N.B - The whole game is available in the YouTube video at the bottom of this report.
They're funny things, post-season tours. Very much a symptom of modern football, a curious phenomenon that exists in its own weird marketing bubble. They're often hard to muster any excitement for - the players would rather be on a beach drinking a daquiri, the opposition are right bang in the middle of their own competitive season and there's the whole unspoken pretence that neither of these would be involved if there wasn't a considerable financial gain on offer. It's false, unnecessarily glitzy and a distraction. Scepticism is understandable and inevitable. Admittedly I raised an eyebrow too when they were first announced, as did many others, but the news that several EDS players had flown out with the first team suddenly made it a little more interesting.
Despite all their talent, opportunities for the academy players this season have proved hard to come by. Harshly in the view of many – the last game of the season at Southampton, a dead rubber with nothing to play for, was particularly disappointing. None of them got a look in, nor did any in the traditionally youngster-friendly early rounds of the cup competitions. That in mind, it was refreshing that eight players flew out with the first team for these two friendly games against Toronto and Houston. Evans, Fofana, Ntcham, Barker, Garcia, Celina, Maffeo and Pozo all made the trip. Only Fofana started this game from this batch however, clocking in around sixty minutes before he was joined by a slew of his academy graduates in the second half. A little frustrating initially, but as others stated there is most likely some contractual obligations for the club to fulfil in terms of appearances and minutes played. They're there to see Aguero, Yaya and Kompany obviously. And Demichelis in centre midfield, apparently. Interesting one that, Manuel. The game itself was a decent affair - City pressed, had many, many chances and it was only sloppy finishing that prevented a cricket score. It was a lot more interesting than most pre-season games, put it that way. Players were still fresh and match fit from this year's exploits and you could tell.
Of the kids Evans took the headlines. He scored the only goal of the game, and it was special. Thirty-five yards out and perfectly whipped into the top corner. Splendid stuff, topping his wonderful assist for Jovetic in the mid-season Abu Dhabi friendly. As a Manc and a life-long City fan I found it hard not to be pleased for him - he's local and he's been at the club for a long time. Plus he seemed genuinely thrilled to score his first goal for the first team too. He was assured, elegant and neat and tidy in possession. The Emyr Huws comparisons make sense - both are tall, technically proficient holding midfielders and both have a very Carrick-like style of play. He might even go the same way as Huws did, dropping down to a lower level before (hopefully) making his way back up, but if that's to be I hope he at least gets a chance with the club first. Players can excel around team mates of a higher quality. Their confidence rises and they can sometimes look better in the Premier League than they ever would in League One. It does happens and there's nothing to say he couldn't develop into a very handy squad player for us given a chance. He deserves it.
Fofana suffered from the commonly seen 'kid making his debut and keeping it far too simple'-itis syndrome. He didn't do anything wrong and he did grow into the game a little more as the clocked ticked by, but he was a little forgettable overall and it was hard to learn anything from. He recycled possession well and there was the odd decent pass but in general he sat back content to do nothing wrong. A little safe perhaps. Not neccessarily his fault as it takes most a few games to find their confidence a little at first, but I do like it when a debutant tries to exert their influence on a game. Ntcham did. He wasn't on for long but he showed his natural aggression and drove forward well, playing a couple of nice passes to Aguero and in general he looked really eager to make a mark. He’s a big lad and he bounced off a couple of Toronto defenders too. Physically he won’t have any troubles at a higher level. It was a good little cameo, no doubt helped by the familiarity of Maffeo alongside him on the right, who was as classy and as composed as we’ve come to expect from his games at academy level.
Garcia and Celina both got a few minutes each and a touch or two as well. Hard to gauge obviously, but in his three or four little moments Garcia looked confident. One little spin away from a defender highlighted his natural talent and he’ll be hoping to get a few more minutes in the game versus Houston. Celina likewise barely touched the ball, but he did find a way to get in a shot in from distance, as he always does, albeit nearly clearing the stadium. Pozo was good. I’ve been critical of him this year as he’s struggled for the EDS, but he played with a real intelligence and wit. He created a few half chances, linking nicely with Aguero and Silva on a couple of occasions. He certainly benefited from playing off the striker, floating around and popping up here and there. It's his natural game and more of that would be welcome. Sadly Brandon Barker didn’t get on the pitch. A shame as he’s a talent, but maybe he’ll start against Houston.
As far as friendlies go it was an interesting game. The EDS players did well. None of them looked out of place and they all looked technically proficient and worked hard. Toronto are no premier league team, of course, but you can only play what’s in front of you and they looked comfortable. Perhaps some are even more suited than their first-team opposites for the fast-paced technical one touch football that the club wants to adopt going forward. Whether they get a chance to show that, or even adapt when they do, is another matter entirely, obviously. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep my eyes open for the friendly later on tonight. In the meantime you can stream this whole game again in the video below.