Thursday, 28 May 2015

Toronto 0-1 MCFC - EDS watch

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.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Marcos Lopes - LOSC Lille loan review

The third in this series of loan reviews following on from pieces on Jordy Hiwula and Seko Fofana. This time it's the turn of Marcos Lopes. In the eyes of many he's arguably the true shining light of our current academy set up. Last season's EDS captain and a current u20 Portugese youth international, Lopes is highly thought of at the Etihad. Explosive, powerful and pacy, possessing that Aguero-like low centre of gravity that makes a player impossibly hard to shrug off the ball. He has a wicked left foot too and an eye for a goal. He's talented, basically. Very. The kind of player with the ability to launch a thousand YouTube compilation videos. 

After acquitting himself well last season during his brief run outs with the first team, notably in the Capital One League cup against West Ham last season where he set up two, it only seemed natural that a year out on loan would be his next move. The club sent him across the channel to France's Ligue 1 and LOSC Lille, a club well versed in precocious attacking talent. They oversaw the development of Eden Hazard and Yohan Cabaye in particular, both stars in France before they eventually hopped on a ferry to the Premier League.

I spoke to Andrew Gibney, both a frequent attender of City academy games and a devoted Lille fan, about Lopes' time at Lille. He's also the editor of the truly excellent French Football Weekly too - in a nut shell, there's no one more fitting.

The immediately obvious one - how has Lopes done this season? Has the loan been a success?

Andrew - From his very first appearance on the opening day against Metz, Lopes has caught the attention of the Lille fans. He is exactly the type of player Lille missed. When he gets on the ball he wants to make things happen, and you can see that in his directness.

It is a shame that his time was cut short by the two injuries, but you could see enough that he is a special talent. That's what frustrated the most, he really changed the dynamic of the team when he was able to play.

What's the perception of his potential as a player within France/Lille? 

Andrew - The Lille fans love him, everyone at the club likes what he brings to the team and there would be no hesitation to see him return to France next season.

His best position? Obvious flaws/strengths? 

Andrew - He is a No.10. He drifts into space, whether that be wide or through the centre. You need to give him creative licence though, similar to David Silva. If you try to constrain him, you won't get the best out of him. When Lopes has been available, Lille has played 4-3-1-2 - a midfield diamond, with Lopes at the tip. It has worked really well when he has been fit.

He can go missing from games, but that's indicitve to that type of player. All it takes is a few flashes, a moment of brilliance and he changes the game. There are no real weaknesses in his game. In England he would be asked to track back more and work for the team. That's not needed in France, he's allowed the freedom to wait in the pockets of space.

There's a sense that Lille have become a little defensive this year and that perhaps lopes would flourish in a more attack minded team. Fair?

Andrew - Not really. Lille played a counter-attacking style. The defensive appearances comes from the lack of talent upfront. When Lopes played, the diamond was really effective. Him and Origi struck up a good partnership together. If Lopes hadn't missed so many games, the Belgian would have scored more goals.

Do you think city will utilise the loan link up with Lille again?

Andrew - It would be nice to see more of City's youngster at Lille. It helps the club and benefits the players. When you look at the players Lille has developed in recent years (Digne, Cabaye, Debuchy, Hazard) it is a good place to learn your trade.

I would love to see Olivier Ntcham or Thierry Ambrose at the Stade Pierre Mauroy in the next few seasons. However, this could be a one-time move. Lopes agent is Mikkel Beck – as well as at Middlesborough, Beck played at Lille and is still a regular around the club.

How does he compare to Hazard in his first season at lille?

Andrew - It's a difficult comparison. Hazard played as a forward in Lille's 4-3-3 and was allowed the freedom of the pitch next to some excellent players. The team Hazard played in was miles better than the current squad. The Belgian is more nimble, agile and there is more finesse in his movement.

Lopes has amazingly quick feet like Hazard, but his style is more direct and bullish. At the same age, Hazard finished that season with five goals and eight assists, but Lille scored 29 more goals and finished fourth not eighth Lopes has that same anticipation when he has the ball at his feet, but in direct comparisons, his teammate Sofiane Boufal is more Hazard-esque than Lopes.

Does he remind you of anyone stylistically?

Andrew -  I've been racking my brain and I can't think of a player that Lopes is a direct comparison to. He has elements of Hazard, David Silva, even Alexis Sanchez and Carlos Tevez. He is quite unique. He combines speed, agility and finesse with a direct style. Lopes is definitely someone to get excited about.

Do you personally think he has a chance? Would you use him if you were Pellegrini next season - I.e do city need a player like him? Or another loan move?

Andrew - He definitely has a chance, but he is not ready yet. There is no point in brining him back to City to be a bench player and maybe get 5-10 minutes off the bench.

Another loan deal, especially because of the injuries, would see him come on leaps and bounds. He still has a lot to learn, but you are only going to learn that from playing week in, week out.

It's hard not to get carried away when discussing the potential of a player like Marcos Lopes. He theoretically has everything. Goals, pace, skill, drive and that rare ability to conjure up something special out of nothing. He classifies as home-grown too - he's a frightening talent on the surface of things and one that would easily demand £10m plus already to a buyer. Double that if he was English. You'd guess he would at very least reach the level of someone like Jesus Navas and that isn't something to be shirked at. Navas isn't world class, but he's a champions league player and the big fishes we take from smaller ponds tend to come with a pretty hefty price tag, but it's usually a necessary outlay - we still need those reliable dependable squad players. It would just help if every one of them didn't cost around £15m. This is where someone Lopes should prove his worth - he should reach that level, if not higher, meaning we have a squad player for free and one that with a little bit of luck could potentially be a star.

The academy should help remove the need to spend huge amounts of money on talented but admittedly limited players like Fernando, Milner or Clichy. It should fill the holes in future squads leaving money aside for genuine A-listers, and maybe, just maybe, produce the odd Silva or Aguero along the way. Lopes ticks at least one of those boxes, and that's exciting. He's the first, in my opinion, that seems an almost guarantee to benefit the first team - hopefully opening the door for many others to follow too. On the flip-side, however, he is only very young still at nineteen and its worth noting that he did struggle a little towards the end of his loan spell at Lille. That's to be expected of any youngster, especially one making his first strides as a professional. Football's a tough game, Ligue 1 in particular, but there's nowhere tougher than the Premier League and it's possible he could struggle. Instinctively, I'd say he could handle it now, and with Milner, Lampard and Jovetic (and possibly more) all looking likely to leave we do need a replacement - he seems a natural fit, it's not hard to imagine him at least having some kind of impact. But it'd also be a fair conclusion if the club decided it is perhaps a year too early for him - maybe another loan somewhere would be in his best interests. The optimist in me would like him to stay, but I trust City with this one. Either way, I fully expect he'll be a big part of the future at City.

Other loan reviews - Denayer & Guidetti || Seko Fofana || Jordy Hiwula

Saturday, 23 May 2015

City EDS 3-1 MUFC u21

A truly satisfying and deserved victory following on from a confident, powerful midweek performance at Southampton. Ten days ago we went to Old Trafford and somehow came away with a 4-0 defeat. It was a frustrating game - City controlled possession that day looking to play positive, technical football. They were let down by a lack of a real cutting edge and some understandable naivety in front of a 16,000 strong crowd. United on the other hand sat back, content with a defensive approach, using their experience and nous to counter. They scored four. It was a 4-0 victory, yes, but it was an underwhelming 4-0, mainly built around the experience of Wilson and Januzaj. They were efficient and functional, but lacked notable talent or intelligence, Januzaj and Wilson aside. Experienced players playing at a level below their current status will do that. Along with Blackett who was solid at the back in the previous encounter, both of them were absent today.

City had Kelechi back through the middle, offering the cutting edge we sorely lacked at Old Trafford. Pozo was shunted out to the left with Barker positioned in the unfamiliar position of right wing. Ntcham, Glendon and Byrne held the midfield and Evans and Humphreys continued their partnership at centre-back. Our two Spanish starlets, Maffeo and Angelino were either side of them and Angus Gunn returned for O'Brien in goal. It didn't take long for the pattern of the game to develop. It was identical to the away trip - City would look to pass it around, trying to play their usual measured possession game and United would sit back, defending solidly, content to knock it forward fast and direct whenever they could, using their pace and power to try and initiate an attack or two. We largely handled it well. So it was no surprise that we went in 1-0 down at the break…

Typical. They scored just before half-time from a corner, Fletcher tapping the ball in from a few yards out. It was all too predictable. I said it in my report from the previous game, but it needs repeating again. United do this at youth level - they're efficient, they win often and they know how to grind our results. Be it at u16s, u18s or u21s. Time and time again. They're seemingly content with this, but from where i'm sat there's little in their performance and if they're happy with that then that's fine, but City want more than that from their players and rightly so. It felt like groundhog day when the players left the pitch after 45 minutes, but there was still solace to be taken from our general attitude. We were still the team looking to move the ball intelligently and we didn't lower ourselves to United's overly physical approach.

The second half was much better. Nemane came on for Pozo and took up the right wing position, meaning Barker could move back over to his usual slot on the left. And then the Kelechi show began. He was magnificent. He equalised after an hour with a truly remarkable goal, reminiscent of Bergkamp at his pomp, spinning away from one player before elegantly gliding past a second and cooly slotting the ball past the keeper. His second, and City's third, was also of the highest quality. His delightful first time flick found the onrushing Ntcham who powered past the United defence. Iheanacho followed, taking the ball off Ntcham before looking up and drilling the ball into the far corner. Clinical and exhilarating stuff. Between those two goals, Angelino had given City the lead after a well-worked short corner routine left him with a shooting opportunity. He didn't need a second invitation, powerfully slamming the ball past O'hara with the aid of a deflection.

3-1 wasn't flattering. It was a great end to the season for Vieira's men, a performance both full of individual quality and team effort. Gunn was measured and confident in goal (the rumoured loan move to Aberdeen would be great for him) and Angelino and Maffeo were both terrier-like, as ever. Maffeo in particular was up against a giant - United's left winger was 6'2, at least. A powerful and fast runner with skill too, yet Maffeo came out on top. No mean feat, but something we've come to expect. Ntcham ended the season on a high and was the pick of the midfielder three - his direct and powerful running caused United all sorts of problems. It wasn't all brute force either, there was more subtly to his game than sometimes evident, showing an awareness of others around him spreading the ball well. Perhaps the summer's come too soon for him. Byrne and Glendon were both bright, tirelessly taking the ball from the centre-backs and looking to turn and play it forward and Evans had a tidy game in defence. Pozo, sadly, was the one real weak link. He had a torrid time over on the left, constantly muscled off the ball and sloppy in possession. He was replaced at half-time. It doesn't look good for him as things stand - he may get another year but he's fallen a little this season in general and the fact that a 17 year old first year graduate, albeit a talented one in Nemane, immediately offered more balance to the team on arrival is cause for concern. City are patient and he will surely get another chance but the likes of Garcia, Boadu, Ambrose and even the very talented u16 Fernandes may make it hard for him to even get a game next season at this level. A loan to Spain seems inevitable.

Cameron Humphreys in defence was outstanding. It's hard to believe he's still sixteen. Yes, sixteen. And he won't turn seventeen until August either. He's strong, incredibly confident on the ball, a little like Demichelis when in possession, and he has a turn of pace too. To look as composed as he does at u21 level is an impressive feat. He has no right to excel at this level yet. If City manage it well then Denayer, Tosin and Humphreys could be the clubs centre-backs for years. They all have that much potential. Fingers crossed. Barker was good when moved over to the left. He nearly scored a couple too and the first half aside, where he was willing and eager but clearly not comfortable in a position alien to him, he was involved often causing United all kinds of problems down the right. Kelechi was fantastic. There isn't much more I can say about him, but he's now scored 6 in 7 at youth level, despite missing several months through injury at a new club, and he's technically not even a centre-forward. He prefers playing off the striker. He will surely be in the first team squad next year. Some players have that little spark that makes them stand out and he is one. 

It was fitting that a performance of this much quality would see the EDS out for the year. It's been a good season for the club at this level - we've had some lows, naturally, but also many highs with what is a very young team. Younger than the vast amount we play at this level. Next season will see many of the more experienced players go out on loan i'd expect, with the likes of Wood, Nemane, Boadu, Tosin, Humprheys and Garcia stepping up and it'll be a very interesting 12 months. I'll most likely be writing some reviews up over the coming weeks during the off season, and also some thoughts on what I expect will happen next year, but before that a few of our EDS lads will get a chance in the first team as they play two friendlies in the US next week. I'll report on both. 

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Southampton 0-4 City EDS (Full game stream replay)

N.B - The whole game is available in the YouTube video at the bottom of this report.

This was the perfect tonic to the frustration of last weekend's game. Southampton somewhat fortunately came away with a 2-0 victory on Saturday, capitalising on some questionable defending despite City dictating proceedings. Vieira's response was to freshen the team up and make a whopping eight changes to his starting eleven. Kelechi was restored to something approaching his usual position, starting through the middle in the place of Pozo with a recalled Barker and Nemane stationed either side of him. The oft-used triumvirate of Byrne, Glendon and Ntcham held the midfield while Horsfield and Angelino sat either side of Evans and Humphreys. Gunn returned in goal and Plummer, O'Brien, Intima and Drury were amongst those relegated to the bench. The vast changes were expected - especially considering the proximity of the previous fixture.  It was a strong Saints line-up too. They made three changes, all players with premiership and first team experience.

The first 30 minutes of the game were theirs, though we created most of their danger ourselves. They pressed well and our possession based football didn't click initially - we conceded possession cheaply, giving the ball away a few times straight to one of their onrushing attackers. We were lucky to keep the scores level and had to thank the upright for keeping Southampton at bay. Thirty five minutes in and our game suddenly ticked into life. A sweeping move down the left freed Iheanacho - he took his time before expertly picking out Nemane at the back post, who was (as ever) in the right place at the right time to roll the ball into the empty net. Soon after Ntcham scored a beauty, powering post two men before striking the ball with whip and pace from twenty five yards past the out-stretched hands of the Southampton keeper. The third ten minutes into the second half matched it. The much improved Barker picked up the ball, skipped past two challenges before playing a delightful little one-two with Iheanacho, placing his shot into the far corner. A truly sumptuous goal. Hazard-like. The fourth was Iheanacho's turn to get on the score sheet, Barker this time returning the favour squaring it for a smart finish from a few yards out.

It was a good performance. There was a swagger and arrogance to the EDS's game that hadn't been seen for a few games now. After the initial thirty minutes indecision, passes were slick, confident and the movement intricate and precise. Glendon was tidy, swivelling this way and that and alongside Byrne he controlled the pace of the game. Ntcham had his best performance in a City shirt for a few weeks. He's an odd one, Ntcham, capable of bringing drive and energy to any midfield, and also moments of brilliance with his goal today being proof, but he's also prone to disappearing and running into people. There is something there though and it'll be interesting to see how his experience turns out at City. It could go absolutely any way, good or bad, and I wouldn't be surprised by any possible outcome.

Nemane was relatively quiet, but busy - and he still scored. Most wingers don't score as many tap-ins as he does, though most simply don't attack the back post with the same endeavour either. It's a nice habit and it makes him a nuisance even on an off day. Barker was back to something approaching his best. His goal was delightful. He didn't have it easy either - their right back was huge, fast and powerful, yet Barker came out on top, picking up an assist for Iheanacho to go along with his goal. Iheanacho too had a productive day. Two assists and a goal. He's confident, strong and he has an eye for a pass that marks him out as potentially something a lot more interesting than the recent comparison to Daniel Sturridge. There's obvious stylistic similarities to the way they both move around the pitch, and there's the City link too, but Sturridge isn't known for his vision. The Nigerian has a penchant for a lovely little one-two around the area that reminds me a lot more of Silva, and its a devastatingly effective technique when executed well.

The defence in general had little to do, coping well with anything thrown at them by an experienced Southampton front line. Most of the trouble they had came from problems of their own creating. Humphreys, Evans and the usually reliable Angelino were all guilty of giving the ball away cheaply in the first half. This will happen - these players are young and learning the game, Humphreys in particular is only seventeen which is testament to his development this year. The way City want to play isn't easy, and that's by design. If you take the easy way out, kick it long and hope, then no one learns anything. Credit must go to all three though for their persistence. None of them dropped their heads at any point despite their mistakes, and none of them neglected the passing game, growing in confidence as City took a hold of play. Horsfield was solid, much more comfortable at right-back then in centre-midfield where he'd been deployed in recent weeks. Him and Angelino ventured forward well, and intelligently took up positions in midfield to support the attacks. Vieira likes his fullbacks to almost become an extra central-midfielder when not in possession, with the centre-backs spreading wide and its an interesting tactic. It can lead to us controlling the midfield, though a little exposed in the wide areas, but I have to presume the overall idea is to encourage the fullbacks to receive the ball in tight spaces, pushing them to improve their understanding of the game. Total football-esque.

James Hardy came on in the second half. This was the first time i'd seen him. He looked confident and calm in possession, dropping his shoulder subtly to spin away from challenges. I don't know much about him but it was an impressive little cameo. Intima and Drury both came on late with no real time to make an impression. Overall it was a satisfying performance. The last few weeks have been mixed for the EDS and it was nice to see them grab a confidence boosting victory ahead of their final game of the season - Manchester United at the CFA on Saturday. It should be very, very interesting.

You can watch this whole EDS match here thanks to Southampton's excellent YouTube channel. A mention must also go to their in-house commentators. Obviously Southampton fans, but fair and knowledgeable and they were very interesting to listen to.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

MCFC u18s 1-0 Everton u18s

This was a really good result and much more interesting than the EDS game that followed it. If Everton won they'd be crowned u18s champions. They didn't - we beat them 1-0, gifting the title to Middlesborough. To be honest I thought we'd lose this given that results in the last few weeks had rendered this game a dead rubber for us. In fact since the league had split into two play-off tiers we'd lost four in a row and only picked up our first point last weekend away to Chelsea. It meant a lot to Everton too so credit must go to Jason Wilcox's men for this admittedly unexpected result. It was a fiery affair, but never over the top - two technical and tough teams both going toe to toe. It wasn't blessed with chances and it was mainly fought in the middle of the pitch, but it was entertaining nonetheless. Perhaps a draw would have been fair but you'd also have found it easy to argue that either side deserved a victory too. 

We started with a much more balanced team than the EDS line up. We had Tattum and Vasi as the fullbacks and Charlie Oliver and Humphreys as the centre-back pairing. Nemane was over on the left with Fernandes on the right and the midfield three consisted of Marcus Wood, Diallo and Will Patching. Buckley was up top and Albinson between the sticks. I was really impressed with Diallo, only really young (fifteen I think) but he was composed and strong throughout. He's already a huge physical presence, but it was his touch and technique that stood out. He basically did a Yaya impression, sitting deep and dictating play, taking the ball from the centre-backs. Really, really good and an English lad too. Patching struggled a little early doors. I've seen him three or four times now at u18s level and he's found it a little tough each time, despite being highly rated at youth level. He did settle into the game though and he's clearly a very elegant player, but he's still finding his feet at this level as he's a little easily brushed off the ball at the moment - he's tall but waif like. Marcus Wood basically played exactly like Kean Bryan. Tough, strong and strode forward well. A battler with penchant for a Gareth Barry challenge, which is by no means a bad thing - he was a little sloppy in possession on occasion but still very strong up against a competitive Everton midfield.

Fernandes shone again. Some of the young foreign imports with high expectations have struggled to settle at City, Faour, Dilrosun and Kongolo in particular, but he's bucked that trend. He was easily our biggest threat. Such an elegant, skilful little player, darting about, popping up here and there. He only managed to isolate his marker on a couple of occasions, but both times he skipped past him with nonchalant ease. In the second half he briefly played behind the striker and he excelled there too - he's blessed with very good vision and quick feet so a long-term future there may be a possibility. Nemane was relatively quiet stationed out on the left, but he worked hard and scored the winning goal. I really like his habit of being in the right place at the right time which is a nice trait for any winger. It always irks me when wingers don't attack the back post from crosses from the opposite wing but he does - he's always there at the back post and he often gets his rewards. He did today - a sloppy bit of defending sent Buckley through on goal who showed good composure to take his time and pick Nemane out for the easy job of sliding the ball into the net. Buckley had a good game too. Perhaps he isn't blessed with exquisite technique, but he certainly adds to the team. He never stopped working giving the defenders a pretty tough time and he did well for the assist too, so no complaints here.

I thought defensively they were all good. I actually like Vasi at left-back - I've heard rumours that he may be moved on but they may be just that, because if so that'd be harsh. I've seen him twice, probably three times, not sure - but each time he's been solid defensively and bustled forward well. Tattum too is a good defender. Bucket loads of energy and its admirable. There was a couple of sloppy of moments for Oliver and Humphreys when passing out but they both played well. Oliver was responsible for some proper nitty gritty defending - the John Terry stuff, throwing himself into tackles and sticking tight to his man etc and its really notable now that Humphreys is one of the more experienced players in this team now. At one point he thought he momentarily turned into Desailly, strolling forward past 3 challenges…..before promptly running straight into a defender. He looks confident either way though and he's really developed this season. The difference from a few months back in his game is almost tangible and it bodes well. Charlie Albinson had a pretty easy game in goal. Couple of nice saves but not loads to do.

Lukas Nmecha and Luke Bolton both came on in the second half. Both under 16s, with Bolton only fifteen still I think. Either way both are still pretty new to this level and they impressed. It was the first time i'd seen either in the flesh and their confidence was striking. Nmecha came on for Patching in the second half, going up top with Buckley going out wide and Fernandes tucking in behind the striker. Bolton was a half-time sub for Nemane. I saw Bolton during the u16s tournament a couple of weeks ago, still available online here, and he played through the middle impressing with his strength and hold up play. He came on here out wide, his usual position apparently. He's tough. Very. He immediately impressed with his absolutely lung-bursting runs. He ran at the defence like a young Tevez. Fast, direct and bouncing off defenders. One run took him past two from deep inside his own half before he slightly overran it. He's obviously not quite the explosive talent that Tevez was at that age, but it was still an impressive cameo nonetheless. Nmecha was good too, technically proficient and with a very welcome instinct for heading straight towards the goal. He span away from defenders a couple of times driving straight at Everton's defence, causing problems and winning a few dangerous free-kicks. One took well by Fernandes that nearly found its way into the top corner.

Based on this performance you'd struggle to understand why our record in the past few weeks had been so bad but that's youth team football. I think some of the u16s are slowly getting to grips with the 18s. The leap in physicality from a player only fifteen years old to one eighteen can be absolutely huge at times so some naturally do struggle, but they'll be better for it next season. I presume there will be many more from the u16s making the step up to the 18s next season as the likes of Fernandes, Humphreys, Wood and Nemane find themselves involved with the EDS on a more frequent basis. I'm looking forward to it.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

City EDS 0-2 Southampton u21s

This was a taste of our own bittersweet medicine. Southampton did to us what we did to Porto last week. They defended well, offered very little going forward and then capitalised on some sloppy defending to win the game. Both of the Saints goals were remarkably easy - the second in particular. Tosin Adarabioyo spent far too long getting back to his feet after a challenge near the touch line and found himself caught out of a position. A simple throw in over the top put their forward through on goal and he squared it across the area for a tap-in. The first was similar and came with only a couple of minutes on this clock - this time it was Ash Smith-Brown at fault as a long ball sailed past him, leaving their right winger with the simple task of picking out his team mate in the middle for the opener. It proved decisive.

It was a frustrating evening for Vieira's men, truth be told. It's been a pretty mixed end to the season for the EDS - the highs of the PLIC win have been followed by two quick defeats and I can't help but feel that many involved today need this season to come to its conclusion. The summer off to reassess and start again with fresh ideas and fresh impetus would be no bad thing. They were by no means poor, far from it. They probed well, worked as hard as ever and had a few decent chances to score too. Kelechi should have found the net, Garcia and Intima as well, but there was something missing. That spark or moment of ingenuity - anything. It was all quite safe. Months ago our left wing axis of Angelino and Barker would have provided drive and flair. A goal threat too… Neither started. Angelino was elsewhere and Barker only made the bench after a recent dip in form. Byrne or Celina might have fired one in from 25 yards and maybe one of the injured Ambrose or Boadu could have skipped past a challenge and drove at the heart of the opposition's defence. Celina wasn't around, the latter two are still sadly struggling with injuries and Byrne isn't quite at the top of his game either. They're not, for whatever reason, at the same level as their more confident selves of a few weeks ago.

We weren't helped by a series of frustrating little niggles. Maffeo picked up a knock and both Bryan and Smith-Brown had to leave the pitch in the first half, replaced by Garcia and Evans. It lead to an unfamiliar change in shape that consisted of Maffeo, Tosin and Plummer as a back three with a five man midfield of Intima and Iheanacho running the wings. Evans was holding and Ntcham and Byrne both pushed forward - Garcia effectively played as a no.10 behind Pozo, though he found himself quite deep at times essentially creating a six man midfield. With half an hour left Barker came on for Ntcham and took his usual left-wing position, Kelechi went into the middle and Garcia dropped a little deeper making the formation something approaching a more conventional 3-5-2. It definitely helped. It's fair to say Kelechi is no wide player - he struggled to have any impact on the game at all and he only came alive when this change was made and he found himself central. He nearly scored too, rounding the keeper after some lovely link up play with Garcia, but to his frustration his second touch just took the ball out of play.

Pozo was bright again continuing his recent upturn in form, even if it would have been a good idea to switch him and Iheanacho around well before Barker was brought on. His highlight came in the first half, pirouetting away from a defender before putting Garcia through on goal. Sadly Garcia's finish didn't match his overall contribution to the game which was quietly impressive - he dictated proceedings in the second half in a manner befitting his ever-growing stature at this level. Next season will be a very interesting year for him. Ntcham was as ever a real mixed bag. Energetic, powerful and hard working, yet frustratingly inconsistent with the ball - one long range shot somehow managed to clear the stadium. Impressive…in a way. Evans was a lot more comfortable in his preferred midfield role, though Southampton didn't exactly make life difficult for him, and Byrne was decent even if he couldn't quite stamp his authority on the game. Intima worked hard and ran the line well, though lacked quality whenever he was asked to something decisive, missing two good opportunities and failing to pick out any of his teammates from good crossing positions. Defensively we weren't severely tested and Maffeo and Plummer had relatively comfortable games though It wasn't Tosin Adarabioyo's best 90 minutes, culpable for one goal and nearly causing another, but he's 17 and he'll learn. Billy O'Brien took Angus Gunn's place between the sticks and what little he had to do, he did well.

All in all, it was a disappointing afternoon for the EDS though they won't have to wait long for a chance of revenge. They go to St. Mary's this week to play Southampton again before the big one next weekend where we face United at the CFA. Hopefully we'll be able to readdress the balance after last Tuesday's quickly forgettable defeat.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Jordy Hiwula - Walsall loan review

Following on from the review of Seko Fofana's spell at Fulham I spoke to a couple of Walsall fans about our young forward Jordy Hiwula. Despite proving prolific at youth level for the various age groups at City, his first tastes of senior football only came this year during what turned out to be a frustrating early season loan with Yeovil. His bad fortune in front of goal was somewhat cruelly called out by then manager Gary Johnson, causing the move to be cut short after only nine games and a solitary goal for the club. A few weeks later City decided to send him out again, this time moving him to Walsall, hoping for a little more success under Dean Smith's tutelage. He hit the ground running, scoring in his first three games for the club prompting the move to be extended to the end of the season where he played consistently, notching up 9 goals in 19 games for the saddlers.

I spoke to Kevin Paddock from Vital Walsall and the fansite BescotBanter about his contributions.

The immediately obvious one - how has he done this season? Has the loan been a success?

VW - When he first came to the club most fans had their concerns about him, not his fault but from past experiences. We had a young guy on loan from Liverpool (Michael Ngoo) last season who like Jordy had a spell at Yeovil and things didn't go well so we as fans put him in the same category before we had even saw him play. Roll forward half a season and we have realised he's ten times the player Ngoo was and has so much more potential within the game.

BB - Jordy has done very well, his loan has been a success. He hit the ground running with a goal in his debut against Doncaster Rovers, and has gone on to put in several solid performances for the club, making him a favourite for a large section of fans. He has dealt well with a slight switch in playing position following the return of top-scorer Tom Bradshaw from an injury lay-off, Jordy coped well with a move to the wing and even bagged a couple of goals from that position.

What's the perception of his potential as a player within Walsall? Do they think he'll have a chance at City?

BB - In terms of potential with Walsall, he would be a first-choice player if he was to join on another loan next season, he may have to make do with a wider position of play, but as his loan spell has shown he can and has made an impact on the side.

He is however unlikely to get a real opportunity with the Citizens, the rules regarding squads having a certain amount of 'homegrown' talent may lead to players such as Jordy being retained, but with talent like Segio Aguero, Edin Džeko and Wilfried Bony occupying the starting places, and up-and-comers like José Ángel Pozo and John Guidetti on the fringes, Jordy will surely be overlooked.

Have the fans taken to him?

BB - His arrival was greeted with delight by supporters, although some did note his less than successful loan spell with Yeovil Town, however with other loan switches in the past we're more than aware of some players inability to 'gel' with certain squads and tactics, it only takes a tweak here and there to help a player to open the goal-scoring floodgates, or put in performances that will grab the attention of their parent club.

His aforementioned debut goal was a very good signal to supporters of his ability, along with his goal creation, he has also gone on to grab several other goals, including a brace during the Saddlers' 8-2 final day humiliation to Bristol City, helping to establish him as a fan favourite.

His best position? He's played, if I'm correct, wide in a three and up top on his own? Obvious flaws/strengths? Does he remind you of anyone stylistically?

BB - He has played in all positions across the front-line and also as a wide/winger in midfield, the injury to Tom Bradshaw allowed him to make a few appearances as a lone striker but he has spent much of his time out wide. His biggest strength would probably be his finishing, he can be pressured off the ball a little easily at times but that will change with extra strengthening work, he has a good level of pace and is always a threat to the opposition's defence.

It's difficult to think of a player he reminds me of, in terms of un-tapped ability he's like our former winger Emmanuel Ledesma, now of Middlesbrough, who was fairly unknown, or at least not highly thought of before he came to the club, but left on a high as a fan-favourite following many memorable performances.

VW - Jordy was brought in as our centre forward when our leading goalscorer Tom Bradshaw was injured and whilst he was comfortable in this position he has really flourished since move into a more wide position just playing off the striker. His main strengths are his pace and trickery, some of his goals this season have been sublime. One thing he does lack is consistency but that will only come with experience. If I had to compare him to a current premiership player Id put him in a younger rawer category as Theo Walcott, the fact that he has pace to burn and does seem to be ahead of some on his day and a bit like Theo he needs to add more to his physique to match his pace.

Do you personally think he has a chance at Premier League level eventually? Would you give him the odd game in the league cup at City next season etc.. or another loan move?

VW - For me I think he is some distance away from Premiership football but with a few games in the cup competitions with Man City style of play then I can see him adapting quite easy. With nine goals in seventeen games for the Saddlers a season long loan will be beneficial to all parties and with a long run in the side I can easily see Jordy getting fifteen to twenty goals next season.

BB - As mentioned earlier, the likelihood of Jordy getting any regular first-team football at the Etihad seems slim, although you can never really tell. On a personal note we'd like to see him return for another loan spell, cup appearances are good for experience but there is nothing like the regularity of first-team football to move a player on, Jordy has progressed well during his time at the club and would obviously benefit from a longer loan spell during the coming campaign.

Do you think City will utilise the loan link up with Walsall again?

VW - We are trying to negotiate with Man City to bring him back next season on a season long loan but that depends on what Man City want to do with his progression but he will always get game time here and like most of our youngsters they seem to improve under manager Dean Smith. We don't obviously have the same luxuries as Man City but I'd like to think we attack teams at our level as much as City do at theirs.

Liverpool, Chelsea and now Man City have seen Walsall as a club to send their cream of crop youngsters to as our manager Dean Smith gives youth a chance, playing the right way with possession attacking football.

BB - We'd certainly hope so, there are several talented members of the EDS side, many of which would fit into the Walsall side, we have a history of creating our own talent, but are also known for bringing the best out of players who arrive on loan and may have been on a bit of a downturn with their parent club. One issue with modern football is managers' often refuse to take risks, especially in the top-flight, gone are the days of a debuting sixteen year-old striker bursting on to the scene, so this may be the only way for talented reserves to show their worth and try to earn that place at the top table.

To me, he comes across as the kind of old school classic centre-forward who will just pop up and score you a goal. Bit of a rare commodity these days, and when you look at Kane's indifferent loan records before it all of a sudden clicked for him, and indeed even Jordy's prior spell at Yeovil, I do wonder if he could be the kind to one day see a sharp rise in confidence and burst into life at a high level. Thoughts? Or am I getting carried away with myself..

BB - You can certainly see the links between him and Harry Kane, although Harry was seen as a talent early on in his career, but before his breakthrough seemed to be heading for something of a disappointing time in the game.

As mentioned earlier, Jordy has progressed well under the Saddlers' stewardship, and would benefit from further time with the club, he has all the potential in the world and would benefit from another spell of first-team football. If he doesn't return to the club he will leave in a better position than when he arrived, he would fit in well to a Championship side and could be on the cusp of a bit of a breakthrough in his career.

It will be interesting to see how next season pans out for Jordy. Another loan surely beckons. He's clearly a talented young player, but the bar at City is incredibly high. Even at youth level there's stern competition - Kelechi Iheanacho and Thierry Ambrose both appear on the surface much more promising players, and both are two years younger than him, but nothing is ever certain in football and you only have to take one glance at Harry Kane's career to see how a player's career can blow up if the touch paper is lit. A season in League 1 or the Championship could see him score 20+ goals and he'd return a year older, stronger and full of confidence. It never harms to have a hardworking young home-grown striker in your ranks with an eye for goal and pace to burn. Personally, I wouldn't be suprised if he took a similar route to the top level as other ex-City youth prospects, Kieran Trippier and Kasper Schmeichel spring to mind, establishing himself in the lower divisions before moving up with a promoted club. I think we'll know a lot more about the clubs intentions for him when the transfer window slams shut during the early stages next season. Time will tell.

Other loan reviews - Marcos Lopes || Seko Fofana || Denayer & Guidetti

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Man United u21s 4 - 0 Man City EDS - A little perspective.

This felt inevitable. I've seen it before several times this season alone. Alarm bells do not need ringing and the philosophy doesn't need binning - this was the result of several relatively unavoidable factors combining and playing up against an experienced United team always likely to win games at this level in this particular, unexciting way.  They sat back, camped in their half and then broke using their experience in key positions finding holes in our questionable defensive shape, finishing well. They were 2-0 up from two chances at one point, despite having 30% possession. They do that at every level in all the derbies - u16s, u18s, right through to the 21s. They beat us at the start of the season 4-1, with Wilson running through and scoring all four goals. Identical. Fast man up top, big strong lads at the back, knock it through a young developing defensive line and score - It works at this level, I guess.

We weren't helped by the returning loanees. Evans looked awful at CB, suffering from a poor loan spell at Scunthorpe and once again being played out of position. Fofana, for all his physique, isn't as smart a footballer as many of the younger lads who are coming through the ranks behind him - he was always going to struggle returning to a team increasingly possession based when his main weaknesses while out on loan at Fulham were, according to a fan of theirs I spoke to recently, his first and second touch. Hiwula, too, didn't look in sync with the rest of the team, playing up top in contrast with the left-wing role he had at Walsall. Coupling this with the fact that many of our younger u18 starlets looked absolutely exhausted meant the team felt unbalanced and we moved the ball far too slow; that earlier midseason spark has fizzled out somewhat for many of the younger players, understandably too. Most of them have played many, many games this year and they're still incredibly green. Angelino, Barker, Byrne and Bryan didn't look anywhere their best and they haven't for a few weeks.

That explosive form that punctuated a large part of the middle of the season wasn't a flash in the pan, it was the result of a confident, expressive team playing in a balanced eleven full of youthful exuberance, technical ability and skill who had slowly, but surely, found their feet after being asked to move up an age group. Recently this has now become a team (not really by choice or design - just necessity) containing slightly older players most looking for clubs in the future (Intima, Fofana, Hiwula, Evans, Horsfield) and you can tell. Their development is still important to the club and rightly so - we have to do the upmost to find them a club if it isn't to be with City, and it still may be, but it has definitely impacted on the form of the team and consequently the surrounding younger players who just haven't adapted to the changes, due to a combination of confusion, being played out of position, and tiredness. This is natural and was always going to happen. Youth team squads are often bitty and fragmented and it's understandable that this will at times affect the players.

This isn't City's strongest team at u21 level. Far, far from it. Move Maffeo over to right back, bring in Tosin and Humphreys in defence. The injured pair of Boadu and Ambrose would bring pace, power and technical ability to our forward options. Iheanacho up top, Celina, perhaps. We have an abundance of talent in reserve - the thing that ties them together? They're incredibly young. That's cause for optimism and patience. It's easy to forget too that the out on loan quarter of Denayer, Lopes, Cole and Rekik are still u21s for City and this team, and you'd wager with good reason that tonight's result would be very different if those four were available. The u18s in tonight's team are not handling this end of season nigglyness and the fractured inconsistent teams and squads that come with it,particularly well - because they're tired. That's fair enough. This will happen - it's fine. They've done a lot this year, played some fantastic football, the vast majority of them have reached two finals, jumping between age groups as if its easy at times. They've won a cup as recently as last Friday, gone far in the UYL and become arguably the best footballing youth team in the country. Most of them had never played for the u21s before at the start of the season.

There is no cause for concern. Our young players still stuck to their game, they tried to play football the right way. It didn't happen, but they tried. That takes character, and its something they have in bucketfuls. They need a summer off now to assess all the many great things they've accomplished this season, and they'll come back stronger, more mature and ready to push on to greater things next year. Yes, we lost, but the United team we saw tonight isn't a United team to be excited about. It's a dogged one set up to be successful at youth team level, defending deep in their own half in front of 16,000 home fans, with experienced first-team who know how to attack. Ah well - good luck to them. I think our kids have more of a chance.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Chelsea u18s 3 v 3 City u18s

Away games are pretty much always out of reach for me so I have to rely on what I can find on twitter. I tend to find fans of the opposition at the academy games are a little more level-headed with their views of the game, and Chelsea Youth are no exceptions. Naturally it's a little more Chelsea-centric, but their summary is a good read. 

MCFC's official report can be found here too -

The general consensus seems to be that we started poorly. I can't say I'm surprised. This wasn't our best line-up and Chelsea are formidable at this level. Due to the nature of youth football, with players skipping between teams at will - Garcia for example began the season eligible for the u16s and came on for the EDS's u21 squad last night - you often get fragmented squads with games overlapping and players moving up and down age groups depending on the game. The squad boundaries are thinly defined, basically.  

We started with five of our FA Youth Cup final team. Haug between the sticks, Humphreys and Adarabioyo at the back and Celina in midfield, with Buckley up top. The rest of the team was made up of talented, but raw, u16s. Though Chelsea's team was equally stripped back with many of their usual academy stars elsewhere. Perhaps some with the first-team squad for tomorrow? They definitely deserve that chance. Either way, Chelsea are a lot more confident than this particular City u18 team and I can't say I'm surprised by reports that they were basically too strong for us, going in 2-0 up at half time. A third for Chelsea just after the break (The hugely talented Abraham breaking the forty goal barrier for the season) could have opened the floodgates but credit to the City players, they fought back immediately, pulling one back through Fernandes and grabbing two more late goals to level the game at 3-3. The last being an impressive free-kick from Celina.

Tom Dele-Bashiru's early substitute appearance, with Patching hooked in the first half, by all accounts appeared to be a key move for City giving us strength and security to free up Celina, one of the more senior members of this team, to dictate proceedings in the second half. Fernandes too was apparently bright. Given the circumstances, this was an impressive result for a team that's struggled recently. They're building them strong at the City Football Academy and its encouraging. You can have all the technical ability in the world but its nothing without focus and application. It would have been easy to give in but they didn't. It'll certainly be interesting to see how things develop for the u18s next year with most of this current generation stepping up to the EDS level and I expect some more graduates from the very talented u16s to step up too. 

Friday, 8 May 2015

City EDS 1 v 0 Porto. Premier League International Cup Champions.

Not our finest performance. Not even close. But we won to become champions of the inaugural Premier League International Cup, and i'm absolutely delighted for them. This group of players deserved something this season for their play, persistence and effort. Porto were better, quicker and (apparently) a lot more experienced. They should have got something from this, definitely. They squandered several chances, some clearer than others and they'll be rueing this result. That aside, this wasn't pure luck; we showed exceptional character. It was an incredibly gritty performance and they dug in from the first whistle to the last to hold on to the early lead. Even our goal was in good fortune, their centre back had a nightmare. A short back-pass in the fourth minute was pounced on by Kelechi - he dropped his shoulder, calmly rounded the keeper and put the ball into the empty net. If i'm being honest that was then it. We then basically held on for the rest of the game. We did a Chelsea.

The weather was atrocious. It was a properly miserable night - we couldn't keep hold of the ball at all and, truth be told, we played poorly. There was some bright moments, mainly some nice link up play between Kelechi and Pozo. The Spaniard was our brightest spark in that first half, running between the lines and turning at the defence, showing encouraging signs that his recent return to form might not be a flash in the pan. The second half was Porto's, though we did have a brief 5-10 minute spell of pressure in the second half when Barker and Bryan were introduced for the isolated Iheanacho and tiring Glendon. Iheanacho was situated on the left wing and struggled, as did Pozo up front, unsurprisingly. We should have switched them, but we didn't. Barker and Bryan's introduction gave us much needed balance and we turned the tide a little, but it was fleeting. The normal routine quickly returned - we lost our cool, hoofed the ball long to Pozo who struggled to do anything against the two centre-backs five inches taller than him, Porto recycled possession and quickly returned to attacking us. There was the odd half chance as we tried to counter, notably Barker firing just wide and Byrne stinging the keepers hands with one 20 yard drive but that was it. Porto pressed, drawing some good saves from Angus Gunn, but thankfully we held out.

Gunn was fantastic. It's easy to overlook how good he actually is given how many talented players we have in our side, but he's arguably as big a prospect as any of them. I'd argue he's better than Hart was at his age, a much better 'footballer' too. Commanding, technical, catches the ball instead of punching it and he's supremely confident - there is NOTHING I could ask him to do any differently. He's a product of a post-Neuer world and he has that same nonchalant aura that exudes from Courtois. If he's not number 2 next season he should be out on loan to a championship or league 1 club, ploughing a similar path to the ones Hart and Szczesny took as they gained much needed experience. He'll be England number one eventually. I'm certain.

Evans had a poor game I thought, once again being played out of position, but I was surprisingly impressed by Plummer. He was solid and dependent doing a more than passable Lescott impression - there might be a decent career for him somewhere after all. You could definitely tell he'd played first team football already while on loan at St. Mirren as he wasn't fazed by the late onslaught, coping manfully with everything Porto through at him. Maffeo was, as ever, and i'm getting bored of saying this, excellent. Okay, there was one incident where a perfectly weighted long ball caught him out, but it happens. No one is infallible and that moment aside he didn't put a single foot wrong in the 95 minutes he was on the pitch. Angelino was his usual bundle of effervescent energy and Glendon and Byrne scurried about trying what they could. I'd say Byrne perhaps the better, though neither were at their technical best on the night but both worked extremely hard. Ntcham was disappointing, though he wasn't helped by the fact that he was effectively an outlet for long passes all night. Intima offered decent width for us but suffered from a slight Navas syndrome, hitting his first man far too often. He did whip in a couple of nice crosses though which deserved better movement from the forwards.

Overall it wasn't a skilful performance, far from it. It was one of grit, determination and endeavour. Games like this are invaluable. They looked absolutely delighted to win this, and so they should be. Things like this will build character and they'll be better players for it. There's no shame in not winning gloriously sometimes - they didn't park the bus or set up shop to frustrate the opposition. They tried to play football, but it didn't happen and they won, quite simply, because they worked incredibly hard. I have to say too, the atmosphere at the CFA was wonderful. Twice that of anything we've had recently at the Etihad. The ground was buzzing, noisy and vibrant despite being about a third full. There was about 50 fans behind the goal that sang and jumped about all game doing a more than passable impression of the notoriously hardcore Dortmund fans. Heartening stuff - i've not seen anything like that at a city home game in years. Twice now at the minihad. A fitting backdrop for a memorable day for the City Football Academy.

Seko Fofana - Fulham loan review

With the end of the season approaching I thought it'd be a good idea to check on how our youngsters out on loan have been progressing. I've tried to pay attention to as many games as I can, but it's a little difficult with many matches in different leagues limited to simple highlights and so on. Not the fairest of indicators a player's overall game... I decided to get in touch with a few fans and bloggers of the various teams where our players are stationed for a more detailed insight.

First up I approached a couple of Fulham supporters about Seko Fofana. A tall, powerful and marauding attacking midfielder, capable of thunderous long range goals - the inevitable Yaya Toure comparisons make sense but there's a huge difference playing amongst youth team graduates and the professional leagues where your size and power aren't as immediately advantageous. Nevertheless, he's a talent and he was nominated alongside players such as Marcos Lopes and Jason Denayer for the EDS Player of the season last year so I was particularly intrigued to hear how his debut campaign as a professional footballer had panned out.

I spoke to two Fulham fans about his performances for the cottagers this year - Chris Robertson from and Russ Goldman, host of the internet radio show 'Cottage Talk'. Their thoughts are below.

The immediately obvious one - how has he done this season? Has the loan been a success?

Chris - Loan has been a success, but not an overwhelming one. Seko’s largely done well but he’s not excelled for the reasons you talk about below, wrong time and place for him to really dominate. Considering he’s a young player, it’s hard not to feel that by playing him we’re aiding another club’s development instead of our own decent youngsters. Saying that, I and most others do like and rate him. He is a personable kid and people love his energy. He only scored one for us but it was a very popular goal.

Ross - His loan was a success but near the end of the season, we saw less and less of him. However, I think that had to do with the manager wanting to grind our results with more experienced players.

What's the perception of his potential as a player within Fulham? Do they think he'll have a chance at City? Or will he end up at a lower level?

Chris - He’s certainly not ready for City yet. If he gets another loan or two, then I’d say he’ll earn a chance at City. He’s a real talent. Problem is, to come into a side as strong as City’s you almost have to be world class before you get any game time. I’d say he’s one who would be better playing his next few years at a club abroad then coming back as he’s not strong enough for the English lower leagues and it’s his technical skill that needs work.

Russ - The perception of him I think is a player who has a huge amount of potential, but just needs more experience to improve his game from the raw talent he has to the finished product. I don't think he is ready for City yet and he might be two seasons away honestly. I think he should play in the Championship once again and I wouldn't mind a return to Fulham. He is not ready for the Barclays Premier League.

His best position? Obvious flaws/strengths? Does he remind you of anyone stylistically?

Chris - He’s an attacking centre mid. We played him a bit on the wing too, but he’s not a winger. Stylistically he very much reminds me of Yaya Toure but without the technical skill. He’s all legs and has a similar running style. He’s got a great engine and is a very positive player, but his actual passing skills aren’t quite there yet.

Russ - He played in central midfield on one side of the diamond and that was a decent place for him. I don't think his best position will be a defensive midfielder as I think his attributes going forward are strong. Eventually he might be best as an attacking midfielder. His flaws are his first and second touch. He has so much speed but the ball gets away from him too easily to control it at times. I can't really put my finger on who he reminds me of but the kid has huge potential, and hopefully he will put it together someday.

There's a sense that maybe he's been a bit too raw for the difficult season Fulham have had, which has been around the bottom half of the table. The championship is a tough league for anyone, never mind a new player making his first steps in the professional leagues. Fair?

Chris - Absolutely fair. Considering he’d never played senior football before he did very well. We were also a poor side and that didn’t help him. Our manager is tactically a bit clueless too so he was in and out the team and rarely played in his best position. All things considered we’d love him back

Russ - That is a fair assessment but I expect Fulham to make a huge push for promotion next season, and he could be an asset in a Fulham side with those aspirations. I think the Championship is a great place for him to improve as a player.

Do you personally think he has a chance? Would you blood him if you were Pellegrini next season - I.e do you think he'd benefit from the exposure of being around our first team? Or another loan move?

Chris - I wouldn’t blood him at City for another year, but he could certainly benefit from being around the first team in pre-season. I think a full season playing for us would do him well, or a top flight loan to say France, Belgium or Germany (a bit like Chelsea have done with Thorgan Hazard). I’d also have him spending as much time with Yaya as possible as that’s his ideal mentor.

Russ - I think he needs to stay in the Championship as he is still too raw, and being on the bench or just around the team I don't think will benefit him enough. He needs to be playing regularly.

Do you think city will utilise the loan link up with Fulham again?

Chris - I hope so.

Russ - I certainly hope so as it could be a win/win for both clubs.

In general this tallies with the few Fulham games I managed to catch this year. A real mixed bag of a player, clear potential - you sense he has something but that he hasn't quite found the keys to the door to unlock that clear latent talent he's got stored away somewhere. Perhaps he's a little rash and overly exuberant too, often wasteful in possession, but they're traits that often come to define the early years of most players, and yet you still feel that at any moment it could click and he could burst into life, run from one box to the other and wallop one in from 30 yards. He does that have ability, a little like Sissoko at Newcastle maybe. Whether that'll come to pass is another thing, but with time on his and ours perhaps another loan or two over the next couple of years to find out would suit all parties involved.

Other loan reviews - Marcos Lopes || Denayer & Guidetti || Jordy Hiwula