper. That should have been the platform that City built on, and half chances for Garcia and Nmecha offered hope, yet it didn't happen and the game lost not long after City switched to 3-5-2. Injuries and a desperate need for a winner, with City's hopes of progressing resting on victory, saw Vieira switch to a more top-heavy formation. Faupala went through the middle alongside Ambrose, Nmecha and Nemane lined up out wide, and Garcia and Glendon prompted and probed as Smith-Brown moved into midfield, sitting ahead of the back three. Sadly, it proved a disastrous move. Defensively we fell to pieces. Gaps appeared everywhere and twice numerous Athletic Bilbao ran through on goal, more or less unchallenged, before finally the real damage was done. A cross from the right saw the simplest of unmarked headers fired home as their forward drifted off Maffeo and Adarabioyo far, far too easily.

There was to be no glorious fight-back and despite a bit of last-gasp pressing, the game was lost. Out at the group stages, and despite some nice football, it was probably deserved. This is a talented team, but it lacked cohesion and spirit. Individually there was some nice moments, perhaps Faupala coming away from this with the most credit. The French forward arrived as a striker but he's recently found something of a niche out wide offering a powerful, direct option as one of the two wide forwards. Ambrose was all action, as ever, but his composure deserted him in front of goal - notably towards the end of the game where he decided to try and bring the ball down after a delightfully whipped cross from Nemane, despite only being five yards out when a first time finish would have been much more suited. Nemane had some decent moments, his assist the highlight, but he flitted in and out of the game. Likewise Celina, the goal being a highlight, as was his overall delivery but he perhaps was hindered by a lack of options as the relatively static forward line struggled to find space around him. Garcia came on mid way through the first half, replacing Kean Bryan who unfortunately hobbled off after picking up a knock. The young Spaniard was encouraging. He's struggled a little this season, perhaps so far not living up to his preseason form, and though not everything came off his attitude was good. There was ideas and energy and more of the same will see him play himself into form.

Defensively it wasn't the EDS's best. Terrible, if I'm being entirely honest. Tosin Adarabioyo, usually a calm, consistent presence, was sloppy in possession and he was bypassed far too easily for their goal. He has higher standards than this and it proved to be an evening to forget for both him and Pablo Maffeo, another guilty of ball-watching as Bilbao scored their second. Plummer alongside them was decent at best, and Smith-Brown was functional at left-back before, once again, proving just functional in a shift as a holding midfielder. Glendon scurried about, yet couldn't really get a grip on the game, neither could Nemcha as he struggled in his cameo. In the u18s striker's defence, he was positioned out wide, despite clearly being a centre-forward, and he understandably looked a little lost. Gunn had a relatively quiet game, despite picking the ball out of the back of the net twice. It was a disappointing performance for a team that has yet to reach the level they're capable of. The team is a little unbalanced compared to last year's eleven, admittedly, but Vieira will expect more. Perhaps the lingering departure of the world cup winner to New York City hasn't helped, but that'd be an easy excuse, and one none of the players would take either. Next up for the EDS, and a chance for redemption for most involved, is the u19s final UEFA Youth League group game as Borussia Monchengladbach arrive at the CFA. Before that the u18s face Derby County at the CFA this Saturday.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

MCFC u18s 2-2 Blackburn Rovers

In the end this was probably a fair result. City were competent, at best, and if it hadn't been for a late resurgence the visitors would have left with all three points. Blackburn would have certainly felt slightly aggrieved that they didn't claim the victory, but in truth it was a game lacking in any true quality from either side. Blackburn were a threat, but a functional one, relying mainly on their delivery from out wide and set pieces to crafted their few decent chances. City, too, resorted in more direct measures with their usual methods, all methodically intricate and precise, giving way to a rather laboured approach. It was indicative of the team's current form. The u18s aren't in a particularly purple patch currently, and that early season swagger has disappeared a little, even if a few of the scores on paper would suggest otherwise. The winter months and the (usually forced) ever-changing lineups will do that to any team, and City are no different. Still, Wilcox's team does have a welcome knack of finding a way back into games where most would see a game as lost, and not for the first time this year they mustered up something to snatch a point from the jaws of defeat.

It was a young lineup. Albinson started in goal and it was a relatively inexperienced defensive pairing of the u15 Joel Latibeaudiere and Joe Coveney that partnered ahead of him. Callum Bullock started at right back and Jacob Davenport, usually a smart, intelligent holding midfielder, stepped in on the left in the absence of Demeaco Duhaney. A more experienced midfield three sat in front of them - Marcus Wood partnered Will Patching and Sadou Diallo, and up top Lukas Nmecha lead the line with the pair of Spaniards either side of him. Brahim Diaz on his left, and Paolo Fernandes continuing over on the right. City took the lead half way through the first half. After a relatively uninspiring opening, only really notable for a few strong challenges from Blackburn's defenders, we scored seemingly out of nowhere. A delightful, whipped Callum Bullock cross from the right found Lukas Nmecha at the back post and the young forward made no mistake from a few yards out. City should have stepped it up from there, and for a handful of minutes they looked confident, knocking the ball well around midfield as Blackburn chased shadows, yet it didn't last.

Joel Latibeaudiere

Barely five minutes had passed when Blackburn levelled, and it was soft. A corner swung in from the right saw a header diverted goal-wards. Albinson did manage to get a touch, yet it wasn't particularly substantial and he could only watch as the ball trickled into the bottom corner. Their second goal quickly followed, Albinson this time spilling a cross to their forward who fired home on the stroke of half-time. Not the keeper's finest ten minutes, but his team mates were culpable too, gifting possession sloppily and inviting unnecessary pressure. The referee blew the whistle seconds later with the score at 2-1. There was no changes at half time, yet Dele-Bashiru, and Dilrosun were quickly introduced for Patching, Diallo. The third and final change followed not long after, Nmecha making way for Isaac Buckley as City desperately tried to shake off the general malaise that had descended over the game. Thankfully, the equaliser did come, even if it hadn't looked likely. Both teams were trading relatively limp and pointless punches in midfield when, seemingly out of nowhere, another wonderfully delivered cross from Callum Bullock found the most unlikely of sources, Brahim Diaz. Despite being the smallest on the pitch, he rose highest to head past the keeper with only ten minutes left on the clock.

From there on out, a resurgent City looked the most likely to win it, and a few chances did follow. Buckley hit the post from a tight angle, yet the best chance fell to Brahim who somehow failed to score from two yards, a chance that would have completed a brilliant hat-trick of assists for Bullock. That was the last moment of note and it remained level at full-time, a score that, on reflection, probably felt fair. Bullock deserved more. He was easily City's stand out player. The eighteen year old is turning into a fine right-back. Strong, consistent and tough with several assists to his name already this year, he's a very likeable player and he deserved better today. He was a cut above most. It was a day to forget for Albinson in goal and there was moments when the young centre-half pairing showed their age too. Both momentarily showed their class, undoubtedly, yet at times they were caught ball-watching. The naivety of youth clearly evident. Davenport over on the left was functional, yet lacked, understandably given his midfield preference, the intelligence that Duhaney offers at full-back. It wasn't the finest day for any of the usual midfield three. Wood, Patching, Diallo - none of them were at their usual, silky best as the biting cold stifled proceedings and played up to the visitors more robust style.

Brahim grabbed a goal, his first officially at this level, yet he was lucky to be on the pitch. He arguably should have been replaced long before he levelled proceedings. Despite the odd fleeting moment, the youngster has found the transition into life in the u18s a little difficult and he was guilty of overplaying or under-hitting passes here. I guess this is understandable - he looked marvellous with the u18s in preseason, a real live-wire, all fleet-footed and impossibly tricky. He spent weeks being the standout in an all conquering u16s team too, but this is clearly a step up and the games are notably tougher, and its told. He will adapt to the demands and considerably higher physicality, but it will take time and he is still only just sixteen. The goal was encouraging though, even if just for the brief glimmer of confidence it gave him. Time, thankfully, is on his side. Fernandes, equally mercurial, couldn't quite spark into life either. The Spanish winger has been arguably the team's star playing recently, scoring a plethora of simply brilliant goals, but he struggled to isolate his marker and, one decent effort aside from twenty yards, it was a quiet day for the usually buoyant forward. Nmecha toiled, grabbing a goal for his efforts, but he was offered little support in a day that City's forward line struggled to click into gear. The subs, Dilrosun, Dele-Bashiru and Buckley in general blended in with the rest, though the latter two did add a little energy at least, but they couldn't change the overall flow of the game. Elsewhere the u16s continued their remarkable run, winning out 4-3 winners. Tom Dele-Bashiru grabbed a goal before heading over to join the u18s bench at half time, Tyrese Campbell and Mace Goodridge scored one apiece and the other came from an own goal. Next up is the u19s in the UYL on Wednesday with a trip to Juventus. 

Sunday, 15 November 2015

CFA Roundup - 14th/15th

I couldn't get to the game this weekend for the u18s. Sunderland is a three hour drive too far for me sadly, but it was heartening to see Wilcox's team get back to winning ways. They fielded a strong team - Grimshaw in goal, a defence of Duhaney, Kigbu, Oliver and Bullock, the midfield three contained Patching, Diallo and Wood, and Brahim and Buckley lined up either side of Nmecha. Yet City fell behind early on, with Sunderland quickly doubling the advantage too. Charlie Oliver pulled one back before half-time though reducing the deficit to 2-1. A few changes in the second half, notably the introduction of Fernandes and Dele-Bashiru saw the tide turn quickly in City's favour. Goals from Duhaney, Nmecha and Fernandes secured the victory.

Elsewhere there was yet another win for the u16s, this time they only managed the two. England youth internationals Ed Francis and Tyrese Campbell grabbed the goals. The u15s went a little crazy, beating Blackburn 13-1. Keke Simmonds grabbed a hat-trick, there was braces for Hulme and Vasilliou, with Corrigan, Simms, Ogunby, Richards and Ogbeta all getting on the scoresheet. The u14s beat Aston Villa 3-1, with Tommy Doyle, grandson of the Manchester City great, Mike Doyle, grabbing all three. The u13s picked up a 4-1 victory too, and the u12s grabbed a hatful, scoring twelve without reply. As ever, a phenomenally productive weekend at youth level for City. There will be a feature on the players out on loan this week coming up, by the way. The next game up is the u18s at the CFA on Saturday.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

City u18s 2-2 Wolves

This was a disappointing result and unquestionably two points lost. At half-time it felt comfortable, despite the one goal lead. City were in control, confidently dictating proceedings and two or three nil really wouldn't have flattered Wilcox's men. Several additional chances were created after Dilrosun had opened City's account, finishing neatly after some good work down the right from Paolo Fernandes. It remained one at the interval, but it was totally one-sided. It didn't take long for City to extend their advantage after the break either - Brahim brilliantly skipped past a Wolves challenge in midfield, drove at the defence before sliding in Dilrosun on the left who squared the ball across goal for Buckley to convert the easiest of chances. Simple, but beautifully effective. And then, for some reason, it all went wrong. A series of changes seemed to invite pressure onto City, the subs seemingly disrupting the rhythm. They pulled one back almost immediately, Davenport hanging out a leg that the Wolves forward promptly went over. The right decision, and they made no mistake from the spot. After a scrappy, midfield battle for twenty minutes, a whipped free kick from Wolves' right hand-side found three Wolves players totally, and criminally, unmarked. Their forward controlled the ball, turned and fired past Haug for an equaliser.

Despite a late surge, it remained 2-2 at full time. It was a frustrating watch, and one entirely unpredictable given City's promising early start. Haug had started between the sticks and there was two returning centre-backs. After a spell on the sidelines, Kigbu reunited his partnership with Oliver and Lewis Blackshaw carried on at left-back, with Duhaney getting a rare outing over on the right for once. There was no changes ahead of them from last weekend's game against Liverpool, with Davenport, Diallo and Brahim making up the midfield three and Dilrosun and Fernandes the wingers, with Buckley through the middle. It was working well - neat, tidy and intricate, City were in cruise control. Fernandes sparkled yet again, dancing past challenges on the right, though he faded later on as City's confidence disappeared. Buckley was bright, though struggled to get involved and he was replaced in the second half by Will Patching in a move that saw Brahim become the nominal centre-forward. Brahim's many things, but he's not a striker. He struggled to provide a real focal point, understandably give his size. It was an encouraging performance before that, with his powerful, exciting run that created the second goal the real highlight. He's finding his way at this level still, playing deeper than I expected, but the talent's clear.

Diallo was a strong presence in midfield before he was replaced by the returning skipper, Marcus Wood, half way through the second half. Though sadly like his fellow substitutes, Bullock and Patching, Wood struggled to find his feet in the game, uncharacteristically sloppy in possession as the game ran away from City. Patching couldn't quite get involved as City's shape seemed to disappear, and Bullock, who replaced the impressive Blackshaw at left-back, who left the game due to a knock, found himself on the periphery too. Defensively we were relatively solid until the aberration that was their second goal. Oliver and Kigbu had coped pretty well with what little they had to do before they, and many others, were guilty of ball-watching and leaving a whole host of Wolves players unmarked. Blackshaw, as mentioned earlier, was having an excellent game at left-back. Only small, the first year scholar was a bright and intelligent presence on the left and he formed an excellent partnership with Dilrosun, who impressed in the first half with some powerful, surging runs down the left. Duhaney over on the right was his usual steady self, though having spent most of the season at left-back, he was a little rusty and Davenport was having a good, solid game before he gave away the penalty and his usually slick game took a slight hit.

Against the back drops of all the highs the u18s have been through this year, the lows do seem to stand out. Admittedly, that is a little unfair at times, as this is a team that deserves admiration. But days like this will happen, and though it wasn't catastrophic, it wasn't good either. It'll serve as a stark reminder that you simply can't switch off at any level in football, regardless of how well you're playing. Wolves were defiant, dug in and worked hard, and a job was still there to be done, yet City invited them back into the game. Wilcox expects impeccably high standards from his players, and rightly so - these are a talented bunch who should be controlling games for 90 minutes, not just one half. Nine times out of ten, this is the case, thankfully. The decision to leave Brahim upfront didn't help, admittedly. Faour was left on the bench, despite being a recognised forward, and it told. The other changes, though they didn't help, were understandable - Patching and Wood needed game time after their spells away with England, and usually they'd slot in with no problems whatsoever, but it didn't happen today. So be it. The ever changing nature of the u18s lineup will cause moments of inconsistency, as is to be expected too given the age of the players involved. A disappointing day, but, as ever, one to learn from. Next up, the EDS face Norwich tomorrow at the CFA.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Liverpool u18s 1-1 City u18s

In the end this was probably a fair result. City perhaps worked their keeper more, and arguably looked most likely to grab a late winner, but Liverpool posed a threat of their own too, rightly feeling aggrieved when they were denied a clear penalty as they broke midway through the second half. Overall, it wasn't the most exhilarating of games, yet it was understandably given the relatively untested lineup. Several regulars were absent which lead to a very young, and very inexperienced team. Most notably in defence - Demeacho Duhaney, Charlie Oliver, Tosin Adarabioyo and Cameron Humphreys were all elsewhere and Ash Kigbu only made the bench after a spell on the sidelines through injury. This meant a first start at this level for the fifteen year old Joel Latibeaudiere. He lined up alongside two 16 year olds. Joe Coveney made only his second start at this level at centre-back it was a first start of the season for the slight, whippet of a left-back, Lewis Blackshaw. Callum Bullock lined up alongside the three of them on the right.

Ahead of them there was even more missing. There was no Wood, Kongolo, Nmecha, Faour or Sancho, and Tom Dele-Bashiru and Will Patching only made the bench. This meant a u18s debut for the Spanish wonderkid Brahim Diaz, another that only turned sixteen two months ago. He lined up at the tip of a midfield three that also involved Sadou Diallo and Jacob Davenport. In the absence of Lukas Nmecha, Isaac Buckley carried on as the nominal number 9 and Dilrosun and Fernandes played out wide. And it was Fernandes that once again found himself on the scoresheet. After a relatively even opening, with both sides crafting a few half chances, Brahim in particular powering one effort right at the keeper after a lovely one-two with Dilrosun, it was another moment of individual brilliance from Paolo Fernandes that saw City break the deadlock. Sadou Diallo drove forward and put the young Spanish winger through down the right - he ran at the left-back, brilliantly sent him the wrong way with a drop of the shoulder and fired under the advancing keeper for his fourth goal of the season in seven starts.

Brahim & Fernandes

Liverpool equalised not long after. Brahim was guilty of overplaying only yards outside of his own area and he naively gave away a dangerous freekick, which Liverpool punished expertly. A dipping, bending 20 yard strike beat Albinson to the top corner to tie the game. There was chances for both as the game reached its final moments - late sub Will Patching brilliantly whipped in a cross from the left that Buckley just couldn't quite reach to turn in, and Dele-Bashiru drove straight at the keeper from just inside the area. Davenport, too, could have had a goal from a free-kick to his name if it hadn't been for a smart stop from Liverpool's keeper, tipping an effort just around the post with ten minutes left on the clock. It remained 1-1, and truth be told, it wasn't a bad result given Liverpool's current form. Individually, Fernandes impressed. He's in a real purple patch of form. A delightfully skilful little winger, he has an incredibly handy ability to go either way, with real pace too, and he's blessed with excellent technique. He caused Liverpool all manner of problems throughout and on another day his goal would have been a worthy match winner.

Dilrosun was a good, powerful presence down the left, running repeatedly at Liverpool. He was victim of a few crude challenges from Liverpool, one that went totally unpunished that should have resulted in a yellow card at very least. Davenport was once again a tidy, neat presence in midfield, getting forward well where he could and Diallo was decent, working through the gears well in a game that was mainly fought through the middle. It was a mixed debut for Brahim - some delightful moments, as ever - in particular one piece of skill that saw him break away from two defenders was inexplicably called back for a foul against Brahim, confusingly.  He's clearly a talent, yet it will take a few games for him to settle into the team and really start to express himself. Interestingly, he seems to be physically growing. He's already an inch or two bigger than he was in preseason which will definitely help. Buckley worked the line well upfront though couldn't quite isolate his opposition marker enough to showcase his lightning feet and impeccable skill-set. Defensively we were pretty solid. There was some hairy moments, though that was to be expected given the extreme youthfulness of those involved, but in general they were encouraging performances.

Liverpool's Melwood Training Ground

The two young centre-backs, Latibeaudiere and Coveney, were both a little guilty of ball watching at times, but they were also often in the right place at the right time, and both showed great amounts of composure when given the ball. Blackshaw was good at left-back, shuttling forward when he could, likewise Bullock on the right. The two midfield subs, Patching and Dele-Bashiru certainly made an impact. City pushed forward with considerably more confidence when they came on and they were unlucky to not create a winner. Albinson in goal made some good saves after a relatively shaky opening with the ball at his feet, and Kigbu made a late appearance in defence. Given the age of this team, with two 15 year olds and numerous aged just 16 involved, this was no bad result against a very good side - especially considering three of them were making their first start at this level too. It's impressive that they adapted so seamlessly to the way Wilcox wants his teams to play at this level. You get the feeling a few more could step up from the u16s too and make the transition just as easily. It's a talented generation that Gareth Taylor coaches - one that picked up yet another win despite being denied the services of several regulars too. An u16s team with plenty of u15s involved beat a strong Liverpool lineup 5-1. Tyrese Campbell scored another two, Luke Bolton grabbed a brace and Henri Ogunby scored the other. Next up is the u19s on Tuesday as they face Sevilla in the UEFA Youth League.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Middlesbrough 1-6 City u18s / u16s 4-2

This was fun. For all the money poured into the CFA, the vast array of extensively scouted talent and all the limitless technological innovations, it's days like these over at Middlesbrough's simple, but welcoming Rockliffe Hall training ground that serve best to define the wonderful work that's happening over in East Manchester. Two of City's very brightest academy teams, the u16s and u18s, put in two performances soaked in character, resilience and no little skill. And all this miles away from the comforts of their new multi-million pound home. It was wonderful to watch - the desire and commitment of both age groups to their footballing principles and education was relentless, unwavering in its belief and execution. Both went behind early on against the run of play, yet both produced stylish, emphatic second halves of football that Middlesbroughs teams simply couldn't handle to clinch comprehensive victories.

It was even more notable too given the ages of the players on display. The u18s named a young team - usual centre-halves Humphreys, Adarabioyo and Kigbu were all not involved, handing 16 year old first year scholar Joe Coveney the chance to make his first start of the season, with the u16s centre-back Joel Latibeaudiere making up the numbers on the bench. They were short elsewhere too, with Patching, Nmecha, Wood, Kongolo and Grimshaw all away on international duty, or seemingly with the EDS for Monday night's trip to Chelsea. It was still an impressive lineup despite the absentees, highlighting the frightening strength in depth City have at this level. Haug started between the sticks and Bullock, Coveney, Oliver and Duhaney made up the back four. In midfield, Jacob Davenport sat while Sadou Diallo and the u16 Tom Dele-Bashiru pushed forward. Isaac Buckley started as the lone striker and Javairo Dilrosun and Paolo Fernandes lined up either side of him. 

10. Tom Dele-Bashiru

After the initial shock, a slip by Coveney gifted their forward a chance that he finished with aplomb, City took control. We were in front at half-time, Paolo Fernandes grabbing a deserved brace for a first half display blessed with magic. His first was sublime, pirouetting away from his marker before promptly walloping home into the roof of the net from just inside the area. The second a little more fortuitous, firing in the rebound from his own saved penalty penalty that Duhaney had brilliantly won, slaloming into the opposition box before being brought down. The second half was totally one-sided. Dilrosun grabbed the third, latching onto a long ball before slotting past the keeper and the fourth followed not long after. Jacob Davenport, far from the biggest player on the pitch, rose highest to head home a Callum Bullock corner, before Bullock picked up another assist, this time for Buckley who nipped in at the front post to divert another corner into the net for the fifth. The sixth and final goal came after brilliant work between Diallo and the late substitute, the 15 year old talent Jadon Sancho. Sancho twice turned his man inside out before laying off Diallo who fired across goal to tee up Faour with a tap in.

It was mightily impressive, and though they all excelled, this was undeniably a defiant and cohesive team effort. Bullock was strong at both left and right back, picking up two assist after switching sides with the increasingly assured Duhaney. Charlie Oliver, the most experienced of the back four , marshalled the defence well. Coveney, his initial slip aside, was a calm presence before he was replaced by the fifteen year old, Joel Latibeaudiere - another from the u16s who will seemingly have no problem stepping up at this level. A tall, elegant player with a clear intelligence and understanding of the game, it was a confident cameo. Defensively, Davenport was superb in midfield, frequently breaking up play and his goal was just rewards for a fine runout. Diallo and Dele-Bashiru dictated proceedings with their usual strength and technical ability, the latter seemingly already a natural at this level despite his tender years. Fernandes was delightful, a real gem. He repeatedly tore their left-back to pieces, scoring two before he was replaced by the equally mercurial Sancho. Dilrosun was an effective outlet on the left and Buckley scored, as he always seems to, as he ran himself into the ground. He's more effective out wide, i'd argue, but he was still involved repeatedly here.

Middlesbrough's Rockliffe Hall Training Ground

The u16s, not to be outdone, matched the u18s, grabbing four second half goals of their own to win 4-2. It didn't all go their way - they headed in 2-0 down at half time against a strong, efficient Middlesbrough outfit. Their heads could have dropped at any point, and it'd have been understandable too given the youth of their team, but a sensational display of attacking football in the second saw them complete a remarkable turnaround to claim the victory. All this despite missing several u16 regulars of their own. Hilton, Dele-Bashiru, Sancho, Foden, Latibeaudiere all weren't involved. Five u15s were - Bobby Duncan, Ellis Sims, Henri Ogunby, Nathaniel Ogbeta and Curtis Anderson. It's testament to their ability that they seamlessly stepped up at this level. They're building character within the walls of the CFA. Not just talented players and potential stars - there's personality too. These are polite, courteous and hard-working young men, coached and brought up the right way.  Credit must go to their coaches, Gareth Taylor with the u16s and Jason Wilcox with the u18s. Both clearly excellent at what they do, they're instilling a belief and intelligence into these players that is rarely seen at this level. Big things beckon, and rightly so. This was a wonderful weekend for the CFA, one that epitomised all the good that is happening behind the scenes at the club. Next up, the EDS face Chelsea live on Sky Sports on Monday night at 5.15. Expect a few u18s regulars to be involved.

U18s Lineup v Middlesbrough 

Friday, 23 October 2015

George Evans - Profile and his loan to Walsall

It's only a month loan deal, admittedly, but given his involvement in and around the first team this year it felt worthy of a follow up. It's been a good few weeks for the youngster. The Mancunian, and devout City fan, broke all kinds of records last month as he finally completed his way along the long and rarely trodden path from the u8s to the first team. He made his debut in the Carling Cup, coming on to replace Yaya Toure as the clock counted down through its final moments. A small teaser, yes, but a nice moment nonetheless. It was deserved too, with his brief forays in the first team friendlies highlighting his naturally elegant playing style, a style seemingly at ease with the technical requirements of the way the club plays. He's a highly accomplished footballer, and having tasted football last year on loan with Scunthorpe and Crewe the year before, sticking with the EDS didn't seem an option.

City clearly agreed. On Tuesday morning he confirmed a one month loan deal with Dean Smith's Walsall. He wasn't the first to City youngster either to step out for the midlands club, with Jordy Hiwula, now moved on and currently at Wigan, also spending time there to great effect last year. The real surprise came from his immediate involvement in first team affairs. Less than 24 hours after hearing of the move he was named in the starting lineup as Walsall faced Barnsley away from home - a baptism of fire, yet one he came through with his usual, nonchalant ease. He scored the opener, twisting well inside the area to fire home and set Walsall on their way to a 2-0 victory. He impressed too with his composure and general all round play in an assured and encouraging debut. Walsall, thankfully, play good football and its a young team too - one with a welcoming environment. Hiwula was treated well by Smith last season and the early signs are Evans will be made to feel equally at home.

Evans' debut goal for Walsall.

This move could be a vital part of his development. A tall, graceful player, adept at spreading play and capable of a long range screamer, he's a lovely footballer - but one with nothing new to learn in the EDS. Young players need professional football, and Evans is no exception. Though he may not be a headline grabber like some of our other academy players, there is likeable confidence to his game. He could go either way potentially, and the only we'll ever to realise that will be by affording him the opportunities he needs. I'm a firm believer that you never quite know, until you know, so to speak. You have to give players that opportunity to see how they adapt in a certain environment. Anything else is guess work - educated guess work, yes, but guess work nonetheless. Some players will go up a level unexpectedly, and others who you would presume would be dead certs, simply don't, slipping through the net as they don't quite adapt to then professional game and more testing environment. It's an impossible formula, hence a long list of failed wonderkids, and on the flip side, unexpected late bloomers and surprise stars.

Evans is one of many that could quietly work his way in, given an opportunity. Two, three, four games one season, ten to fifteen the next and before you know it he's 22 and playing close to 30 as a reliable squad member. A year later, a regular first team player, just like that. The game is littered with players who take a similar path, and it always will be. It might not happen, but it is possible and that potential scenario should always be thoroughly considered by the club before any decision is ever made, with all the youngsters. Not every player in the squad has to be a star, and there is no shame in using youth players to 'do a job' while they develop, standing in for senior players who need a rest. Ferguson was a master at it, though we'd hate to admit it. The likes of Brown, Fletcher and O'Shea being prime examples. Good, talented footballers that knew the club inside out, gave their all and grew into their roles as years progressed, eventually making the club a small fortune as they were sold on. They saved the club millions of pounds in potential transfer fees too. Bellerin and Coquelin at Arsenal spring to mind as modern day examples, now regulars at the Emirates having served a protracted apprenticeship. Why can't Evans follow suit?

"Stop it, George Evans..."

Like many around him at the CFA, Evans is very talented, but as he's surely aware, he has a hugely difficult task ahead of him. In another era he'd perhaps be a regular for City already, but the barriers to entry at the Etihad are considerably greater these days, and rightly so - but they shouldn't be out of reach. Some players simply improve amongst better players. Its not unheard of. Technical ones in particular. His style of game could be unappreciated in the lower tiers of the English league, where the emphasis perhaps isn't always on the more subtle side of the game. That's not always the case, no, and technical players of course do sometimes excel, but even if his loan spell at Walsall isn't as fruitful as one would like, that doesn't necessarily mean the door should be closed on him. Walsall are not Manchester City. The two clubs will work differently and they will play differently. He will need time to adapt, which he won't get given the brevity of the loan spell, and if he doesn't it isn't the end of the world. Evans should know that if he doesn't already. The signs are already promising, but caution and a little luck is needed. Fingers crossed this move is a success for him. He truly deserves it. As ever there will be updates throughout the loan spell on here.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

UEFA Youth League - City 1-1 Sevilla

A frustrating game. To be truthfully honest, this was a match that City should have won at a canter, despite Sevilla's impressive start to the Uefa Youth League campaign marking them out as a team to be cautious of. A combination of their defensive organisation, our own profligacy, the miserable, dreary weather and some strange tactical decisions eventually took the game away from us. It should have been plain sailing. City were, by and large, the better team and controlled possession for extended spells of play. As it was, we only went in 1-0 up at the break. The goal came from Ambrose who bundled home from close range, via his shoulder no less, after a well worked set piece involving Aleix Garcia and Patrick Roberts. The second half was a niggly, scrappy mess and a few changes, notably an odd one that saw Kean Bryan shifted back to fullback, invited Sevilla back into the game. It came as no surprise when they eventually equalised, exploiting some defensive hesitancy between Adarabioyo and Maffeo to put their forward through on goal who fired past Grimshaw.

Despite City's best efforts, there was no late drama to be found and the game petered out long before the referee blew the whistle in what was a rather forgettable 90 minutes. It promised much more too - there was some notable performances. Kean Bryan was excellent. A strong, powerful presence, he looked commanding in the midfield, marshaling the centre of the pitch with a real authority. I've said it a thousand times before, but it's worth repeating. He's a holding midfielder, and a very good one too, not a centre-back. His all round game is wasted in defence - he can pass well, notably picking out Nemane with some great defence splitting through-balls, and he covers a lot of ground, breaking up opposition attacks with an impressive understanding of the game. He could step into professional football now and excel, easily. Alongside Aleix Garcia, who had a good game too, already noticeably better defensively than when he first arrived, he dictated proceedings and it was the breaking up of that partnership that eventually told and invited Sevilla back into the game. Manu Garcia started off brightly before fading, and neither winger had their most effective display. Nemane tried but struggled to get the beating of his man and Roberts lack of game time told, constantly making the wrong decision as he tried to do too much when given the ball. He guilty of wasting a glorious chance after being put through on goal by Manu Garcia that should have put it beyond Sevilla, but his rustiness was understandable.

Kean Bryan
Ambrose, despite his goal, wasn't quite at his best. That pre-injury form that marked him out as a genuinely exciting player last year has deserted him recently. Understandable given everything, and it will surely come, but he's wasteful at the moment, uncharacteristically so. Typically though, there was no questioning his effort. Defensively it was a relatively competent performance until the changes took their toll, leaving gaps at the back. Oddly, Maffeo was stationed in the middle of defence and the u18s regular, Charlie Oliver, was shunted out to the right, despite nominally being a central defender. Both performed competently however, with Maffeo in particular showing his ever-growing seniority at this level, coolly bringing the ball out from the back. Oliver did well, but he's not a natural out wide and doesn't possess a full-back's natural forward instincts. Adarabioyo was strong and measured and Duhaney had a solid hour before he was replaced, one that should have seen him register an assist, Ambrose poorly heading a gilt-edged chance wide unopposed. Grimshaw had little to do in goal, though there was some hesitant moments with the ball at his feet with the conditions no doubt proving a hindrance. 

Faupala's introduction was a strange one - we brought him on the right wing, and given that he's a traditional centre-forward it left the team a little lop-sided, especially seeing as Ambrose was left through the middle - a player that excelled at time's last year in this competition as a right-winger. The much-hyped Spanish wonderkid, Brahim Diaz, finally made his competitive academy debut. Now free of the eligibilty red-tape issues, it was nice to see him make his first appearance, though it wasn't to be a fairy tale introduction at this level. He rarely received the ball, and when he did he was immediately crowded out by several Sevilla players. He needs time, which he will get. Encouragingly his attitude seems fantastic, chasing back and winning a few challenges in his own-half. Not something you always get from prodigiously talented forwards. The third and final change, Kongolo for Garcia, was relatively functional - an attempt at undoing some of the damage that had been caused by shunting Bryan back into defence. It was left late though, and there was no real time for the Dutch youth international to make an impact.

Manu Garcia
Overall, not the finest of nights at the CFA, but it will happen. Patching and Humphreys, both away on England international duty, were sorely missed and a few players were out of sorts on the night. It still felt avoidable though, and you do wonder if the decision to move Bryan into defence, when he was clearly winning the midfield battle, proved too costly. We were comfortable, not really threatened and strolling towards another deserved three points before the change was made and we gifted them the ball. Unnecessary, but lessons will surely be learned. Next up for the u19s is the return leg in two weeks time - a game that will hopefully be streamed online on UEFA's YouTube channel. Before that the u18s face Middlesbrough on Saturday and the EDS are up against Chelsea on Monday night. Both are away, but i'm holding out hope that at least one will be shown live. If so, i'll post a link over on my twitter

Sunday, 11 October 2015

City u18s 6-1 Newcastle

This was a comprehensive and exciting victory. It ended 6-1, but it could have been more as City pressed forward relentlessly from the first minute to the last. After last week's first loss of the season to Everton, this was a welcome return to form and, excitingly, it felt like a tantalising glimpse of the future too. It was a changed team, enforced by absent regulars, and two fifteen year olds, both stars of the all-conquering u16s side, were handed starting places. Jadon Sancho, a precociously talented left-winger, only 15 in March and already a headline maker earlier in the year, made his first ever start at this level, and Tom Dele-Bashiru his second, his first coming last season in a relative dead rubber as the season wound down. They were simply brilliant, and both were huge parts of a devastating attacking performance that left Newcastle dead on their feet long before half-time.

We were two up within five minutes, both coming from the wonderkid, Sancho. Picking the ball up on the inside left position, each time he ran directly at the right back, and each time he left him for dead with consummate ease before firing home. Perhaps the keeper could have done better with both, but the goals were just rewards for a display blessed with magic. Comically, and brilliantly, one particular moment saw an attempt to double mark him fail so miserably that their number 4 was left so unbalanced he walked off in entirely the wrong direction, giving up through sheer exasperation. Magical stuff. He plays like a Brazilian, a real street footballer. It's no surprise to hear he idolises Neymar either. Stylistically it's uncanny - both dance with the football, shimmying this way and that, taking sheer pleasure out of habitually embarrassing their opponents. Satisfyingly though, there was a end product to the trickery and a real intelligence to his game too. It was evident in his involvement in the third as he linked up with the impressive Duhaney who broke into the area before teeing up Paolo Fernandes at the back post to fire into the roof of the net.

11. Sancho

The fourth came not longer after the second half began, Lukas Nmecha capitalising on a sloppy back pass to break away and toe-poke the ball past the onrushing Newcastle keeper. He grabbed the fifth too in another impressive display, pulling rank to fire past the keeper as a mild tussle for the ball had broken out after the referee had awarded City a penalty, with Sancho understandably keen for a hat-trick chance. Duhaney had earned the spot-kick, brought down in the area after his pace saw him reach a loose ball first. Newcastle grabbed one back but it was left to late sub Isaac Buckley to give the scoreline the gloss it deserved at the final whistle. He picked the ball up on the right and ran directly at the left-back, twisting both ways before rifling home past the keeper from just inside the area. A trademark finish, and a fitting ending to a performance blessed with skill, pace, intelligence and a real healthy arrogance. This was hugely enjoyable and thoroughly deserved.

Individually it was hard to see past Sancho, a real headline grabber, but there was contributions all over the pitch. Tom Dele-Bashiru was fantastic. Raw round the edges still, naturally given his age too, he's already quite clearly something of a beast. His acceleration in the centre of midfield from a standing start is devastating. From nothing to full tilt in the drop of a hat, he frequently shifted through the gears to drive past several challenges. When you mix that strength and pace with excellent technical ability its almost unstoppable, and it caused Newcastle all manner of problems. He's some player, and a regular spot in the u18s beckons long before the season's out. Alongside him Diallo was a monster. This was a performance of real seniority, equally effective snuffing out attacks as he was driving forward, he showed a real touch of class in a game where City were in total control from the first minute to the last. Davenport alongside them was a quiet, authoritative figure, frequently snapping into tackles before Newcastle had any chance to build anything, and Paolo Fernandes was a tricky nightmare, darting frequently at their defence with his usual impish delight.

Duhamey, Dele-Bashiru & Buckley
Defensively it wasn't the most testing of days, but what little the centre-back pairing of Charlie Oliver and Tosin Adarabioyo had to deal with, they did with an almost arrogant ease. Adarabioyo was a man mountain. He looked a class above at this level, a real leader too. It was a captain's performance from the off and he looked equally comfortable, unsurprisingly given his natural ability on the ball, when he was asked to spend twenty five minutes in midfield as Joe Coveney made a solid cameo at centre-back. Duhaney was excellent. Starting on the left, he also spent thirty minutes in the right-back role when Callum Bullock, who was once again a solid presence, was replaced by the young left-back Lewis Blackshaw. Duhaney was a threat, darting forward repeatedly and linking up well with Isaac Buckley down the right. He was equally effective on the left too, forming a natural partnership with Sancho within minutes. Buckley's cameo was devastating, yet again. He scored, as he always seems to these days, and was a persistent handful against Newcastle's tiring legs.

All this and without several regulars this year. Two of the standout players for the u18s, Will Patching and Marcus Wood are away with England on international duty. Dilrosun, Kongolo and Kigbu weren't in the match day squad and Isaac Buckley and Zack Faour only made the bench - the former an unused sub. When you consider that Aaron Nemane and Humphreys have both played at this level this year too and the much-hyped Spanish star Brahim will also soon be eligible then it really starts to sink in how deep the talent pool is at the CFA. This is a remarkable group, and a group that is only going to improve too. There's a whole host of the u16s that could step in and excel at this level, with Sancho and Dele-Bashiru's performances offering a glimpse at the untapped potential we have seemingly on tap. Campbell, Foden, Bolton, Smith to name just a few. The u16s won again by the way, if there was any doubt. 5-1 v Newcastle. Campbell scoring a hat-trick, Phil Foden grabbing a goal and a Brazilian u17 trialist from Corinthians grabbing the fifth. A remarkable day at the CFA, but that's becoming the norm these days. Next up, excitingly, is the u18s derby this Friday night. It's at the CFA academy. As ever, a report will follow on here.