Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Rhyl FC 0 - 1 MCFC u18s

This was a fascinating game.  There's just something about seeing these wonderfully talented prospects in person that makes you appreciate how lucky we are as City fans. Preseason friendlies streamed from Australia or Vietnam are fun, and the EDS players involved with the first team definitely added interest, but they don't quite satiate that nagging craving for football that actually going to a game does. Especially one in a ground as intimate as Rhyl's. It's a world away from the CFA stadium, never mind the Etihad, but that only added to the charm and unexpected nostalgia of the occasion. It felt like a welcome throwback to the days of the old second division, Macclesfield and Terry Cooke. And I'm hardly long in the tooth at 29. This was the first time I'd managed to catch the u18s live since the season ended in the middle of May and as expected there was several new faces on show. Typically, all were excellent footballers. Very young too - the first thing that stood out was the age of the players involved. Most still eligible for the u16s, with a couple of 17 year olds and the 18 year old Charlie Albinson in goal proving the only exceptions. Rhyl towered above them - it was their first XI. Literally men against boys. Their centre-forward in particular was huge, built like a tree - 6'5 at least, and probably ten years older than most of our players involved. He wasn't the only one either, and it often seemed a little surreal witnessing the disparity in size. Unsurprisingly, Wilcox's men weren't fazed.

City, as per usual in the academy setup, lined up with something resembling a 4-3-3. Albinson started between the sticks, with the centre-back pairing of Josh Murray and Ash Kigbu ahead of him and Lewis Blackshaw at left-back. Demeaco Duhaney started over on the right. The midfield consisted of Jacob Davenport anchoring, Sado Diallo a little further advanced and Will Patching as the most attacking of the three. Ahead of them on the left of the front trio was the hugely hyped Brahim Diaz, listed as a trialist, but now finally eligible for competitive football this season after turning 16. Isaac Buckley, nominally a striker, found himself on the right and Zack Faour started through the middle. They were all good, acquitting themselves well throughout. Admirable really given the size of the task ahead of them, quite literally in this instance. On reflection, the first half was an even affair. Both teams threatened sporadically - City in general had a little more of the ball, but Rhyl used their experience and physical advantage well to counter. A few scrappy chances aside, little much happened. Buckley went closest for City, racing onto a delicately floated through-ball from Patching before firing straight at the keeper. Rhyl could have had one too, their forward somehow managing to clear the stadium roof from about four yards out. The second half was a different affair entirely. It was City's, and a lot of it was down to one man in particular. Brahim came alive.

He's a talent this boy, make no mistake. He created the only goal of the game with about an hour on the clock, skipping past one challenge before perfectly rolling the ball into the path of Buckley who did the rest. It was lovely stuff and his confidence rocketed as he found himself drifting further and further inside, proving a constant thorn in Rhyl's side. He's tiny still, but there's an admirable bullishness to his game. Nothing seemed to faze him, constantly bouncing off challenges and darting directly towards goal with lightning pace and all the excitement of youth. Technically he's excellent - one particular moment where he dropped his shoulder, leaving a Rhyl defender on the floor drew purrs of approval from the crowd. The resulting shot with his weaker right foot from the edge of the area wasn't bad either - the keeper stretching to just tip it round the post as it headed towards the top corner. It deserved a goal. Either way, it was incredibly exciting. Whisper it quietly but we could have something potentially special on our hands here. Barcelona wanted him and you can see why. I never thought I'd say this about an academy prospect, but there's shades of Kinkladze to his game. Majestically quick-footed, a low centre of gravity and seemingly with a splendid eye for a pass. That's where the similarities end, fortunately for us. Mentally at least, he's cut from a different cloth from the Georgian maestro . There's no shirking defensive responsibilities - he works hard, tracking back and pressing when necessary and if all goes well, then this could be a pretty exciting year for him.

Elsewhere the midfield three impressed. Patching was good. Tall, elegant and graceful on the ball - despite his obvious natural talent he often found himself on the periphery of games last season. This wasn't the case last night. He ran himself into the ground, pressing well and moved the ball with purpose and creativity. There was even a few impressive bursts forward too, not something I'd seen before from him, but welcome nonetheless. Diallo alongside him put in a solid shift, confident on the ball and physically strong in the challenge. Another set to play a big role in the u18s this year. Perhaps Davenport alongside him too. Only pint-sized, he was tough and tenacious in the tackle, reading the game well and mopping up plenty of stray passes. He recycled possession cleverly, confidently spreading the ball to either wing, rarely wasteful. Buckley was typically Buckley - a real live-wire. He's hugely likable. Now a second year after regularly appearing for the u18s last year, he's a little more senior than some of his teammates and it showed. He ran at Rhyl incessantly, with pace and skill and though not everything came off, he took his goal well, calmly rolling the ball through the keeper's legs. With a little luck he could make a breakthrough to the u21s this year. His attitude deserves it. Faour alongside him had a decent game, looking stronger and more assured than we've seen of him before in a blue shirt. It was an indifferent introduction to English football for him last year, often looking a little passive, and possibly understandably too - he came to the club with a huge reputation, not helped by the media reports surrounding him and it can take its toll on someone so young. He's clearly blessed with ability though, a Ronaldo-esque 40 yard free-kick that narrowly cleared the bar showcasing his potential.

Defensively we were solid and the young back-line stood up manfully when Rhyl asserted pressure. Kigbu's a real leader. Yet another top class prospect we have in the centre of defence. As strong as an ox, fast, athletic with a real confidence in his ability. Left-footed too, which is always a bonus. He was up against their towering behemoth of a target man, and he often came out on top despite conceding a fair few inches in height to him - even though he stands at around 6'2 himself. Like the rest, he showed a willingness to pass the ball around, even if it wasn't always perfectly executed. But this is just a friendly and still just pre-season - that conviction will surely come with time and experience. Josh Murray alongside him was a little more unassuming, but still solid. He remained focused and strong throughout, linking up well with his defensive partner. The full-backs were both bright and energetic, Blackshaw in particular battling admirably against an opponent considerably bigger than him, and Duhaney looking composed and assured when asked to step into the middle of defence towards the end of the game. Albinson was steady and reliable, making a couple of excellent saves to earn himself a deserved clean sheet - one in particular that traveled through a whole crowd of bodies looked for all the world a certain goal before he scrambled across to push it the round the post. The subs arrived late and had little time to impress. There was a couple of touches for Nmecha, but no real opportunities to extend his rather ridiculous pre-season tally of 8 goals in 2 games. Joe Hardy and Joe Coveney registered a few minutes between them, but there was nothing of real note to report.

Overall it was an impressive performance and a great workout for the new scholars. Wilcox would have been proud - this was a real challenge for them against a team vastly bigger, stronger and more experienced. Rhyl were no pushovers. They were well organised and committed. Tough, but fair, when harrying too. A welcome result going into the new season, definitely. As a side note, I couldn't help but be impressed by Wilcox's approach on the sidelines - he was stood only a few feet in front of me through the whole game, constantly bellowing encouragement and instructions to the players. He tows the line between tough and fair impeccably well, at one point loudly acclaiming Patching's decision to drop deep to take the ball off the defenders in a particularly tricky situation. On the flipside, he was quick to sternly admonish any who had briefly neglected their defensive or positional duties. It's all too easy to forget how young these players, they're still very much in the need of refining as individuals, people and footballers. Wilcox and his coaching team are quite clearly intrinsically important to this process and it's no coincidence that we're starting to see players as well rounded as Garcia and Humphreys emerge through the ranks. The very clear attention to detail paid to all aspects of a player's development is paying off and they'll be the first of many too. I really wouldn't be surprised if in twelve months time we're watching another 16 or 17 year old on tour with the first team next summer making headlines. The talent is quite clearly there.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Vietnam 1 - 8 MCFC - EDS Watch (Full game embedded)

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

This was fun. Extremely. Yes, it was only an admirably naive Vietnamese national team, and yes it was only a friendly, but at times City were simply irresistible. It felt like we were witnessing a glimpse of what the future holds. Truly, and maybe finally, the holistic ideal in full flow. The football we played felt vibrant, dynamic and skillful, with a forward line blessed with potential and youthful zest. Kelechi started as the lone striker, flanked by Sterling and Navas with a midfield three of Garcia, Silva and Evans pulling the strings. Denayer started alongside Mangala with Sagna and Kolarov the fullbacks with Hart in goal. From the off it was was entirely one way stuff as City attacked Vietnam with vigour and energy. Excitingly, alongside two more excellent performances from Sterling and Silva, the kids were the stars of the show.

Iheanacho was magnificent - he's more than just a finisher. There's a real finesse and intelligence to his game, evident in his link up with Sterling in particular, interchanging frequently with lovely little one-twos around the box. One such moment brought Sterling's second goal of the game, his first being a delightful 25 yard curler into the top corner, as the former Liverpool man raced onto a delightfully weighted return ball from the precociously talented Nigerian before slotting past the keeper. It was highly promising, showcasing the vast array of talents the 18 year old possesses. He's a real prospect, make no mistake. We have ourselves a gem here, and as it stands he's likely to complete his elevation to the first team come the first game of the season - both Aguero and Bony will be desperately lacking match fitness and it wouldn't have gone unnoticed how strikingly natural and effective his link up play has been with Silva and Sterling. Pellegrini isn't stupid, and Iheanacho would oddly be much less of a risk against West Brom at this stage than the other two would be. He'd deserve the chance too.

Not to be outdone, Garcia yet again shone. Easily the breakout player of this tour, remarkably he looks more at ease with the first team setup than he does with the academy lineups. Don't get me wrong, he's shown his enormous potential with the youth teams, but only sporadically as he's often blown hot and cold at that level with games sometimes tending to drift by him a little. This just hasn't been the case this summer. He's been involved in more or less everything we've done, confidently relishing the added nuance and calmness that the likes of Silva, Yaya and Nasri bring to the team. As the excellent Chelsea Youth pointed out on twitter, elite prospects often develop best in elite environments alongside elite players. Garcia fits this scenario perfectly. Where's best to learn all the tools he needs to perfect his game at the very highest level than alongside the players on the training pitch that he clearly wants to learn from? There's a huge argument to suggest that loans away would arguably stent his development, and its understandable - maybe he'd simply be better off where he currently is. Either way, Pep's going to love him in a years time, allegedly. We all are.

Elsewhere, there was exciting cameos from a number of other EDS players. Marcos Lopes had yet another effective game, once again arriving in the second half and immediately impressing with his directness and ability to run at defenders with power and pace. He scored too, skipping past one Vietnamese defender and drilling the ball under the keeper, who maybe should have done a little better. It was a deserved goal for his performances in general over the past two weeks. He's been excellent. It was another new signing, and yet another exciting and nimble young forward that gave Lopes that chance initially - Patrick Roberts, the much vaunted acquisition from Fulham, showed exactly what he's capable of as he skipped past two challenges cutting in from the left-wing before feeding Lopes to do the rest. Lovely stuff, and encouragingly just one of many similar moments throughout the game from players of all ages and seniority. It was notable how players such as Silva and Garcia seemed to love having the likes of Lopes, Iheanacho, Sterling and Navas running off them. We've maybe at times lacked a little directness in the first team, often lacking someone willing to run at defenders with purpose and endeavour, and all of a sudden we've numerous options. Just like that we've developed a plan B, and that can only be a good thing. And who knows, De Bruyne may be yet to come.

George Evans clocked up another good shift in a friendly, keeping things ticking over in midfield, confidently and purposefully spreading play - flying into  few tackles too. It was a decent performance, though in truth, he was never wholly tested as City controlled the game for the vast majority. Likewise, Denayer had it relatively easy, never really needing to get out of first gear, mopping up where he needed to as and when it was required. Jose Pozo found time to add the eighth, impressing in a short cameo full of creativity and intelligence, as he raced onto a lovely through ball by Marcos Lopes, evaded one challenge before delightfully dinking the ball over the onrushing keeper into the far corner. Sumptuous. There was also late appearances for Cameron Humphreys, Bruno Zuculini and James Horsfield, but none of them had much to do on what was a highly satisfying night for the club following on from some equally memorable performances in Australia. This has been a good preseason for all involved, undoubtedly. The club can take a lot from this, and there's definitely a renewed vigour about the squad as the season approaches. There's energy there now - ideas and a little spark too. Young players will bring that. It'd be criminal if a fair few were not involved next season. They certainly deserve a chance. Next up - Stuttgart this weekend.

Full re-run of the game here. It starts at 3:00. Enjoy.

Friday, 24 July 2015

MCFC 1 - 4 Real Madrid - EDS Watch

After the excitement, promise and joyous youthful abandon of the Roma game, this was always likely to be something of a come down. And so it proved. Sticking to his word, Pellegrini opted for a much more experienced team, giving Delph his debut alongside Fernando and Yaya in midfield with a front three of Sterling, Silva and Nasri. There was just two youngsters involved initially - the inexperienced centre back pairing of 16 year old Cameron Humphreys and Belgian international Jason Denayer started the game, flanked on either side by Sagna and Kolarov. Joe Hart lined up behind them between the sticks. Unfortunately it turned into a relatively sobering experience. Real Madrid opted for pretty much their strongest XI, and it told. For all their talents, the Barclays u21 league and the Scottish Premier Division won't quite prepare you for the experience of facing Benzema, Bale and Ronaldo for the first time. Not many things can really, but that's football and it's all part of their development.

Denayer and Humphreys were hardly awful, but their hesitancy and naivety was evident as they picked up a full 90 minutes each. Both were comfortable in possession, as ever, though both struggled with picking up the precise and varied movements of their opponents. Partnerships take time to gel, and that's nowhere more evident in the centre of defence. Humphreys in particular learned this cold, hard lesson - even though you may hold your line perfectly, there's no guarantee that Kolarov to your left will do the same. And he didn't, unsurprisingly, as Ronaldo ran through for Real's second. He's sixteen though, and he remains a tremendous prospect regardless, surely buoyed by a summer that he'll never forget. He did improve a little as the game went on, possibly due to the vast departure of some of Real's stars in the second half, but it would have been a night to remember either way. He's not the first that will struggle against Real Madrid, more or less everyone does, but this is a game and occasion that he won't forget in a hurry. One that will do him a world of good too.

Denayer on the hand will probably feel a little more disappointed with his performance. He's a excellent footballer, and a rusty preseason game in a thrown together defensive lineup doesn't change that. But it clearly wasn't his best display. He's better than this, and though he did improve a little in the second half like his defensive partner, he would have hoped for more from himself, especially given the opportunity to impress in the absence of Kompany and Mangala. He was notably a little slow to react to their first, caught ball watching from a whipped in cross from the right - it was a fine finish by Benzema, yes, but that's the life at the top and games are won on such narrow margins. Players are quicker, more technically astute and punish you where others would simply scuff a chance wide. He could have done more, and he'll know it. The third, too, wasn't his best as he looked lost in the middle from a corner, running into Kolarov leaving both Ramos and Pepe fighting each other for a free header at goal. Pepe won the duel, claiming the spoils to top off a relatively miserable half of football for City.

The second half gradually saw an influx of academy prospects, notably around the 65 minute mark as Iheanacho, Zuculini and Lopes joined entered the fray alongside the lesser spotted Edin Dzeko. Kelechi was initially stationed on the left wing, with Lopes again coming on as the focal point of a midfield three ahead of Fernando and Zuculini. Sadly, despite a few minutes of minor promise, the general flow of the match didn't notably change - Real continued to push forward, maintaining their stranglehold on the game with relative ease. Zuculini harried well, as eager and as energetic as ever, but found himself barely involved as the game passed City by. A cameo mainly spent chasing shadows. Likewise, Lopes and Iheanacho looked initially bright before finding themselves unwitting passengers as Madrid flexed their muscles in front of a near 100,000 strong crowd. After a relatively flat spell they extended their lead to 4-1, with a Yaya penalty the briefest of consolations, which more or less signalling the end of the game. 

A brief spark of interest arose ten minutes before the end as Patrick Roberts came on for his first taste of football in a City Shirt. He took up his usual role on the right side of the attack, but truth be told, it was tough debut for him. Hardly an ideal situation to introduce a new player, admittedly - never mind one who's only eighteen year old, regardless of how precociously talented he is. But he tried, and he had a few touches too, briefly highlighting his natural inclination to play the game on the front foot, even if nothing did quite come off. But then again nothing any other City played attempted throughout the second half found success either. Real were very much in cruise control and it petered out to a relatively flat ending. It'd be easy to feel despondent about this, but it is a friendly after all. Games like this go either way, and a makeshift line up against arguably the second strongest team in the world was always going to struggle. Perhaps it was just one step too much for a few of the kids, but there's no shame in that. They remain a hugely talented bunch of players and this doesn't change a thing. How could they not learn from this? Up against the very best, first hand experience of what it takes to be a top class footballer, without consequence too. This was a great test for them, and the club will know that.

It's been a hugely encouraging and rewarding tour for many involved -  the likes of Garcia and Humphreys probably didn't even expect to be on the plane to Australia two months ago. And here they were, holding their own, often excelling alongside some of the world's greats. Most of the EDS players involved were relative unknowns to many fans just over a week ago, yet they're now on their radar for all the right reasons. Naturally, that can only be a good thing. This tour has been yet another significant marker placed down by the academy. A shining example of all the magnificent developments down at the CFA, and further validation of the hard work put in by the likes of Mark Allen, Jason Wilcox, Patrick Vieira and all involved with the set up. One result against Real Madrid and a couple of indifferent performances by a few kids making their first steps into professional football doesn't alter this in any shape or form. I still feel as hugely excited about the new season and about what it holds for many involved today as I did this morning before kick off. This is just the beginning for them, and just another necessary step along the path of their development into top class footballers. Onwards and upwards.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

MCFC 2 - 2 Roma - EDS Watch

Another game, another joyous celebration of City's magnificent potential. This was wonderful stuff, far from perfect - no preseason friendlies are, but it felt significant. Yet another batch of our youngsters shone, and it came only days after witnessing the likes of Maffeo, Garcia, Humphreys and others impress against Adelaide. Garcia, Iheanacho, Denayer, Lopes, Barker, Evans, Horsfield and Unal all found game time tonight, and all were good, some brilliant. We started with just the three of them involved - Iheanacho lead the line on his own, excitingly paired with Silva and Sterling in a dynamic, pacy and technical front three. Garcia and Zuculini joined him, lining up alongside Fernando in midfield ahead of an experienced defence of Sagna, Kompany, Mangala and Clichy. And it was great. 

What more can we say about Garcia? Impossibly composed, he strode about the pitch, confidently exchanging passes and switching positions with Silva - even dropping deep at times, Pirlo-like. He's growing in stature by the week, and its a fascinating watch. His intense involvement with the first team this summer has surprised me to be honest - it's deserved, but I just didn't expect it. He's so young and even though a year in the EDS does rightly beckon, it's becoming increasingly obvious that he will likely make his full debut at some point this season, and it won't be without merit. Iheanacho too - rested for the previous game, he took this chance clinically. There's so many facets to his game that stand out, not only is he an emphatic finisher as he showed in the second half, racing onto a stray back-pass before coolly placing the ball past the keeper, but he's such a technically accomplished footballer. His pass to Sterling was Silva-like, dropping deep, turning and without hesitance, perfectly lifting the ball over the defence for Sterling to roll the ball past the keeper after two minutes. One assist, one goal. He's surely our third choice striker this season behind Aguero and Bony. His potential is immense.

Zuculini was good, again. He was bright and industrious, and as ever he got forward well. He took up a box-to-box role of sorts, where he worked hard alongside Fernando closing down Roma's midfielders. He kept the ball moving well, and with clear competence - it was another good run out for the likeable Argentinian, hopefully one that will help him secure a more satisfying loan move this term. The second half brought a whole host of changes. Barker was introduced in his favoured left-wing position and Lopes was brought on behind Iheanacho in the no.10 role. To the right of them was Navas, while Nasri and Yaya formed the base of midfield. Horsfield replaced Sagna at right-back, with Denayer lining up alongside his compatriot, Vincent Kompany, in the heart of defence, and Kolarov stepping in on the left. Lopes was sharp. He's a talent, clearly. Visibly more mature for his year away with Lille too. For twenty minutes he ran the game before it broke down into a typically disjointed mess, the usual stuff for a friendly, but it was encouraging nonetheless. There's a real drive to his game, and he's lightning too. He nearly scored after excellently exchanging passes with Navas, drawing a good save from the keeper. He's a wonderful little footballer and he'll be effective this season. There's a directness to his game that makes him a pretty terrifying prospect. Add his pace to Sterling's, with Silva pulling the strings and it becomes pretty easy to imagine how he could win us a few games next year, be it from the bench or even in the starting line up.

Barker shone sporadically, fading a little towards the end, looking completely knackered if i'm being honest - but before that there was huge glimpses of his potential. There was one particular moment where he combined with Lopes that was simply majestic, exchanging passes with the Portugese forward after beautifully spinning away from an onrushing Roma defender. He has all the ability in the world - all he needs is experience. A loan surely beckons, and after that? Well, the sky's the limit. Horsfield was good, again. He's a surprisingly effective right-back, despite preferring a midfield role. He was tidy in possession, and he burst forward effectively whenever he could. Alongside Lopes, he confidently dispatched his penalty in the successful shoot-out too. Denayer was as cool and as confident as ever. He's some player, and though he didn't have much to do there was the odd moment where he showed his natural self-belief, elegantly strolling out of defence and bringing the ball into midfield. Defensively he was solid - rightfully he'll challenge for a first team spot this year. Evans and Unal were both late substitute appearances, with the young Turkish forward a little isolated as the game ground down to a relative halt. He's a bullish young lad though, eager and positive with his running. It's just a shame he didn't get on when we were on the front foot. Evans had little to do, truth be told, in an unfamiliar centre-back role.

All in all it was impressive stuff, and comforting too. At the end of last season there was claims that City's ageing squad would hold us back. If there was ever any genuine worry that this would be the case, then those fears are surely well on their way to being eradicated before they've even been given a chance to fester. It's a squad brimming with hunger, youth and potential. Sterling will be joined by Delph, and Iheanacho and Unal will add energy, ideas and potential up front. Add Denayer and Lopes to this, and consider the promise shown by Barker, Humphreys, Maffeo and Garcia amongst others, not to mention the newly acquired Patrick Roberts, and all of a sudden a very different picture is painted. This is an exciting time to be a City fan, and it's only just the beginning. Roll on Friday.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Melbourne City 0-1 MCFC - EDS Watch

Features and profiles on all the players involved and on tour with the first team.
Part 1 - featuring Unal, Gunn, Glendon, Maffeo, Evans, Humphreys and Zuculini.
Part 2 - featuring Lopes, Garcia, Horsfield, Barker and Jose Pozo.
Part 3 - featuring Denayer, Iheanacho, Ntcham, Fofana, Plummer and Celina.

Ah football, how I missed you. I thoroughly enjoyed this, even if it wasn't the most exciting game we'll ever see. It was just great to have City back on the pitch, playing football, but more than that it felt like relative vindication too. In the piece posted last night I found myself ranting away rather emotively about how blessed we were at the moment. I couldn't help but wonder if maybe I was getting a little carried away. I'm biased, clearly, and perhaps I was letting my heart rule my head a bit. But this morning's game felt like a whole lot of justification. The young players involved were all good, with others excellent. It was hugely encouraging and exciting in equal measure.

Pellegrini stuck to his word, naming a relatively senior eleven with only four youngsters in the starting team. They were four of our best though. Sixteen year old centre-back Cameron Humphreys lined up alongside Vincent Kompany, with Pablo Maffeo, days after celebrating his eighteenth birthday, starting on the right and Clichy on the left. A senior midfield of Fernando, Yaya, Nasri and Navas was complimented by the prodigiously talented seventeen year old Manu Garcia and the fourth EDS member involved was Brandon Barker. Nominally a left winger, he was given the unfamiliar task of leading the line through the middle. It was a slow first half as both teams looked to test each other, with the early threat coming down Melbourne's left. Maffeo was up against their best player. A skilful, fast winger, Novillo would give most a game, and if last season's form was anything to go by, he probably would have turned a tired and jaded Zabaleta inside out. After initially looking a little flustered, understandable for any player in preseason, never mind for a kid, Maffeo grew into the game confidently, perfectly tracking his man and getting stuck in as he played a very good part in what was a fascinating duel. Maffeo's a natural defender, and he showed it. His positional sense is great and he has an uncanny knack of getting his body between the ball and the attacker. Add to that the fact that he's a tough little son of a gun and overall you had a highly encouraging 45 minutes.

Garcia was even better. He got just over an hour on the pitch and he was magnificent given the context. It's hard to believe he's so young. He just gets it. He gets the way City want to play, and he just gets football. He's truly a remarkable prospect. He looked better and better as the game grew on, confidently involved with everything good that happened, receiving the ball in tight positions, moving it quickly - even getting stuck in too. He's not big, he's tiny in fact, but there's an admirable tenacity to his game. Never at any point did he look overawed by the occasion or the increased physical nature of professional football, and that in itself is impressive. He's a huge talent and his star is rising. And quickly. Barker had a tougher task, and I felt for him. He's many things, but he's not a centre-forward. He looked a little lost out there, and many could have told you that would be the case before it happened. It negates every positive attribute he has, but it was a relief to see that on the rare occasions he found himself on the left he looked bright and confident. He came alive mentally, clearly much more comfortable cutting in and running at defenders. And he did it well too. He should have had an assist as he dipped inside, skinning his defender twice before teeing up Nasri who wasted the chance. He nearly scored too, darting inside on a couple of occasions, narrowly drilling shots just past the far post.

The best possible compliment I could pay Humphreys was that I often forgot he was there. He's a kid. Literally. He's sixteen still. He can't drive or drink yet, legally at least, and he only finished school this summer. Yet here he was, playing the whole 90 minutes alongside our captain, a genuine world superstar, looking totally at ease. He should have been nervous, unsure and edgy. He wasn't. Instead he made the right decisions, kept it sensibly simple and acquitted himself well. It could have been Demichelis and you wouldn't have questioned it - and that's a positive if you weren't sure. He's still got things to learn, yes, but he's an exceptionally talented prospect and it won't have gone unnoticed. Of the subs, Horsfield replaced Maffeo at half-time and he was good, shuttling forward well with energy and purpose. He's a right-back in my opinion, definitely. He looks vastly better there than he does in central midfield. Zuculini came on and played with decent purpose and Pozo showed a couple of nice touches in a game that was slowly fading to an end. It was my first glimpse of Unal and from what little I saw I thought did quite well. Not lots to do, but he ran the channels well, worked hard and was clearly eager to impress. It'll be interesting to see him get more minutes.

Fofana and Evans made up the rest of the EDS involvement, but they were on the pitch for a matter of minutes so there was nothing of note to report. In general it was a really good work out - Pellegrini would have surely been impressed by the way they acquitted themselves, and rightly so. There's real talent bubbling under the surface here and we have every reason to be excited. Add that to the fact that Kompany, Yaya and Nasri, who scored an absolute belter, looked more than up for it, clearly refreshed for a summer's rest, and we've got the makings of a very interesting campaign. I'm looking forward to seeing how the rest get on in the next friendly. I suspect we'll see Denayer, Lopes, Iheanacho and the two new boys, Sterling and maybe even Delph as well.

Friday, 17 July 2015

EDS players on the first team tour - Part 3

Part 1 - featuring Unal, Gunn, Glendon, Maffeo, Evans, Humphreys and Zuculini || Part 2 - featuring Lopes, Garcia, Horsfield, Barker and Jose Pozo.

And finally, part 3. After covering twelve players so far, with Garcia, Barker, Unal, Zuculini, Humphreys, Glendon, Evans, Gunn, Maffeo, Horsfield, Lopes and Pozo all featured, we're down to the final six. And as ever, it's a list brimming with ability and promise. A lot of it actually - and I genuinely find it a little overwhelming. I had something of a realisation when I was writing this just how lucky we are at the moment. It hit me just how good some of our players are. Admittedly I'm naturally a positive person, and I even wondered to myself if I'm perhaps getting a little carried away. But I don't think I am. I'm really not - this is an incredibly exciting time to be a City fan and i'm not sure if enough of us actually realise this. We have arguably the greatest training facility in football freshly built, an incredible and constantly improving stadium and we're absolutely blessed with top-class footballers signing for us, with bucketfuls of players coming through the the academy ranks who could genuinely make it at the highest levels. And this is only the beginning.

Imagine what it'll be like in five years time? Something simply has to give - you can't possibly hold such a good thing down. There's genuinely more players than you could count on your hands that could go on to be top class footballers, all equally capable of excelling and starring for City. And that's just looking through the players out on tour with the first team. It doesn't include Jack Byrne or Angelino, both out on loan, or even other brilliant young prospects like Kean Bryan, Thierry Ambrose, Tosin Adarabioyo, Marcus Wood and Denzeil Boadu who aren't over here. The first year scholars too from last season - players such as Fernandes, Patching, Tattum, Buckley and Oliver who improved as the season progressed.

Then you look at the u15s and the u16s and the talent pool just gets wider and wider. Rafael Camacho, Tyrese Campbell, Lukas Nmecha, Luke Bolton, the much-hyped Brahim Diaz and Phil Foden, or the incredibly promising Myles Beerman. Ash Kigbu and Sadou Diallo too. And reports have emerged that we've just signed another alleged next big thing, Taylor Richards, a impossibly skilful prodigy, closely following on from last season's capture of Jadon Sancho who promptly went on to claim the MVP in his first tournament appearance for City. The young keepers and Joe Hilton and Curt Anderson are both excellent and then you consider that City have just signed the promising young french forward, David Faupala. The strength in depth we through the ranks is mind-boggling. And I've most likely missed out a whole host of hugely promising names too.

It's formidable. It really is. We're a lucky bunch and you can't help but feel that we're sat on the cusp of something very special. This season should be fantastic in one way or another. And on that note, and ahead of the friendly tomorrow morning against Melbourne, here's the final six...

Jason Denayer 

One of the best pieces of news we had this summer was that Jason Denayer had signed a new five year contract with City. I'm not sure I would have been able to find any motivation for the new season if he had declared his intention to move on. Our most highly rated academy prospect in a long, long time - losing him would have felt like a real kick in the teeth and a massive set-back after all the promising developments over at the CFA. It could have been potentially our very own Ferguson and Pogba moment. A potentially disastrous loss that would have most likely seen him lining up for Bayern or Barcelona in a year or two, showing the world what a fantastically complete footballer he is as we looked on enviously. Thankfully that fear has subsided. It was a clear statement of intent to tie him down. Importantly, it sent out a huge message to the rest of the academy prospects that there is a plan for them in place too. It's likely he'll be the one that sets something of a trend in the future on that front, opening the door for others after his inevitable breakthrough. He's simply too good a footballer not to establish himself at City. It's been a truly meteoric rise - this time last year he hadn't kicked a ball in anger professionally. Fast forward twelve months and his life has changed. He went on loan to Celtic with their fans initially expecting little from it, and to say he excelled and won them over doesn't really do his accomplishments justice.

He was brilliant. Cool, controlled and impossibly confident for a nineteen year old - he was something of a revelation at the heart of the Bhoy's defence. They loved him up in Scotland as he displayed an intelligence and ability that immediately won over the Celtic Park faithful. After impressing as they claimed the league title, he won the Scottish PFA Young Player of the Year award at a canter, making their team of the season alongside his Celtic partner, Virgil Van Dijk. It was his displays in the Europa League however that really drew attention to him. Particularly a game against Inter where after twenty minutes his fellow centre-back, Van Dijk, was sent off. This left him with the daunting task of keeping the Italians team out for 70 minutes at the San Siro. He was immaculate. Celtic didn't progress, but he came out of the game smelling of roses. It was his character that impressed the most as he took responsibility in a way that you just wouldn't expect one so young to do. It didn't go unnoticed internationally either, Marc Wilmotts, the Belgian manager, citing that very game as proof of his ability, handing him his international debut towards the of the season. Predictably, he strolled it. It's just too easy for him. When he eventually gets his chance for City too, be it in any position, he'll most probably find this Premier League stuff a bit of a breeze too.

Olivier Ntcham

The last 24 hours have seen Ntcham linked with a loan move to Ligue 1, Guingamp specifically. This would be ideal. He needs it. I touched on it during my EDS loans article about how experience for him in a first team somewhere, and possibly France, would be essential for him now. It really is. There's not much more he can learn from the EDS. He has it all on paper - he's strong, fast and an effervescent box-to-box midfielder. He's a handful at his best, undoubtedly, and there's a lot to admire about his bullish approach to the game. All he really lacks is first team experience and importantly the consistency that would hopefully come with it. There was a few times last season when he didn't fully assert his authority during a game anywhere near as much as he's capable of doing. This is the same for most young players, admittedly, but for him to break through he will have to learn to do that. It's as simple as that. The fence is incredibly high at Manchester City these days, and while that is clearly a good thing, it will also mean some players will fall by the wayside where they would have usually starred for us in the past.

This could be the case for Ntcham. Adversely it might not. He's undoubtedly got a chance - there's an admirable directness to his game. He's strong and quick to break forward, particularly evident in his last couple of games of the season for the EDS. He gave United a torrid time, a constant powerful thorn in their side as the u21s ran out 3-1 winners in the final game of the year. It was Ntcham at his best. He's not all power and physicality though - he can pass. He can do it well too on his day, capable of spreading play and moving the ball quickly. He's not exactly lacking a trick or two either, often turning a defender with ease. Add to that the fact that he's scored a few crackers from long range and you can see why there's hope for him. You get the impression that the management like him, and that's understandable - his attitude is fantastic, as his work-rate. They must know that just perhaps there's a potentially very interesting player locked away inside of him somewhere. With a bit of help, and a tiny bit of fortune, then maybe it could materialise. Fingers crossed.

Kelechi Iheanacho

An almost certainty to step up for the first team this year, and it's justified. Iheanacho is a seriously, seriously talented footballer. He's still only eighteen, but there's magic in his boots. This may sound like hyperbole, and I can only assure you that I believe it isn't, but he genuinely has the ability to potentially exceed anyone we have at the club. He may not, I'm aware of that, but it really is possible. City know this. It's the reason we've not been linked to any strikers, despite Jovetic and Dzeko looking likely to leave. There's something about certain young players that just stands out. They possess a confidence and self-assuredness, call it arrogance if you like, that just gives you the impression that you're witnessing something potentially special. Ronaldo had it, Henry did and players like Zlatan and Neymar definitely have that same aura too. So does Kelechi. He knows he's not just any normal player. By all accounts, he actually seems like a humble person, admirable really given his talents, but there's definitely a self-belief bubbling under the surface that propels him forward. It's justified. You don't win the player of the tournament and win the golden boot at the u17 world cup without being extremely talented.

He would have been involved with the first team last year too if it wasn't for work permit problems and a long-term injury that left him out for most of the season. Instead he found himself regaining fitness in the EDS and u18s for a few games. It didn't take him long to impress. He managed to find the net in more or less every game he was involved in, despite not playing any competitive football for almost a year, or even being an out and out centre forward. His last game of the season stood out. He was simply fantastic - finally reaching something near match fitness he destroyed United notching two sublime goals. His first was magnificent and one of the best goals I've witnessed in person, delightfully turning one, nutmegging another before sliding it past the keeper into the far corner. The composure, the skill and the technique involved - just marvellous stuff. Bergkamp-like. He second was Aguero-esque. Guiding the ball into the far corner with consummate ease. I suspect we'll see a lot more of this over the coming years, and even this season. I seriously cannot wait.

Seko Fofana

I could repeat a lot of what I said about Ntcham here. It'd be quite easy really. Both are strong, powerful runners, often compared to Yaya due to their impressive physiques. Both are french too, and both are also more than capable of smashing one in from 25 yards. The parallels are clear. Furthermore, City probably recognise that as well. Like they probably have with Ntcham, the club decided twelve months ago that Fofana required a test in the professional game and not the u21 league. Still wet behind the ears, the club sent him out on loan last year to Fulham. He did quite well. Not great, if i'm being honest, but not bad either. Certainly not enough to warrant a chance at City this year, no, but he learned something at least and his inclusion in the tour makes sense. They'll want to assess how he's developed over the past year. It wasn't a perfect loan, but the championship is an incredibly tough league to spend your first twelves months in as a professional footballer. There isn't many harder really. It's a nitty gritty league, constantly up and down. Moods often shift in a heartbeat - especially at a club fighting relegation.

It was a testing campaign for the cottagers, likewise for Seko. He was often asked to 'do a job' being played out of position on the right-wing where, despite his best efforts, he looked a little lost at times. It wasn't necessarily his fault, and there was no questions about his work-rate. He's eager, that can't be doubted. The reaction to his first goal proved that - there was clear genuine affection towards him from the Fulham fans as he ran to the crowd to celebrate. It was a nice moment. It was actually technically where he came up a little short. He was a little loose in possession, often overrunning the ball as he burst forward with all the sprightly momentum of a young gazelle, still not quite yet sure of their footing. It just didn't always happen. Like Ntcham though, there is ability there. You do wonder if one day it could click for him. Sometimes all it takes is a couple of performances to go well, a player's confidence rises and all of a sudden something just happens mentally. A confidence appears, their play becomes more controlled and they just seem to grow visibly. It's possible. Another year out on loan could see that happen.

Ellis Plummer

It can't be easy being a young centre-back at City these days. I can't recall the last time we had such a fine collection of young defenders all waiting to breakthrough. There's talent everywhere. The young English pairing of Humphreys and Adarabioyo are both excellent, the foundations which the u18s season was built on, Jason Denayer's just signed a new five year deal and looks for all the world a star in the making, and Ash Kigbu has turned heads with the u16s. Even the 17 year old right backs such as Sam Tattum and Pablo Maffeo acquitted themselves well when played in the middle. There's talent through all age groups defensively. It's a tough one for Ellis Plummer. I feel for him. He's a good, solid defender, but I worry there's simply just too much competition as it stands. At twenty he needs first team football, and with Humphreys and Adarabioyo both likely to step up to the EDS next season, you suspect that he may move on this summer. He asserted himself well for the EDS last year too. He spent the first half of the season at St Mirren in Scotland, notching up a few games before his loan was cut short through injury. After regaining his fitness he found himself in the EDS line up as the clock wound down on the campaign. He did well too, ending up as an integral part of the successful Premier League International Cup campaign as they beat Porto in the final. He was defiant, stubbornly keeping the Portuguese at bay as they piled on the pressure, likewise during games against Leicester and Celtic in earlier rounds. And though he's maybe isn't as comfortable on the ball as some of defenders, he improved noticeably as he grew in confidence. He'd have been pleased with his performances, and with getting a call up for this tour. There's clearly a future in the game for him, and despite beige at something of a crossroads in his City career he should rightfully feel optimistic.

Bersant Celina

If reports were to be believed, Celina was a near ever present during first team training sessions from January onwards. Pellegrini likes him, clearly. He even made his debut in the mid season friendly v Hamburg too. It isn't hard to see why either. Surprise, surprise, like most at the club - he's another technically wonderful footballer. He was excellent in the u18s run to the FA Youth Cup Final. As one part of an impressively dominant midfield three with Kean Bryan and Denzeil Boadu, he shone with his bright, fleet-footed displays. He was great, scuttling about with a real purpose, twisting this way and that, popping up in goalscoring positions and linking excellently with those around him. One game in particular stood out. At home to Crewe in the quarter-finals of the FA Youth Cup. We ran out 6-1 winners and he tormented them, interchanging delightfully with Boadu as they both constantly peppered away at their defence. He scored a beautiful goal too, side-stepping one before coolly placing the ball in the bottom corner.

It was particularly out of the ordinary either - he's a natural finisher. He possesses an almost Lampard-like ruthlessness, equally capable in a one on one as he is of doing something pretty spectacular, be it chipping the keeper from 30 yards of rocketing one in from the edge of the area. It's exciting stuff when it all comes off. Naturally, it obviously all doesn't as he's still learning and there are some doubts. He's slight still, and he'll still have to prove he can consistently impress against players of a more physical nature. The same can be said of most of youth players, but he's capable, definitely. Competition is fierce within this club, and he's one of the reasons why. There's a whole host of our exceptionally talented youngsters all vying for that position behind the striker, even just for the EDS, never mind the first team. The competition is good though and it'll surely push them on to better things. I suspect he'll step up this year as a regular for Vieira's u21s, though I'd not be surprised if he found himself out on loan either, following a similar path to the one Bytiqi and Rusnak took last year. I wouldn't be surprised either if in twelve months time I was sat here writing about a season in which he made his official debut for the first team. With a little luck I wouldn't put it past him.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

EDS players on the first team tour - Part 2.

The second instalment of this three part feature looking at the EDS and returning loanees out on tour with the first team in Australia. After previously taking a closer look at Gunn, Evans, Lopes, Zuculini, Humpreys and Enas Unal, this time its the turn of three Spaniards and two Manchester lads. All. All were involved in yesterday's behind closed doors friendly against Adelaide, and from what I've read and the brief highlights available online, they seemed to acquit themselves well. Barker took the headlines, scoring his first of what is hopefully many, many goals for the first team. Maffeo was typically Maffeo, composed and positive and the others put in good shifts in what was more or less a training game, in all but name.

I suspect most will be get minutes at the weekend as they take on Melbourne City, our newly acquired sister club. With any luck it might tell us a little thing or two about what to expect this year. I'll be writing some thoughts up after the games as per usual, and the final piece of this particular jigsaw will follow tomorrow night with a look at centre-backs Ellis Plummer and Jason Denayer, fresh from signing a new five year contract with City, two vibrant and energetic midfielders in Olivier Ntcham and Bersant Celina, and finally, and most certainly not leastly, our Nigerian wondered - Kelechi Iheanacho.

Manu García 

The Spanish really do have a knack of producing exceptionally gifted young footballers don't they? García is yet another majestically talented prospect. He's wonderful. There's no point hiding from the Silva comparisons as they're striking. Both make the game look easier than it is, gliding about the pitch elegantly, dictating play and demanding the ball as they flit between the lines. Both are deceptively strong for their size too. He may be small, but he's tough and tenacious - one of the reasons why he handled the step up to the EDS so well. He's another that is still only seventeen, yet he went from being eligible for the u16s at the start of last season to becoming something of a regular for the u21, even finding himself selected for the first team's post-season tour to America where he made his debut, replacing David Silva of course. It's been a quick progression, but his talent has demanded it. There are still rough edges, naturally, and he's not always fully capable of totally exerting himself on a game, but he can, and he will given time and experience. Put it this way, it's highly unlikely that Silva was the same immaculately perfect footballer that he is now when he was seventeen, and it's unlikely that he was much better than García currently is either. Yaya wasn't as accomplished at being the exceptional playmaker that he is now when he was younger, neither was Pirlo or Xavi. Those who play that kind of game tend to come into their own after a couple of years around the first team usually. García is a player cut from that very same, and very special, cloth. Thankfully, City clearly know that.

José Ángel Pozo

It was a mixed season for Pozo. It should have been great - he made three appearances for the first team during the injury hit winter months, and he scored on his debut for the first team weeks earlier, notching the sixth in a 7-0 rout against Sheffield Wednesday. He was a pretty frequent member of the first team squad, yet despite this it still felt a little unsatisfying. For all his efforts and endeavour the magic that marked him out as something potentially special for the youth teams wasn't necessarily on show. Being played out of position didn't help - he spent the vast majority of the season for the EDS playing through the middle up top. For all of his talents, he's clearly not a centre-forward. He's not particularly strong, lacking the tenacity to hold the ball up and bring others into play. His appearances in the first team and the EDS usually found him up front alone against hugely experienced and towering centre-backs all too willing to go straight through the back of him, and they did. Often. It was a relatively sobering experience for the nineteen year old and, brief glimpses aside, his form notably dipped for Vieira's u21s. There's clearly ability there, and when he does get the chance to play in his preferred position, just off the striker and facing the goal, his positives do come to the fore. He's clever, skilful and capable of the intricate give and go football often perfected by Nasri and Silva. He showed glimpses of it too in the post-season friendly against Toronto where he linked up well with Aguero and Silva, buzzing with menace and intent. It just depends on whether he'll get that chance in that much coveted position where City are hardly lacking in options. It seems unlikely any time soon. Some solid performances in pre-season could put him in frame for a much-needed loan away from the club for a year.

Brandon Barker

Already making his mark on the tour, Barker scored his first goal for the first team in yesterday's behind closed doors friendly against Adelaide. It was typically Barker too - cutting in and dropping his shoulder, before drilling the ball into the far corner out of the keeper's reach. Something that's become a bit of trademark of his after last year's efforts. He rose to prominence during last season with a string of exceptionally exciting performances for the u18s and the EDS. He's quick, very. Genuinely two-footed too. A rarity in this modern game, and a trait that only goes to highlight his technical excellence. There was times last year when you were sure you were watching the future of City's left hand side as him and Angelino tormented teams down their side of the pitch. And we probably were. There's an intelligence and understanding to their game, both interchanging positions and covering as the other went forward that's rarely seen today. It bodes well for the pair of them. City know they have a talent here, and I'm almost certain he will get a chance at some point. You don't let a quick and unpredictable, two-footed goalscoring England u19 international, born less than a mile away from the ground, go without a real fight. He's too good for that. In another generation he might have already 40 games for the first team. If we weren't the club we were today, blessed with world-class talent in all positions, he'd probably have been something of a regular already. But that's the state of play at City, and so be it. The barriers to entry are a lot greater, but Barker's got as good a chance as any breaking them down.

James Horsfield 

Horsfield's inclusion admittedly came as something of a surprise to me. He's been at the club for what feels like forever, but often found himself looking from the outside in as others took the headlines for the EDS. He deserves a shot though for his sheer persistence. He's a hard-working, reliable player, perhaps not quite up to the levels of some our footballers technically, but then again not many are. He's solid though, a real functional operator and still a talented young player who will forge a good career in football. Preferably a central-midfielder, he's found opportunities a little limited in that role for the EDS recently with Ntcham, Glendon and Byrne usually ahead of him in the pecking order. He's looked most comfortable, to me at least, when he's been asked to step into the right-back role where his natural tenacity and energy comes to the fore. If i'm being totally honest, I'm not sure he has a long term future at Manchester City, but then again I'd love to be wrong. It wouldn't be the end of the world. He's had an education that most youth players could dream of. You only have to look at Kieran Trippier too to see that some take a little longer to establish themselves, growing into their skin as they work their way through the ranks at other clubs. With players moving up through the academy ranks and competition fierce, and his 20th birthday approaching in November, I can see him using this season to go out on loan, taking an opportunity to assess how far he's developed at the club. Competitive football is required for him and with Maffeo currently ahead of him at right-back and a whole host of midfield options fighting for that same chance, realistically experience elsewhere would be ideal for him. This tour could be a great little opportunity to earn himself that chance.

Pablo Maffeo

Maffeo deserves this, he truly does. Nominally a right-back, he spent the vast majority of last season playing at the heart of defence for Vieira's u21s, despite only being 5'8 and seventeen years old. It was clearly a move designed to test him physically, and he shone. He reads the game wonderfully well, shifting his body weight to position himself between the ball and the attacker, frequently coming out the victor against players considerably bigger than him. He's truly a natural defender. One of the most defensively accomplished fullbacks I've seen in a long, long time to be honest. There's an intelligence and composure to his game that makes him a stubbornly defiant opponent - he's incredibly hard to beat, and though he won't spend his career in the centre of defence he's clearly a better player for that experience. He gets forward well too, a prerequisite for any modern fullback. Possessed with boundless energy, he's an excellent technical, footballer. Typically Spanish in that aspect, and though he's maybe not quite as flamboyant as Angelino over on the left, he's still a threat, capable of bustling into attacking positions in an almost Zabaleta-esque fashion. And like Zabaleta, too, he'd run through a brick wall for you - he's a tough little bastard and it's admirable. I listed Maffeo as one of my players I'd like to see given a shot at first team football somewhere this year in a piece last week, and I stand by that. He's remarkably mature for his age, physically comfortable and an exceptionally fast learner. Given first team football for a year, I'd not be surprised if he came back and claimed the right-back position as his own. I love Pablo Zabaleta, I really do, but he's not getting any younger and Maffeo is our future right-back. He's that good.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

EDS players on the first team tour - Part 1.

City surprised us all last week by naming a rather eclectic squad for their first team tour to Australia. With only seven regular first team internationals on the initial list, with some afforded extended breaks before joining next week, the rest of the travelling crew was made up of a mixture of returning loanees and EDS players looking to make a name for themselves. Obviously as someone with a keen interest in City's youth development this really piqued my interest. Make no mistake, this is a talented bunch of kids. Not all are there to simply make up the numbers, and I've got a feeling the vast majority of them would be there anyway even if the usual quota of first team players was available. There's a serious amount of talent out with Pellegrini and co, and many will feel like they've earned this shot to impress. Having said that, some of the inclusions even surprised me - Cameron Humphreys is an exceptionally promising youngster, but he's only sixteen still. Likewise Garcia is only a few months older at 17 and with a full quota of keepers named to participate in the friendlies, with Hart joining Caballero and Wright very soon, Gunn's inclusion is another that I didn't expect, even if it is vastly deserved.

Given the vast amount of players, seventeen in total, I've decided to break down this feature profiling all those involved into three parts. This being the first with the other two coming during the coming week. First up it's the turn of Angus Gunn, Cameron Humphreys, George Evans, Bruno Zuculini, Enas Unal and Marcos Lopes…

Angus Gunn

I touched on Gunn's potential in a recent article about potential loanees, and I can only really repeat what I said there. Angus Gunn is a simply fantastic young goalkeeper, one of the best in the world at his age. It's as simple as that. He's strikingly accomplished already. Composed, assured and never fazed, he's exactly the kind of player that defenders love to play in front of. Constantly vocal, barking orders at those in front of him, there's shades of Joe Hart's approach, but one thing he has over his senior colleague is his ease with the ball at his feet. Keepers these days are expected to be able to pass the ball well, launching attacks from deep and maintaing possession, and Gunn does this better than most. It's a trait clearly brought on by Neuer's and Valdes' influence on the game, and mainly their association with Guardiola's much admired possession based teams, but it's one thing asking a keeper to do it, and them actually being able to. He can. The comparisons don't end at Neuer and Valdes either - he reminds me of Courtois a little, both tall and imposing figures who make the game look easy, yet both relatively waif like in appearance. Standing at 6'5 naturally gives him an aerial advantage, and his reactions don't suffer for his size. He's an exceptionally good shot-stopper - his finest moment coming last season as he practically formed a one man wall on the way to City's Premier League International Cup victory over Porto. It was remarkable stuff, but then again he's a remarkable young keeper. A couple of good loans away from the club will see him quickly develop into a very real rival to Hart by the time he's 21. It'll happen.

George Evans

Twice last year George Evans stole the show during friendlies with the first team. Firstly during the mid-season friendly at Hamburg, picking up a beautiful assist after a wonderfully drilled 50 yard pass straight to Jovetic's chest, and secondly in the post-season friendly against Toronto where he claimed the only goal of the game. A 35 yard curler, perfectly placed in the top corner beyond the keeper's reach. Yaya-esque. Evans is clearly a very talented player, though one at something of a crossroads in his City career. Some players excel around those of a higher quality, and he could be one such player. He did well at Scunthorpe while on loan, but cultured deep-lying playmakers can struggle to shine in the lower leagues where the game is a lot faster and a lot more direct. Playing football with David Silva is most likely, and I can only take a speclative guess here, a hell of a lot easier. There's a subtly to his game that would suit our style. Carrick comparisons don't seem misguided - he's cool, composed and comfortable in possession, at home keeping play ticking over and bringing others into the game. But he's seemingly capable of a lot more if those two friendlies were anything to go by. Perhaps taking a few more risks, as he did in those two games, is necessary at a club where you can't move for technically excellent footballers. Maybe finding a little edge, asserting himself on games will help him stand out a little more. He may go out on loan again somewhere, but i'd be all for him staying with the first team this year - he's a strong lad, a City fan too, and I get the feeling his game would grow in confidence around world class players. It's possible. Maybe another goal like his one in his last appearance in a blue shirt would convince the management too.

Cameron Humphreys

The youngest on tour and very much the baby of the group - literally less than half the age of some of the players out there, which speaks volumes for his talent. He won't turn seventeen for a month but his inclusion is just rewards for a season where he grew in confidence and stature with every game, eventually forcing his way into the EDS despite still being eligible for the u16s. It was during the u18s run to the FA Youth Cup Final that he really shone, building up a solid partnership alongside the equally talented Tosin Adarabioyo. Like his u18s partner, he's a composed, technical defender, equally capable of the tough, dirty work as he is stepping out of defence confidently and striding into midfield. A little like Demichelis at his best, actually, but considerably more athletic. It's his assuredness that has really stood out, and the swift progression into the u21s felt natural, evident in his performance against United for Patrick Vieira's men on the last day of the season. He was simply fantastic, physically imposing himself against players much older with a perfect balance of controlled aggression and confidence. He grabbed an assist too, calmly working himself into midfield before feeding the ball to Kelechi Iheanacho who did the rest with a moment of brilliance. It was a performance that turned heads, and the it probably earned him this trip ahead of his u18s parter, Adarabioyo, in all truth. He's still very young, and its easy to forget that given his effortless ability, so he'll spend the year with the EDS most likely, but with Jason Denayer signing a new contract, and Tosin Adarabioyo and Cameron both excelling at all levels, its becoming increasingly obvious that with a little bit of luck we might not have to sign a centre-back for a very long time.

Bruno Zuculini

Last season's biggest loan disappointment, unquestionably. It looked for all the world like we'd found ourselves a diamond in the rough when he joined for a relatively modest fee from Racing Club in Argentina. He was something of an unknown, a little mystery amongst our collection of world stars, and that felt a little exciting - just like his performances.  He shone in pre-season, excelling as he buzzed about vibrantly, making a nuisance of himself throughout with incessantly energetic displays, showcasing an almost Lampard-like ability to get into goal-scoring positions. It was encouraging stuff - here was the energy and legs that we'd craved in midfield, and a bargain too. Perfect.  Far from the finished article, clearly, but we had a young eager player brimming with promise. There was some calls for him to remain with the first team, and he could have stayed too, but the club's decision to send him out on loan for a further year's experience also felt understandable at the time. Sadly it didn't work out. To put it bluntly, it proved a disastrous decision. He endured two torrid spells in La Liga. The first resulted in barely 45 minutes of football with Valencia, before the City sent him to relegation threatened Cordoba. He made little impact there too, clocking up a few appearances as the club spiralled down the table. It was a genuine waste of a year. He's back at the club now, and time will tell if there's any lasting damage. Maybe he should have stayed with City last year, but that's with the benefit of hindsight and it would have been pretty hard to have guessed those circumstances. The loan market can be a cruel, cruel world. He'll get game time in these friendlies and it should go a little way to helping City assess his next steps.

Marcos Lopes

Marcos Lopes is a tremendous prospect. Alongside Jason Denayer, he's one of poster boys for the club's academy and if he doesn't end up at very least a very competent and effect squad player for us then we've made a huge mistake somewhere. I've spoke before about how the academy doesn't necessarily have to produce world stars to be useful. Players like Navas and Milner aren't, and probably never will be, world-class, but they've both been valuable assets for City, working tirelessly for the cause complimenting players such as Aguero and Silva. Yet both were still extremely pricey. We should be producing these players ourselves, freeing up £15-£20m a time for the genuine A-listers. If we produce the odd Silva ourselves along the way (which I think we will either way) then great, but it isn't necessarily required. Lopes fits this example perfectly. He's a wonderfully bright young man, brimming with natural talent and genuine world-class potential. He should at very least reach the level of Navas, and he could easily go much further, capable of reaching the very top of the footballing ladder. He's a year older now with first team experience, having starred for Lille on last year. It didn't take long for him to quickly establish himself as their main attacking threat either, driving forward with pace, flair and a bullish, almost Sanchez-like fervour. Genuinely, we have someone who has all the tools of a superstar in the making. Admittedly, there's still the odd flaw to the game - he blows hot and cold like all talented young forwards tend to do and his decision making is still slightly erratic at times, but that's normal and the club will know that. Consistency comes with experience and all he needs is an opportunity. He's an almost dead cert to be given a chance at City at some point, most likely this year too. The preseason games will tell us a lot more.

Enes Unal

Admittedly, this is where I come up a little short. I've never seen Enes Unal play and I won't pretend I have either. Youtube tells a promising story, but it only tells you so much. By all accounts though he's a talent. His goalscoring record speaks volumes - 182 goals in 110 games is an incredible record, regardless of the level. Youth football isn't the greatest barometer of a player's ability, no, but as someone who watches it week in week out, it isn't easy either and those stats require a serious level of footballing ability. He's already accumulated plenty of first team football too, acquitting himself well, seemingly possessing a knack for being in the right place at the right time. He has all the hallmarks of a classic number 9 going of what little i've seen - more or less good at everything you'd expect from a forward, but perhaps not exceptional in any single field. A good all around striker, basically. Perhaps a little Dzeko-like, actually, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Dzeko at his best for City was a highly effective option, capable of scoring with both feet from more or less anywhere. With the Bosnian looking very likely to leave, a young eager forward with promise who's capable of grabbing a goal from the bench, and is also a little more willing to bide his time on the bench, could be just the trick with City. Especially considering the very minimal cost and his youth. I'd expect he'll spend a little bit of time with the EDS initially, but with Dzeko seemingly set for the exit and Bony and Aguero left as the senior strikers I wouldn't be surprised to see him and Iheanacho as the 3rd and 4th strikers this coming year. I'm looking forward to seeing him in action either way.

George Glendon
Another that requires first team experience, and yet another clever, intelligent footballer who plays the game the right way. He'll hope to impress on this tour after a good season in the EDS, and surely a loan beckons for the Manchester born City supporter. He's learned all he can now at this level - a composed, ball-playing midfielder, Glendon captained the u21s last season. He did it well too, excelling as they beat Porto to claim the Premier League International Cup. He's a strong passer, at his most comfortable spreading the player, bringing others into the game and rumours about to move to Holland made sense. Not too unlike George Evans, he clearly works best in teams that play a possession based game, and perhaps a move there would test him physically, while easing his way into the world of first team football. There was a few times last season where he was all too willing to keep the ball moving, passing it sideways compentently, but not always necessarily asserting himself on the game. On the occasions that he did, though, it was notable - he passed the ball forward more, quicker and more precisely too. It's that that will give him a greater chance of making a claim to force his way into the first team plans. Interestingly, and perhaps just a one off experiment, he started the behind closed doors friendly against Adelaide earlier this week at right-back where he apparently excelled, impressing with his energy and willingness to burst forward. Stranger things have happened, but it could be something to consider.

Part 2 with Pablo Maffeo, James Horsfield, Manu Garcia, Seko Fofana, Jose Pozo and Brandon Barker will follow soon.