Thursday, 16 April 2015

City EDS 0-0 Celtic (5-3 Pens) PLIC Quarter Final

One thing that was immediately clear was that this was a very weakened team. Given the prestige and importance of Monday's FA Youth Cup final, it was expected to be honest. Something gives me the impression the club would absolutely love it if our kids won the FA Youth Cup, what with the launch of the CFA. A symbolic, strong justification and riposte to the cynical approach many have taken to City's very valid attempts to reinvigorate the area and their youth development. Bearing that in mind, it was the reason that EDS regulars such as Barker, Maffeo and Celina were rested amongst others. It most likely came under directive from the big boys at the top of the academy food chain. Perhaps not, but that was the impression I got. If so, then Vieira had a pretty small pack to play with truth to be told.

The initial three at the back experiment in the first half was sadly dire. City struggled hugely, and it was only when we went back to something approaching our normal 4-3-3 shape in the second half that we actually did anything of note. Most were average to poor at times. Horsfield, Intima, Drury, Plummer will probably not be at the club next year, despite their ability and work rate. All worked hard, but the leap to the very top is a big one and they may struggle. Intima toiled, but lacked the required nous to to create anything of note. The other three looked out of place in City's possession style game. Smith-Brown had a bit of a nightmare - one decision to back-heel it back to Gunn was particularly questionable, but he was out of position and looked a lot more assured when he was shunted over to right back to be fair. Bryan didn't look comfortable on the left of a back 3 at all, but he'll be fine hopefully for Monday's youth final. He was subbed off but it was most likely precautionary.

Ntcham did okay, especially considering Glendon and Byrne didn't have their most effective of games. Both were sloppy and slow at times and no way near as comfortable in possession as usual. Ntcham had the most impetus and forward drive and I felt if anyone was gonna make something happen in the first half it'd be him. Angelino was tried on the left-wing, and he struggled. It was tough on teh Spaniard - how can you expect to excel in a new position when the rest of team is lacking ideas? He had little to work with. I'm kinda on the fence with whether he'll make it as a winger, but he's certainly not lacking the technical ability. He scored a hat trick the other week from the left-wing position in a much brighter and more confident team, and he was great. We'll see.

Celtic were big. Very. A strong, powerful team and they created some decent chances but I thought Gunn was exceptional. Yes, a lot of them were standard saves, but its the consistency of his play that really impresses. He just doesn't really make any mistakes. Its easy to forget he's there given our teams are usually dominant but last night really highlighted how good he is. There's a kind of assurance and arrogance in his play that you get from Courtois and Neuer - i know they're stupidly lofty comparisons but you can very much tell he's a new goalkeeper in a post-Neuer world. He has absolutely no fear of having the ball and there's an assuredness to his game already that you just don't see in most young keepers. He should be out on loan getting first team football next year somewhere. As others pointed out on the night, he's better than Hart was at this age. Definitely.

It was really notable how much the quality of the team rose instantly when Barker and Maffeo came on. Maffeo is great. It's weird to see a kid possess so much authority, especially one that is 5'8 and so young in a foreign country too. He took great pleasure in dispossessing Celtic's forwards with ease, striding past them and laying it off. At centre-back he actually reminds me of Cannavaro in his playing style. Measured, tough, elegant. He'll end up a right back and he'll end up as a full international for Spain. Definitely. Barker wasn't great, but his mere presence lived things up for us. Pozo I feel sorry for - there was some nice moments a plenty of effort. Loads. He's just not a forward and its damaging his development playing as a number nine. He needs to play as someone facing the goal, not back to it. Shame. Once it go to extra time it always seemed like City would win, for some reason. There was a confidence to the team and Gunn commands such a presence that the likelihood of a penalty shootout never felt daunting. And rightly so - all the penalties, as composed as anything, the lot of them. In the end perhaps Celtic could have felt a bit aggrieved as Gunn certainly had more to do overall, but from the second half onwards City were definitely in control, even if they did offer the odd sporadic threat. All in all, an interesting, if a little dull, night. No harm done though hopefully, and plenty learned ahead of the semi-final

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

City EDS 4-2 Leicester

Leicester had already proved something of a bogey team this season for City on a couple of occasions, and they'd won their last four in a row in this competition so I was a little sceptical about how we'd fare today, especially considering it was a relatively patched together team. As an eleven playing together it was very inexperienced and Leicester were physically huge compared to us, plus they had Knockeart playing, a highly experienced first teamer and Jack Barmby who has had a fair bit of pro football too. It was evident from the off - we started off nervy and indecisive and the first twenty minutes were exceptionally cagey. We were lucky not to concede. Glendon was in his first game back after a little injury lay off and he was sloppy, Ntcham was caught in possession a few times and Manu Garcia, making his first starting debut at this level having only just turned 17, was outmuscled. Plummer at centre back who's not played much this year looked a little at odds with our possession football and we had Intima on the right making only his second appearance all year after a long term injury. It was a relatively new XI and the rustiness was to be expected really.

Knockaert looked a class above most for the first twenty minutes, unsurprisingly. He was sharper, more confident and combined with Barmby and their physically daunting number ten really well. And then just like that, something clicked and City woke up. Barker came alive and we took control of the first half. Barker and Angelino were, as ever, great down the left. Linking well, overlapping each other and basically being a constant handful. Barker had already span and ran about 40 yards up the pitch twice, outmuscling their huge right back in the process, causing all manner of problems before he created the first goal laying the ball off to the overlapping Angelino before he walloped into the roof of the net over the keeper. Second goal was typically Barker. He got the ball just inside the edge of the area on the left hand side and i'm not kidding, I knew he'd score the second he got the ball. Quick step-over, knocked the ball to the left and drilled it across the keeper into the far corner. He scores so many goals that way with his 'weaker' foot in that exact same manner, yet its basically impossible to stop.

We carried on dominating the first half, but surprisingly Barker departed the game at half-time. It was his first game back after an injury so I guess it was precautionary. This meant a shuffling of the pack and James Horsfield came on at right-back, meaning Ash Smith-Brown was shunted over to left-back. Smith-Brown was as steady and as competent as ever, and Angelino pushed up to a more advanced role to take Barker's place. It basically then became the Angelino show. He was everywhere. He kept doing a Pedro at Barca, being on the shoulder of the last man and Pozo, Garcia and Ntcham all took turns to find him as they grew into the game individually. His second goal was marvellous. Seriously top class stuff. Pozo, who had a good game when he found himself facing the goal, floated a chipped the ball over to him and from about 12/13 yards out to the left of the goal he ridiculously calmly volleyed it with the side of his foot an passed it into the far corner. Technically brilliant stuff, seriously - its something you'd expect Hazard to do. He also hit the post bursting forward and drilling it from the edge of the left hand corner of the area, and had another disallowed with a thunderous drive from the same place that was given offside.

His third finally came, and it was courtesy of a lightning counter attack where he got the ball on the half way line, ran straight towards the goal and finished it like Aguero would in a one-on-one. His finishing was impeccable - better than the vast amount of strikers i've ever seen at this level it was quite interesting to see Leicester's Lithuanian international striker, Stankevičius absolutely bottle easier chances than the ones Angelino took with sheer composure. He's one hell of a player. Onto the individuals I was impressed, as ever, by Maffeo. He was playing in the middle of the defence and against some bloke about 5 inches taller yet never shirked a challenge and considering he's a right back, definitely, the maturity and leadership he shows is pretty astounding at times. Another that I think is destined for the first team as height aside he has no flaws. He's stronger defensively than Angelino and reads the game so well.

Gunn impressed too, making an incredible save too at one point. One of the best i've seen in person. He's yet another great prospect. 6'5, a great natural shot-stopper and strong in the air and ten times better with the ball at his feet than Hart is. Intima was a little rusty but I liked his effort. He's quick and nimble and put in a really honest shift - first time id properly seen him really. Garcia really grew into the game and he's a lovely little player, I think he'd be happy with his first full debut at this level. Ntcham too played pretty well after a sloppy start. He's a strong lad and he drove forward really well at times. Like Ntcham, the whole team tired towards the end which was to be expected and they scored two on the break, but we deserved the victory in the end as we could have had a few more. It was thoroughly enjoyable. By no means perfect, far from it, but it was a good game and a good performance.