Monday, 31 August 2015

Confirmed transfer - Jose Pozo.

Jose Pozo confirmed his departure from the club to Almeria tonight, and if i'm being honest, it wasn't hard to see coming. It's been a difficult and frustrating twelve months for the young Spanish forward. It should have been a momentous year too - he made four appearances for Pellegrini's team, he scored on his debut and he trained frequently with the seniors, yet that only told part of the story. He struggled frequently with the EDS, partially down to being played out of position, but there was other factors at play. A series of hugely disruptive injuries during the crucial developmental years of 16-18 hampered his progress, and he never quite looked the same again. He was brilliant before that, and it was to expected too - he came with an incredible reputation, and a hefty price tag for one so young. There was no questioning it in the earlier stages of his City career. Here was a talent, a magnificent one. He linked beautifully with Rony Lopes, scoring a series of wonderful goals as he terrorised defences at youth level with his quick footwork, subtle movements and natural confidence. He had the world at his feet - a star in the making. Then came the setbacks. They hit hard. One in particular left him out for more or less a whole year. They proved seriously debilitating and that confidence, the extra yard of pace, the quickness of thinking - it just wasn't quite there on his return, and though there was glimpses of his ability he never seemed quite right. Think Torres' scenario, but at a vastly younger, and arguably more crucial, age.

It wasn't just the injuries, of course - he was often played up front through the middle with his back to goal. He's many things, but he's certainly not a number nine and he struggled to assert himself up against opponents vastly stronger. He worked hard, but he looked lost as he was repeatedly out-muscled. On the rare occasion he found himself facing the goal, and notably when he linked up with Iheanacho during his brief stint with the EDS last year, there was fleeting moments of encouragement. There was some lovely one twos, clever movement and the odd smattering of skill. That intelligence was still there, but when it mattered he just wasn't consistent enough. Indeed, there were many, many candidates arguably more befitting of the opportunities he was given last season. Barker, Bryan, Celina. Ntcham, Byrne, Angelino, Gunn, Boadu, Celina, Maffeo. All were in better form. Perhaps he wouldn't have been thrown in up front for the first team either if Thierry Ambrose hadn't been so unfortunately injured during the mid-season soiree to Abu Dhabi for the Hamburg friendly. He was certainly more suitable - a lot more adept at dealing with the physicality, and a vastly more natural striker. There was no questioning Pozo's commitment during the first team appearances, but he felt very much a last resort, and he was always facing an uphill struggle. Up against the likes of Phil Jagielka, he struggled physically - and if anything those appearances seemed to knock his confidence further. He had his big chance. His moment to shine, yet he was deployed as a workhorse, out of position, and truthfully, out of his depth in that role. It didn't help.

Perhaps the circumstances and his performances would have been more beneficial if he was given a chance in his preferred number ten position, but that was never likely. The expectations are high now at City, and there will be many, many casualties as the standards are raised. Pozo is notably one. It feels dramatic, what with him being the only player really afforded game time last year in the first team, but that's neither here or there. He wasn't representative of where our academy was at during that particular moment, and if anything it was an inclusion based on a fortuitous set of circumstances. That's not to say there isn't ability - no, far from it. There is, and it may still happen for him elsewhere, but the club have rightly, in my opinion, decided that at some point something will have to give. Every player will face that moment where a decision will have to be taken, and this was his defining summer. As it stands, Pozo doesn't look close to the first team, and he'll even struggle to get in the EDS. Up front Faupala and Ambrose are both a lot more naturally suited to those roles - even Faour and Nmecha in the u18s would be better suited, and there's a whole host of players in the attacking midfield slots, or out wide, who are probably just as likely, if not more so, to get game time ahead of him. Barker, the Garcias, Nemane, Boadu, and many more who will inevitably progress through from the u18s. He'd be left in limbo, so it makes sense the club are moving him on. A transfer with a buy back option seems to suit both parties. He gains the stability his career needs - loans can prove uncertain and disruptive, and City cover their bases incase he reaches a level they weren't sure he would. 

This is the right move for the talented playmaker, and with a little luck perhaps he'll prove City wrong. My gut instinct says he doesn't quite have the strength or the fight for English football. Some simply don't, regardless of their size or apparent physique. Manu Garcia does, despite his seemingly smaller stature. He doesn't, as it stands, and neither did Denis Suarez. Both lovely little footballers, but the Premier League is an unforgiving place. I guess it's a mental thing. Who knows? Either way, he needs football and this is the right call for him. With Iheanacho's emergence, the signings of Patrick Roberts, Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling, he's seemingly drifted further away from that sustained chance he needs, and he'll surely know this too. Fingers crossed he'll settle in Almeira, for it was never through a lack of effort at City that he found himself in this particular situation. Bad luck, it happens unfortunately. A disappointing end to his career at City? Undoubtedly. A fair one though? Honestly, yes. Good luck, Jose.

City EDS 0 - 1 Bolton - Manchester Senior Cup Final

An interesting, if disappointing, game. Yes, City lost but this felt more like an experiment, a worthy one too. With it effectively being a friendly, despite it being titled as the Manchester Senior Cup final, Vieira took the chance to give several players on the fringes of the EDS first team a runout. There was several changes from the previous match - out went Gunn, Maffeo, Plummer, Evans, Smith-Brown, Garcia and Barker, with only Glendon, Ambrose, Celina and Nemane remaining. In came Billy O'Brien between the sticks. He lined up behind a whole new back four of Sam Tattum on the right, Humphreys and Mathias Bossaerts in the centre, the latter finally returning from a lengthy injury layoff, and James Horsfield on the left. Midfield saw the debut of a new Garcia - Aleix, a £2m signing from Villareal. He joined regulars George Glendon and Bersant Celina in City's usual midfield three. Thierry Ambrose started on the left-wing, Nemane on the right and David Faupala started up top. There was new faces on the bench too. The immensely talented Brahim Diaz, still only sixteen, and yet to play for City's u18s side, was joined by Will Patching and Lukas Nmecha after their fine starts to the u18s campaign.

It wasn't the greatest of starts - barely five minutes on the clock and we went behind. A deep corner was met more or less unchallenged in the middle, and Bolton fired home what was to prove the winning goal. It was a frustrating goal to concede. They nearly doubled the lead too moments later, their forward forcing a smart stop from O'Brien after some hesitance in defence. Slowly but surely City started to grow into the game and their usual, measured possession game started to come to life. Garcia made City's first real chance - making his debut as a deep-lying playmaker, he fed Glendon who bustled into the area before drilling straight at Bolton's keeper. It was a competent, if unspectacular, debut for the new signing from Villareal. He's clearly Spanish - he does everything in his own time and looks very comfortable on the ball, twisting and turning and recycling possession with consummate ease. There was a few misplaced passes but his technical ability is clear. i'll be interested to see how he adapts to English football, and importantly, how he adapts to life in the EDS. His fellow midfielder, Bersant Celina made the next chance for Ambrose, linking brilliantly with his French colleague before a last ditch tackle saw Ambrose's effort diverted over the cross bar. Faupala was guilty of missing two good headed chances too - one in particular from six yards out he should have buried. It was a delightful whipped cross from Nemane, and it deserved better. We should have been level at the break.

Aleix Garcia

The second half saw more of the same. City pressing, Bolton defending. A predictable, familiar pattern. City lacked a little something though - that little bit of ingenuity to break a stubborn back-line. It wouldn't quite happen for Vieira's men, despite their best efforts. Celina went close with a free kick and a late goalmouth scramble saw two good chances go begging, but it wasn't to be. Perhaps a draw may have been fair. A loss felt harsh given the effort at least. There was positives to take from the game, despite the defeat - 16 year old Brahim Diaz made his debut. The pint-sized Spanish forward is a magical little player. He's yet to feature for the u18s given legal red tape, and he's so far been limited to u16s appearances, listed a 'trialist'. The club's intentions are clear - they want to test him at a higher level. It's no coincidence that they used him in this game, the first opportunity they've had legally to use him in an u21s game. They'll fast track him, certainly. And it's not without justification - he scored 5 for the u16s the other day as they ran riot, bagging 10 against Middlesbrough. He took this game in his stride too, bouncing off challenges of players nearly a foot taller than him, darting positively towards goal. A real crowd pleaser in the making. He was joined by fellow debutant, Lukas Nmecha. A sixteen year England youth international, he's been a regular for the u18s this season and he deserved this chance after 3 goals in his opening 4 games. He didn't look out of place, even if he wasn't involved too much, confidently linking play with those around him.

It didn't quite happen for Thierry Ambrose - he worked as valiantly hard as ever, but he was lacking his usual finesse in a frustrating outing. Nemane could have had an assist if it wasn't for Faupala's profligacy. Faupala ran himself into the ground, and he certainly looked more comfortable than he has so far in his first few outings for the EDS, but he would have been disappointed as two gilt-edged chances went astray. Celina was his usual sprightly self, and he was involved in some of our best moments, but it wasn't his sparkling best. He was involved in two of City's best moments though. He created an excellent chance for Ambrose in the first half with some bright, intelligent play, and a wonderful jinking run that took him past two, three challenges in the second half lead to a deflected shot just over the bar from Brahim. Glendon was all action, and he covered the ground well, though he's perhaps suited better to the deeper lying role as opposed to the more advanced one he's been allocated in the previous two games. O'Brien in goal had a quiet game, and he had no chance with their goal. Sam Tattum only lasted thirty minutes as he picked up an injury, which saw Bossaerts shifted over to right-back and Evans introduced at centre-back alongside Humphreys. Both were rarely tested in a game which City dictated play. Horsfield isn't a left-back, and though he was defensively sound, he understandably didn't quite offer the real natural width someone like Angelino offered last year. Not his fault, naturally. The same could have been said for Bossaerts, nominally a centre-back, where he started before being shifted over to right-back. It was a competent first game back for the Belgian youth international.

Brahim 15.

It's been a mixed start for the EDS so far. The team arguably lacks real cohesion at the moment, and last year's balance has gone - no surprise given the amount of inevitable changes, and it might be a while before the performances begin to come. It's a young squad too. Regulars such as Garcia, Nemane and Humphreys are still all seventeen. It'll take time for this team to gel. There was still lessons to be learned from this result either way. After Iheanacho's first team debut at the weekend, (much deserved too, and I thought he acquitted himself well in what little time he was afforded) it was a welcome surprise to see three new faces with the EDS too. It could have been more if Tattum's injury hadn't put Will Patching's EDS debut on hold - he surely would have been involved had it not been necessary for Evans to be introduced. It was encouraging to see Brahim and Nmecha appear, both looking at ease in unfamiliar surroundings. it was a fascinating little glimpse of what Aleix Garcia might bring to the table too.  I suspect we'll see a constant evolving side at this level over the coming months, similarly with the u18s too. It'll be interesting to see the make up of the subsequent Uefa Youth League and FA Youth Cup squads as age rules and limitations, and performances and merit, dictate who will be involved. There will be surprises, as ever. There's no games for the EDS now while the international break is in place, but next up at the CFA is the u18s as they take on Sunderland on Saturday.

Friday, 28 August 2015

City u18s 2 - 1 Middlesbrough

N.B - Scroll down for highlights and goals

It wasn't pretty, but four wins from four is nothing to be shirked at. It didn't quite have the same satisfying feel that last weekend's victory over Blackburn did, but this was very much a case of 'job done'. Overall it was probably deserved. Generally, City controlled possession, looking to make the most of the natural width that Dilrosun and Fernandes offered. The early goal came as no surprise. A lovely break involving Patching, Nmecha and Dilrosun saw the latter fire home to the keeper's left from just inside the area with barely ten minutes on the clock. The Dutch winger nearly teed up a second too, with a drilled crossed inches away from being diverted home by Nmecha. Paolo Fernandes twice worked their keeper and Will Patching could have added the much deserved second with a rasping 20 yard drive that was just turned around the post. There was the odd sporadic threat at the other end, Middlesbrough twice countering at pace but the lead was deserved at the interval.

The second half wasn't quite as fluid - City were a little scrappier, and Middlesbrough traded blows as they grew in confidence. Haug was called into action a few times before they eventually made their growing pressure count, Lee Heatherington guiding the ball into the far corner after a deep cross from the left found him free. It was deserved after a disjointed beginning to the second interval. Charlie Oliver had replaced Tosin Adarabioyo at the break, joining Ash Kigbu in defence and the change unsettled the backline and 'Boro deserved their goal as they stepped up the pressure. Before that there was chances for City to extend their lead, Nmecha and Buckley both culpable of wasting food chances after neat build-up play. Eventually, however, Buckley got his goal and he took it well. Almost a carbon copy of the first, this time Kongolo broke, delaying the pass until the last moment and Buckley did the rest, finding the corner with a deserved goal after a typically buoyant cameo after he was brought on for Fernandes on the hour.

15. Isaac Buckley
We held on for the victory, which was perhaps marginally deserved as there was chances to extend the lead towards the end - and if the disciplinary procedures hadn't been so typically lax at this level, Middlesbrough could have been down to 10 men after one particularly nasty hack at Dilrosun. It was quite a changed team from the previous game. Injury forced Daniel Grimshaw to sit out and the Norwegian youth international, Haug, donned the gloves behind a back four of Callum Bullock on the right, Tosin Adarabioyo and Ash Kigbu in the middle and Demeaco Duhaney on the left. Jacob Davenport and Rodney Kongolo were recalled alongside Will Patching, Sadou Diallo was away with England and Marcus Wood sat the first half out. Up front, Nmecha returned to the lone forward role and he was flanked by Dilrosun and Paolo Fernandes. There was a few changes in the second half, with Adarabioyo replaced at the interval by Oliver and Fernandes and Davenport making way for Buckley and Wood with an hour on the clock.

It didn't quite happen for Nmecha. His link up play was as cool and composed as ever - he's such a lovely little footballer and there's a real elegance to his play, but for once his usually reliable finishing let him down, uncharacteristically missing numerous strong chances that on another day would have left him with a brace, maybe even a hat-trick. Dilrosun to his left shuttled up and down well, grabbing a deserved goal and he whipped in a few good crosses too. He looks strong at this level, clearly better equipped as a second year scholar and twelve month's experience over here. Fernandes was a threat, gradually growing into the game and he was involved in some intricate link up play, nearly scoring himself too with a few strong efforts. His replacement, Buckley, was good. Buckley's grown so much in the last twelve months. The first time I saw him he was all energy and pace. A real handful, but perhaps a little rash with his decision making - there's a real composure to his game now and he's becoming impossibly tricky to dispossess. Think Sterling, stylistically. A long way to go, of course, but the early signs this year are encouraging. 

Ash Kigbu - credit Manchester City Football Club
Haug didn't really have a chance with their goal, though he did make a couple of smart stops in what wasn't an overly testing game for the younger. I was impressed by Duhaney. He's great on either flank, and some of the crosses he whipped in with his left foot, despite naturally preferring his right, were fantastic. He's fast, tough and he score, too - his goal last weekend. He's currently on standby for the England u18s, alongside Buckley and Humphreys, and he deserves it. Nmecha, Patching and Marcus Wood all made the full team, by the way. Over on the right, Bullock battled hard as ever, overlapping well, and Kigbu was his usual, powerful self. He's a little raw round the edges still, but he's an immensely promising young player. A leader too. Tosin alongside him, glided through the game, though he was spun once far too easily, but he remains a fantastic prospect. He was replaced at half time by Charlie Oliver who excelled last weekend in a dogged, tough display against Blackburn. He wasn't quite as impressive here as a few poor decisions undermined his performance, but admittedly joining a game at centre-back at the half way point is no easy task.

Davenport was effective in midfield, recycling possession well, though he was eventually replaced by Marcus Wood who impressed. He's a powerful player, and his influence was clearly felt as City looked to regain their foothold in the game after a difficult start to the second half. Kongolo was a persistent, leggy presence in the centre of midfield, if a little too quiet and Patching was as tidy as ever. There was some brief glimpses of what he's capable, some lovely footwork around the area and a nice assist for Dilrosun, but I get the impression that there's still lots more to come from him. It was an efficient, if not exciting, day and Wilcox's team extended their lead at the top of the Barclays Premier League u18 table. A shoutout too for the u16s. They beat Middlesbrough 10-0. Yes, ten. I didn't see it, but apparently it could have been more. The wonderful young Spanish prodigy, Brahim, scored five, Jadon Sancho scored three and Tom Dele-Bashiru and Phil Foden got the others. That is one hell of a generation. It's a little disheartening on days like today, with Lopes confirming his transfer to Monaco, but surely its a matter of time. This generation is wiping all before them away. You can't keep that good a thing down, can you? Fingers crossed we'll see one or two of them get a chance in the 18s as the season progresses.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

City EDS 0 - 1 Sunderland - PLIC

A 1-0 loss to Sunderland. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Much like many recent first team efforts against the North-East team, this was a game where City dominated possession, but struggled in vain to break down a stoic, stubborn defence. Typically, we were then hit by a late sucker punch and lost by a solitary goal after some poor defending. It was a frustrating night, and a little harsh on City, truth be told. We huffed and puffed, and we did create a few decent chances, but the players were let down by a lack of any real conviction and some naive decision making when it really mattered. The first half was unequivocally City's. We pressed and could have scored a few times, Celina going close from a free kick and Ambrose nearly doing a Rivaldo - chesting a corner upwards before nearly finding the net with a spectacular bicylce kick. It would have been sublime, and it was yet another strong performance overall from the consistent young French forward. He ran himself into the ground, winning header after header too - if his radar had been a little more tuned he could have won it for us. Garcia could have scored too - a drilled half-volley just beating the cross bar and Barker could have perhaps had a penalty after he was brought down as he burst into the area. 

It became a little scrappier in the second 45 minutes. We continued to control the tempo of the game, but there was no real incisiveness as players ran down blind alleys, misplaced passes and mis-controlled the ball far too often. It just didn't happen at all and their goal felt inevitable as frustration crept into City's game.  They scored with twenty minutes left with their first shot on target - it came from a Kean Bryan mistake as the ball rolled under his foot, they broke and further poor defending lead to their centre-forward drilling the ball past Gunn. It felt predictable, and though there was a valiant attempt at getting back into it as Vieira shifted to a 3-5-2 and pushed forward, we didn't really work their keeper a great deal. Nemane had our best chance to level. Free at the back post after a great cross from Celina, his control let him down and he dallied far too long in possession and the keeper saved at his feet. All too typical of the performance. It wasn't a particularly balanced line up, and we lacked any real creativity centrally towards the end as substitute appearances left us with a rather functional midfield three of Horsfield, Evans and Glendon that lacked that necessary nuance. We started initially with Gunn in goal and the back four consisted of Maffeo, Evans, Plummer and Ash-Smith Brown. Evans held the midfield and Glendon and Garcia were given license to push forward behind the front free. Barker took up his usual left slot, Ambrose started as the number nine and Celina found himself in the unfamiliar role of right wing.

Ambrose was the pick of the bunch, impressing with his effervescent style, chasing lost causes, winning challenges and, in general, being a real handful. Celina looked a little lost out on the right, and later too while he was pushed out to the left, but when he did get the chance to drift inside to his usual central position he was good - as he has been consistently so far this season. The game was crying out for his influence centrally. It didn't quite happen for Barker before he was replaced towads the end. There was effort, and he was persistent, but he was often double, or even triple, marked. Sunderland had clearly earmarked him as a threat and their pressure worked. He often ran in trouble or took the wrong option. He still had one or two exciting moments, as he always does, but it wasn't quite his night. Garcia lasted an hour before being replaced. It was a mixed performance - he got into the area well, twice finding himself in goal-scoring positions but he was too eager in possession as he tried to find the killer ball. There's still settling in to do at this level for him. Glendon struggled to assert himself in a more advanced position than usual, despite his willing running, and Evans, restored to his more usual central midfield position, kept things ticking over nicely. He's clearly much more comfortable there than he is at the heart of defence. 

Defensively we didn't have too much to do so it was disappointing that there was still a few heart in mouth moments, often brought on by problems of our own making. Maffeo and Smith-Brown both put in good shifts on either side of defence, and Plummer and Bryan mopped up what little they had to do quite well, but their competent moments were punctuated by some hesitant play that put us under unnecessary pressure, and eventually lost us the game. Bryan started on the right hand side of defence - he's left-footed, and it showed on occasion. He's a holding midfielder, and a very powerful one too, and that's where his future will surely lie and there will be the odd moments of insecurity while he's situated at the back. Gunn had little to do - their goal, and their first shot on target, came in the 72nd minute in what was a quiet night for him. He distributed well as ever, but it was essentially a stroll in the park for the youngster who celebrated being the first City player to be named in the England u21 squad for years earlier this week. Faupala had little impact as a late sub, likewise Horsfield who kept it simple as City pressed for an equaliser. Nemane could have levelled had his composure not let him down, but all in all it wasn't a great night for anyone really and it was a game City will look to quickly move on from. That's one draw and a loss from the two opening games of the Premier League International Cup so far - not a good start, but this Sunday's Manchester Senior Cup final against Bolton should offer a quick and welcome chance at redemption.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Blackburn 1 - 3 City u18s / U16s 4-1

Three games, three wins, and another satisfying, impressive victory for the u18s. This wasn't easy. Blackburn were tough and committed. Very well organised too, even a little aggressive at times. Credit to City though, they stood up to it, continued playing football and, in the end, they deserved the three points. We were solid, limiting the opposition to only a handful of chances, most via set pieces, and after a disappointing ten minutes which saw City concede from a cross headed in from the right wing, we slowly asserted ourselves on the game. Faour scored an absolute beauty to level the scores minutes after going behind, curling one over the keeper into the top corner from 20 yards. Magnificent stuff - something he's clearly capable of. There's never been a question about that. There is magic in his boots, undoubtedly, but he struggled a little at times last year, looking a little lost amongst the physicality of English football as he drifted through games. This would have felt good for the Swedish forward - he more than played his part in a bruising encounter. He held the ball up well, working tirelessly across the frontline. A good performance.

He was joined in the front three by Fernandes and Dilrosun as Nmecha and Buckley dropped to the bench. Dilrosun ran incessantly at Blackburn - not everything came off, but once again he made a telling involvement, brilliantly breaking in the final few minutes as he skipped past two challenges before squaring to the substitute, and Faour's replacement, Nmecha. The rest was predictable - Nmecha finished with aplomb from ten yards to make it 3-1 to City, wrapping up the points. His third goal in as many games, and another exciting cameo for the young England striker. He's such an elegant footballer - there's shades of Anelka to the way he glides about the pitch, incredibly cool in possession and it'll prove some battle between Faour and him for the lone strikers slot. A lovely headache to have though. Fernandes was sprightly and skilful, stinging their keeper's hands with a powerful left footed effort as he cut in from the sidelines. In a niggly, tight game with little space, he struggled to get involved as the ball often ricocheted around the centre of the park. When he did receive it, he was perhaps a tad too over eager, overrunning it as he tried to do a little too much himself. His replacement, Isaac Buckley, worked well down the right as ever. He's such a tricky little player - a constant menacing thorn. His pace and skill proved a great outlet for Wilcox's team, notably when Blackburn were pressing for an equaliser before Nmecha settled the game.

Callum Bullock & Lukas Nmecha

Between Faour and Nmecha's goals, Demeaco Duhaney had put City in front moments after the second half kicked off. Some goal it was too, cutting inside from his left-back position onto his favoured right foot before wonderfully arcing the ball past the outstretched hands of Blackburn's number one. Not bad for a fullback, and not too dissimilar to Depay's goal for United midweek. Like Bullock on the other side, he was good defensively too - strong and persistent in the tackle and capably committed. Both were marshalled well by Charlie Oliver and Tosin Adarabioyo in the centre. Tosin's a real leader - he was the loudest voice on the pitch, constantly bellowing instructions at his teammates as he marshalled the defence. After a relatively nervy state where a few passes went astray, he was excellent. He reads the game marvellously, always seemingly in the right place at the right time. Oliver, too, seemed to revel in the grittier side of the match - a tough, uncompromising defender, he battled excellently with Blackburn's centre-forward, a real bruiser who left his foot in late on more than one occasion. He wasn't afraid to bring the ball out of defence either, strolling well into midfield as City built attacks.

Ahead of them, Wood and Diallo were strong and composed. Restored to his usual central midfield spot in the place of Davenport, Marcus Wood was everywhere, intelligently covering in defence whenever Tosin or Oliver stepped into midfield. It was a captain's performance, full of vigour and tenacity. It was never likely to be a game blessed with any real space or time on the ball - Blackburn made sure of that, and it was admirable that Diallo and Wood still both more than gave their own in those circumstances, Patching too. Diallo's a technically excellent footballer, but both him and Patching showed there's more than one side to their game, snapping into challenges and covering plenty of ground. Perhaps not quite as assured as normal, but a solid shift nonetheless. It wasn't quite Patching's day, despite a few typically silky forays into Blackburn's territory - there was notable signs of frustration and he was possibly a little lucky to remain on the pitch, lashing out after a series of feisty challenges littered the opening stages of the second half. Grimshaw had a good, competent game in goal before he left the pitch on a stretcher after Blackburn's forward had crudely, and unnecessarily, left his foot in as they both rushed towards the ball. Albinson took over where his team mate left off as City eventually cruised to the result.

The u18s warm up at Blackburn's Brockhall Village training ground
It was a performance built on determination and grit and City's superior quality eventually telling when it mattered. Wilcox would have enjoyed it. Games like this define teams, and they're just as important to their development as any free-flowing goal fest. A real test of character. The u16s played as well on the next pitch along (their games always mirror those of the u18s) running out 4-1 victors, according to a certain majestic little Spanish attacker Brahim Diaz anyway who passed on the score to me as we were leaving. He scored too, apparently, and in the brief twenty minutes I saw he was a real threat as ever. He's still listed as a trialist as he waits for his international clearance, but he's an exceptional prospect. Likewise, the young Chilean forward and currenet trialist, Branco Provoste, started the game too ahead of Smith and Dele-Bashiru in midfield. England youth international Tom Dele-Bashiru scored a belter, firing in from the edge of the area and his international team mate Tyrese Campbell grabbed the other two. Campbell's a nightmare - an immensely powerful, tall and direct striker with thunderous, Ronaldo-esque pace. The scorer of 47 goals last season at youth level, no less. His first was a smart finish at the keeper's near post after being put through by Matt Smith, and his second was all of his own making, forcefully shrugging off one challenge and darting past another before slotting between the keepers legs. Impressive stuff, in an impressive performance by the team coached by ex-City forward Gareth Taylor. Overall, a satisfying day for City's travelling youth teams. It's been an encouraging start to the campaign for the u18s - they sit top of the league, with only one goal conceded and they'll look to extend that lead further as they take on Middlesbrough on Thursday.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

City EDS 1 - 1 Mönchengladbach - Premier League International Cup

Given the circumstances, this wasn't too bad a result. It was a typically miserable and dreary night in Manchester. Swirling winds and some persistent, fine rain punctuated the evening, leaving a greasy, tricky surface. Par for the course being east Manchester, obviously, but it made things difficult. Neither team really settled into a steady rhythm, and brief moments of quality aside, it was a game mainly fought in the middle. There was some good spells of possession for the EDS, as ever - they arguably saw more of the ball overall too, but the performance lacked any real authority or decisiveness, and it told early on. Borussia started brightly, pressing City high. They took the lead with barely ten minutes on the clock, their forward capitalising well as City hesitated, driving the ball past Gunn's out-stretched right hand into the bottom corner. It came as no surprise after a relatively shambolic and nervy opening from Vieira's men. They eventually settled, passes started finding their desired targets, and Celina and Ambrose both threatened as they ran at the Borussia back-line. It didn't take too long for the equaliser to come. A floated free-kick towards the back post eventually found its way to Ellis Plummer. A brief scramble and a couple of touches later, the young centre-back drilled home from inside the area. The pattern of play continued until the interval, Faupala notably going close, as City ending the half the stronger side. That second goal didn't quite come though and both teams left the pitch with the scores level.

Sadly, we didn't really build on that in the second half. Borussia didn't offer much either, truth be told. It was a scrappy, niggly affair as the game descended into a disjointed mash of near moments and wrong decisions. Plenty of hard work, but little composure. It became a bit of a non-event. There was a few promising forays forward, and the odd half chance here and there, but 1-1 felt fair in the end. A decent, if unspectacular, opener to the Premier League International Cup campaign. It's a hugely different squad to the one who claimed the spoils last year, beating Porto in the final. Normal at youth level, but this was a new lineup altogether. We fielded a vastly changed line up from the previous two EDS encounters, and in hindsight perhaps the lack of fluidity was understandable. Several who would probably be deemed regulars at this level were left out - Humphreys, Maffeo, Glendon, Barker and Nemane all made way, with all but Glendon starting the game watching from the sidelines. Gunn continued in goal, with Kean Bryan moving into central defence as George Evans moved back into his usual midfield slot. Bryan was partnered by Ellis Plummer, and James Horsfield made his first start of the season on the right side of defence. Ash Smith-Brown continued on the left. Garcia and Celina sat head of Evans in midfield, behind a front free of David Faupala, making his first start since signing in the summer, Jorge Intima and Thierry Ambrose. Ambrose beginning on the left in the place of the benched Barker, and Intima a like for like replacement for Nemane.

It was a game lacking in any real quality. Star performers were few and far between, though Bersant Celina arguably came the closest. It's been an encouraging start to the season for the diminutive playmaker. Now a regular at this level after making several substitute appearances last season, he's clearly growing into his role at the heart of the team, reveling in the added responsibility. He had a very good first half, drifting all over the pitch, turning well, typically positive in possession. He was involved in more or less anything City did well, and though he did fade a little in the second forty-five, he worked hard, chasing back and covering in defence when required. Ambrose ran him close too. It was another sprightly, vibrant and plucky cameo from the young French forward. He has an odd, yet welcome, knack of somehow managing to bundle past multiple challenges, frequently, despite looking like he's about to lose possession at any moment. It's admirable. Fun too. Usually so assured, his final touch unfortunately let him down a little, but he proved a consistent nuisance throughout. Encouragingly, he always does - regardless of where he plays across the front line. Faupala worked hard up top. It was a tough game for him, but it was a competent, if admittedly a little subdued, performance from the new man. It was the first time i'd seen him start a game and it'll naturally take him some time to settle into this system. He wasn't really fed much, but he would have felt he should have done better when put through by Garcia in the first half, only finding the side netting after a good break. Intima flattered to deceive a little, often finding himself in good positions before taking one touch too many. He was replaced by Nemane for the last twenty minutes who did well, running with his usual, bullish fervour at Borussia's back-line, even if he didn't quite find the final ball. 

Of the other midfielders, neither Evans or Garcia had strong games. Garcia in particular will want to forget the evening in a hurry - he struggled. Little came off as he overran the ball frequently, conceding possession far too often. His frustration was clear, evident in his post match tweet. This will happen. It's football, and it's all part of their development at this level. Evans fared a little better, but it wasn't really a night where he came into his own either. There was some promising signs though, a strong burst forward that took him from one box to another being one such highlight. An extended run in his nominal position in the centre of midfield should help. Kean Bryan, a tough, committed and hugely influential player in the centre of midfield last year for Jason Wilcox's u18s, started at the heart defence alongside Plummer, and both had relatively solid games. I can't help but feel that Bryan is considerably better in the holding midfield role, though surely this is all part of his development, not too dissimilar to how Maffeo was used at centre-back last year despite being nominally a full-back. Horsfield and Smith-Brown both had steady, if unspectacular, games on either side of the back four, Smith-Brown notably winning a few firm challenges as Borussia pressed. Gunn made a couple of smart saves on the rare moments he was called into action. It did take him twenty minutes to find his radar with the ball at his feet, but that came, as ever, and he breezed through the game as City were rarely troubled. Barker was impressive. He shone in a powerful thirty minute cameo. Left on the bench through no fault of his own after a promising start to the season, he was excitingly direct as he ran at the opposition. He's a wonderfully talented player on his day, and he looked a cut above most on the pitch, nearly scoring a wonder goal as he teased with several defenders before unfortunately seeing his final shot blocked. He looks stronger already this season. It should be a big year for the young Mancunian. Cameron Humphreys was the other sub, and he settled in alongside Bryan comfortably as City pushed forward.

It wasn't the most exciting start to the team's defence of their Premier League International Cup, but it was a functional one. With all the changes the performance took a hit - several were clearly rusty, but that's always expected to be the case, especially so early on in the season. It was a necessary step to involve several players on the fringes of the EDS team last night, and the club knows that. It's a relatively big squad, despite its youthful age, and they all need football. Some will look to move elsewhere in the coming months. Perhaps one or two permanently, but a few at least will find loan spells. Barker is ready for games somewhere - Gunn too. Ellis Plummer and George Evans surely can't spend a year in the u21s after first team football last season. Glendon and Pozo were absent from the squad, perhaps due to injuries, but they're both prime candidates for further education. There's the possibility that the club will consider loaning some once the transfer window shuts - clubs are often a little more settled and it becomes easier to see where they'll get football without the fear of an unexpected inbound transfer leaving them on the fringes.

A small part of me was also hoping to see Patrick Roberts involved last night, especially with no first team games until the weekend. Understandbly, it'd seem that the club are taking a closer a look at him as he trains with the first team. He's been spotted travelling with both match day squads so far, and the experience training alongside players of that ilk will bring him is undeniable. He clearly needs football though, yet I can't say it surprises me that he's not been with the u21s yet. There's surely an element of the club saving face - spending that much on a player, an English one no less, and immediately putting him with the youth teams would invite criticism, regardless of whether it'd be just criticism or not. If he continues to find himself on the periphery of the first team, as is probably expected given he is still very raw, despite all his talent, I'd not he surprised to see him involved in a few games at this level before he's loaned out in a few months time. Where he'll go is another matter altogether but I trust the club will make that decision as and when it's required. Long before all that unfolds though, the EDS come up against Sunderland in their second game of the PLIC next Wednesday. The u18s take a trip to Blackburn this weekend too - Saturday morning at 11am. It's been a good start for Wilcox's men. Two victories in two. Presuming Blackburn actually let me in to watch, as ever, a report will follow here as they hopefully make it a perfect three.

Friday, 14 August 2015

City EDS 3-3 Spurs

Following on from Monday night's 2-2 draw against Southampton, this was another hard fought contest against one of better teams at this level. Spurs are no mugs with regards to youth development with a long line of graduates already to show in recent years. This is another promising group, and it showed. They're organised, strong and technically astute - a very effective unit. They pressed well, often forcing City onto the back foot and it made the first half in particular uncomfortable for Vieira's side. It was more than little reminiscent of the games between the two last year, a game that also finished 3-3, and it was to no surprise that Spurs took the lead early on. Glendon gave the ball away under pressure, Spurs countered well and their forward finished clinically. It was deserved. City settled, eventually, and after some decent spells of possession we levelled before half time. Bersant Celina was the creator, popping up on the left hand side, he cleverly jinked past the right back before squaring it to Ambrose who slid the ball in from six yards out. Spurs could have had a couple of more from a few sharp, incisive breaks but the heroics of Angus Gunn kept the game level as the whistle blew for half-time. Words were clearly said during the break in play as City came out stronger, notably more confident and direct.

We took the lead not long after from a wonderful Garcia strike. The ball broke loose as he looked to play a one two and he was the first to react, bursting into the area before rocketing the ball into the roof of the net. It was just reward for the renewed vigour we'd approached the restart with, but unfortunately the lead didn't last long. A mix up between Maffeo and Gunn at the backpost, as a header cannoned back off the woodwork, saw Spurs equalise barely minutes later. City's response was immediate, confidently regaining their composure and passing it around well creating a few decent openings, only to be let down by indecisiveness or the wrong ball. The goal didn't come and, typically, they were hit by a real sucker punch though in 89th minute. Spurs won a corner, and their forward rose highest to head in to Spurs 3-2 up with barely a handful of minutes remaining. Remarkably, we responded almost immediately, something of a trait of the youth teams, and an admirable one too. Barker burst free down the left, impressively beating his fullback barely a minute later, before brilliantly pulling it back for Celina to cap off an excellent game to level at 3-3. That was to be the last say of any note, and truth be told it was a fair result in the end for a game that went a long way towards brightening up a particularly dour and damp down in East Manchester.

Vieira had named more or less an identical team to the one that lined up against Southampton, with Ambrose being the only change as he stepped in up top instead of Jose Pozo. That meant a back four of Maffeo, Humphreys, Evans and Smith-Brown ahead of Angus Gunn, with Garcia, Glendon and Celina pulling the strings in midfield. Ambrose was joined up top by Nemane and Barker. Celina was the standout, impressing as he shuttled about midfield to real effect. It's his first season as a regular at the EDS and the early signs are encouraging. He's a technically excellent footballer, capable of the spectacular and he added to his goal against Southampton with another today, an excellent assist too. If he continues to grow and work hard and succeeds in marrying those traits with his clearly wonderful footballing ability then he'll go very far. It could be a big year for him. Barker alongside him played well too. He's not had it easy in either game so far, up against fast, strong fullbacks but he's done very well. Kyle Walker-Peters, Spurs right-back, is as good a fullback as you'll find at this level, and Barker gave him a tough time. He looked strong, alert and it was his persistence and pace that lead to the last minute equaliser. 

Nemane had a good run out, darting at his defender with pace and purpose, though he was let down by his decision making. He burst through well a few times, finding himself in promising positions only to take one touch too many when it mattered. He's still only seventeen though, and that will come. He was replaced by Faupala after an hour who, if i'm being honest, had very little involvement once again as a sub. Maybe a few more appearances are needed to settle into the team. Garcia was better - I was a little critical of his performance against Southampton, too passive and on periphery of the game, and he started this match in a similar way initially. He did however improve after the break, getting forward well and supporting the attack. He took his goal excellently. A real instinctive finish, and that's something he'll look to develop throughout the campaign. Glendon was purposeful, though he was unfortunately caught out a few times in the middle as Spurs pushed forward. Not his best, but not terrible either. Humphreys looked out of sorts and was replaced after half hour, be it tactically or through injury i'm none the wiser but it wasn't a comfortable opening for the sixteen year old. Kean Bryan came on for him and had a good game, and much more assured as a centre-back than George Evans is alongside him, both usually midfielders. Not necessarily Evans' fault, but his future definitely doesn't lie at the back. He's a midfielder, definitely.

Maffeo put in some typically strong tackles - he has a real knack for nicking the ball away where others would give away freekicks, yet he was a little open defensively at times. He suffered a little from the Micah Richards syndrome, struggling to get back in time after he'd burst forward well. Smith-Brown had a steady game at left-back, though like Maffeo over on the right found himself out of position a few times as Spurs broke. Thierry Ambrose continued his recovery from injury with another impressive display, all energy and endeavour, grabbing his second in as many games. He's a much more natural forward than Jose Pozo and he lead the line well. Angus Gunn made a few good saves and looked his usually reliable self, despite the confusion that lead to their second goal and Jorge Intima made a late appearance, though he barely registered a touch as the game finally settled at 3-3. It was a far from perfect performance, but there was positives to be had. Barker looked strong, Celina composed and Ambrose scored another. Garcia clearly responded well to his instructions at half-time, and the team's persistence to maintaing the passing game was admirable. It's early days in this fledgling season and it'll be fascinating to see how some of the newer additions fully develop as the months progress. Next step up for the EDS is the first round of the Premier League International Cup at the CFA. Victorious last year after a dogged display against Porto, they start their defence of their title against Borussia Monchengladbach on Wednesday evening. 

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Southampton 2-2 City EDS (Full game stream replay)

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

After all the excitement and promise of the pre-season first team tours, and they were indeed encouraging, this was something of a come down for most of Vieira's men. Southampton's Staplewood training ground is a far cry from a packed out MCG in Melbourne, and it would have acted as a sobering reminder for some involved that there's still a long way to go if they're to reach those tempting and dizzying pre-season heights on a regular basis. They're capable, most are, definitely, but its at places like this where they'll continue to cut their teeth for the foreseeable future, and rightly so. In truth, it was a decent run out for both sides involved - a typically low key season opener as neither team really found any real fluidity. Both were stoic and committed, undoubtedly, but with the odd exception, it was a game built on hard work and effort as opposed to technical prowess.

There was new faces involved, expected and necessary given the loans of Angelino, Ntcham and Byrne. Ash Smith-Brown took the vacated left-back spot, lining up alongside George Evans who partnered Cameron Humphreys in the centre of defence. Pablo Maffeo started at right back and Angus Gunn carried on where he left off last season as the EDS' first choice keeper. In midfield George Glendon was joined by two u18s graduates in Bersant Celina and Manu Garcia. Alongside Glendon, they completed the usual midfield three, slotting seamlessly into the roles Ntcham and Byrne occupied last year. Ahead of them Jose Pozo started through the middle, flanked either side by Brandon Barker, fresh from signing a new five year contract, and Aaron Nemane. Of the subs, Kean Bryan completed his step up to the EDS team where he was joined by new signing David Faupala, an 18 year old French youth international from Lens. The forward was joined on bench by his compatriot, Thierry Ambrose, with Ian Lawlor and James Horsfield completing the match day squad.

We started with something approaching a 4-3-3. Glendon was designated the holding role, with Garcia and Celina more advanced, often drifting out wide to support Barker and Nemane who were tasked with widening the pitch. As with last season, both fullbacks frequently stepped into central midfield, with the Humphreys and Evans splitting wide to receive the ball from Gunn, creating an almost box-esque shape in defence. A curious tactic - one perhaps designed to overload the midfield, and maybe at the same time an attempt to encourage the fullbacks to receive the ball in more technically challenging areas. Either way, it's interesting, and when it works its fascinating. Glendon found himself incredibly deep, often almost as a third centre-back, acting as the team's pivot - usually the first to receive the ball from Gunn as we persisted with building from the back. Tactically, it's a demanding approach and not everything came off for City. There's a complexity to Vieira's methods that requires sharpness, and that's rarely found at this early stage of the season. Southampton frequently caught City in possession, wise to our game after being on the wrong end of a 4-0 defeat a few months back, and they pressed high and nearly capitalised on some early season rustiness on more than one occasion.

Barker proved City's main threat. He was notably more direct than he was with the first team out on tour. He looked sharp, fit and full of running. On another day, with a little more quality around him and a tad more luck, he could have had an assist or two, maybe a goal as well. He frequently had the beating of Southampton's right-back, out-muscling and out-pacing him numerous times with relative ease. It comes naturally to him at this level and he needs a loan this year, witthout doubt. It'll surely come. Nemane on the other side found it hard to get involved. Most of our attacks were built down the left hand side as we filtered the ball through Barker, yet he worked hard and ran at their defence whenever he could. Ultimately, however, it was a relatively frustrating day for the usually effective winger, and he was replaced after an hour. Pozo, too, didn't fair well. H looked more than a little isolated up top, lasting only the first half as he toiled and ran to little effect. There was the odd nice moment, a neat turn on the edge of the area that lead to a scuffed shot on goal showcased his clear technical ability, but the young Spaniard, for all his talents, isn't a number nine. It was telling that Ambrose looked a lot more comfortable when handed that role that at the half way point.

Glendon was good - confident on the ball and quick to get back when Southampton applied pressure, he made a few telling interceptions when City found themselves on the back foot. His seniority told, and it was a solid start to the campaign for the Manchester born midfielder. Alongside Barker, another who will surely look for first team football this season. Garcia, sadly, disappointed a little. He was excellent in pre-season with the first team, coolly knocking the ball around, looking totally at ease alongside Silva and co. But it's at this level where he really has to assert himself as an individual - he disappeared far too often, and though he did turn away from his marker nicely every now and then, when given the opportunity to make a difference in the final third he was wasteful in possession. He has fantastic ability, clearly, and it's worth remembering he's only very, very young still, but this year he needs to prove that he's above the level of u21 football. He's capable. Celina was similar, though more effective - often on the periphery in the first half, like Garcia, he didn't quite get on the ball as much as she should have. Admittedly, he improved as the game developed, scoring a lovely free-kick, expertly clipping the ball over the wall to level the scores at 1-1 after we'd conceded just before the break. He was better, too, in the final twenty five minutes as he went looking for the ball, probing incisively as City looked to snatch a late leveller after City had fallen 2-1 behind.

Defensively we were generally pretty solid. Most of our problems were borne from some wayward attempts at building from the back. Understandable, given the fledgling nature of the campaign, but something Vieira would expect them all to improve on. Humphreys being a good example - at times he looked immeasurably composed, gliding out of defence elegantly, for all the world a natural footballer. Yet there was moments where he was guilty of conceding possession far too cheaply. Surely just rustiness, as the talents there, and defensively he did read the game well, but he'll expect a little more from himself. In truth it wasn't a game blessed with excellent forward play, and the centre-backs weren't unduly tested. Evans had a respectable game alongside Humphreys, composed on the ball, mopping up the the vast majority that came his way, though both were perhaps a little too slack as Southampton scored their second. England u19 international Ash Smith-Brown was good at left-back. Genuinely, and impressively, two-footed, he was relaxed, composed and measured on the ball. He found Barker often, and though he maybe doesn't quite have the same panache as Angelino, he's a reassuring presence and arguably better defensively. On the other side Maffeo had a steady game, handling anything that came his way defensively with his typical composure - one mistake aside on the half way line that unfortunately lead to a goal. It's on the front foot that he'll look to improve this year. He spent most of last season playing centre-back for the EDS, but now in his preferred right-back role he'll have the opportunity to really nurture his attacking instincts.

Gunn dealt well with what little he had to do. It was a relatively quiet game for him, despite conceding two. He didn't really have a chance with either goal. Of the subs, Ambrose impressed. He was bright, energetic and acquitted himself well - encouraging given his lengthy spell on the sidelines at the end of last season. He scored the equaliser deep into stoppage time, nodding in well at the back post from a cross that seemed to spend forever hanging in the air. It was an impressive cameo, and he looked equally at ease over on the right as he did through the middle. It was a little hard to judge the debutant, Faupala. He barely got a touch in the twenty five minutes he was afforded, and when he did he kept it simple, bringing others into play. Likewise, Kean bryan came on at centre-back with ten minutes left and was mainly a spectator as City pushed forward for an equaliser. Overall it was a competent season's opener. There's more to come, clearly, from all involved and its worth mentioning that Southampton are a very strong team at this level. Their line up contained many players who've already had plenty of experience around the first team, and Jordy Clasie, their new signing is a full Dutch international - he started the game in central midfield. All things considered, it wasn't a bad opener on paper. Vieira will expect more, naturally, and he will sure get it. Friday's game against Spurs will prove another tough challenge, one that will certainly tell us a little more about what we can expect over the next few months.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

MCFC u18s 1-0 Liverpool u18s

This was a fine result to start the new season. Liverpool are no push overs at youth level, and they made City work for the three points. Played under glorious blue skies, you would have excused the u18s for thinking they were back in Spain again. They spent two weeks in the sun concluding preparations for the new season, but as ever with early August games, the cobwebs were still a little evident. The first half was a niggly, scrappy affair - both teams lacked that touch of finesse or composure that usually comes a few games into the season. Nevertheless, there was a couple of half chances at either end. Kigbu notably going close after the ball broke free from corner, just dragging his shot wide of the post, and Grimshaw smartly kept Liverpool out at the other end. The goalless scoreline at half-time felt fair, but the second half was unquestionably City's. They were brighter, quicker and notably more direct from the offset, breaking the deadlock minutes into the second half. A lovely move down the left hand side involving Dilrosun and Wood freed Nmecha in the middle, who expertly clipped the ball beyond the keeper into the far corner.

It proved to be decisive. City could have had more too - Faour, a late sub, went close with a delightful chipped effort, as did Dilrosun and Patching as Liverpool struggled to put together any meaningful forays into City territory. It was a good performance. Not perfect, no, and at times a little rusty, but it was encouraging. All worked hard and there was glimpses of what could be a promising campaign for many involved. As expected, and as discussed at great length in the season preview posted yesterday, a few of the players who spent the summer with the EDS returned to the u18s squad. Charlie Oliver, Marcus Wood, Rodney Kongolo and Javairo Dilrosun made the starting line up, with Paolo Fernandes named amongst the subs. Perhaps a little too soon for the likes of Diallo, Diaz and Murray, but their time will come. As ever, we started in a 4-3-3. Grimshaw won the battle for the keepers position ahead of Albinson, and Ash Kigbu partnered Charlie Oliver in the middle. Marcus Wood, named captain for the day, started at left-back and Demeaco Duhaney slotted in on the right. In midfield Will Patching and Jacob Davenport were joined by Rodney Kongolo and the forward three consisted of Dilrosun, Nmecha and Buckley.

Nmecha, the match-winner, stood out. His finish was beautiful. An instinctive, darting run across the front of his defender afforded him the half a yard he needed, and he did the rest with nonchalant ease. It was purely instinctive stuff, yet highly impressive. He'll score plenty at this level. His footwork was good too, holding the ball up well, composed and relaxed in possession as he brought others into the game. Alongside him, Dilrosun finished strongly. Disappointing in the first half, he came alive for the final 45, repeatedly beating his man and twice going close after strong, powerful runs from deep. He was involved in the goal too, linking smartly with Wood down the left. Over on the right, Buckley started brightly, showcasing some lovely feet as he ran at Liverpool's left-back repeatedly. He faded a little in the second half, eventually replaced for Fernandes who shone sporadically in a decent little cameo, but it was a good run out for the young forward. Davenport was the pick of the midfield three, snapping into challenges with a De Jong-esque fervour. He's a real terrier, and though there was a little rustiness with the odd pass, he's clearly a good footballer - notably spraying one or two perfectly weighted 40 yards straight to the feet of onrushing forwards.

Kongolo was tidy and effective in midfield, mopping up alongside Davenport well, and Patching had some lovely moments - even if some things tried didn't quite come off. He nearly scored a blinder, strolling elegantly past two challenges before placing a shot with his weaker left foot just past the post. He was a little guilty of over-playing at times, deciding to pass when free inside the area instead of his swinging his left foot at it, but it was a solid performance. Importantly, all three worked hard too, tracking back and covering when necessary. Kigbu once again impressed at the heart of defence - strong, tough and positive in possession, he was a constant vocal presence alongside Oliver. Both read the game well, nipping in ahead of their opposition, and both were strong in the tackle. The pair looked comfortable on the ball too, even if there was a couple of questionable moments where their confidence got the best of them, conceding possession in dangerous positions. Early days however, and that rustiness will surely subside. Marcus Wood, usually a central midfielder, played well at left-back. Positionally he has a little to learn there, which is to be expected, but he has the skill set required. Strong, powerful and with a real engine, he provided the assist for the only goal of the game. He broke free down the left, played a lovely little one-two with Dilrosun,  before intelligently picking out Nmecha in the middle. Duhaney on the other side was good too, if not spectacular. He worked hard in both directions, getting forward well and putting in a few good challenges as Liverpool broke.

Overall, it was a pleasing start to the season. Physical, competitive and committed, both teams clearly wanted it and Wilcox would have pleased by what he saw. The second years stood up, looking all the better for their experience, and the first year's acquitted themselves well. For the first time in a while, there's a real depth to the squad now at this age group. Wilcox spoke recently about how feels his second year scholars are even better than last year's - high praise given their accomplishments last season. Whether that's true or not remains to be seen, but one thing's for certain, this team will compete well this year in all competitions they're involved in. Next up, the EDS take on Southampton on Monday night at 7pm. It's away, so I won't be there unfortunately, but Southampton do have a habit of streaming their u21s games on YouTube. Fingers crossed they'll do the same again this season.

Friday, 7 August 2015

CFA Season Preview - The u18s.

Last year was unequivocally a strong year for the u18s. Buoyed on by the opening of the impeccable City Football Academy, Wilcox's team stole headlines. They were at times glorious, only just pipped to FA Youth Cup success by a powerful, accomplished and ruthless Chelsea side. It could have been a different result, too, had a couple of first choice players been available. The poise, power and skill of Denzeil Boadu and Thierry Ambrose were sorely missed through the middle - both were firing on all cylinders before being unfortunately struck down by season-ending injuries. Perhaps consequently, it didn't quite result in the happy ending it possibly deserved, and Chelsea were deserved winners, but the positives were there for all to see. The football was marvellous - technically astute, incisive, measured and decorated frequently by a near perfect blend of flair and hard work. It was hugely promising, often fascinating, and arguably the first true indicator of the success that will surely be borne from the meticulous attention to detail the club has paid in developing the academy.

There was downsides, naturally - the league form took a slight hit. A packed fixture schedule, and the club's insistence on testing players up an age level, meant the teams involved in league games were usually peppered with a mixture of very young first year scholars, sixteen year olds basically, and players who were deemed not quite ready for the step up to the u19s or the EDS. Effectively, though never officially, it created two separate squads. The u18s who played the league games, and the u18s who were involved with the FA Youth Cup matches. There was the odd blurring of lines, of course, and some flitted between the two teams earlier on in the season - notably the centre-back pairing of Tosin Adarabioyo and Cameron Humphreys, Aaron Nemane and Bersant Celina too, but the likes of Maffeo, Angelino, Ambrose, Bryan and Barker, all eligible, were mostly preoccupied with the EDS, the u19s and the FA Youth Cup run. Others simply moved up as their performances improved. Garcia, Humphreys and Adarabioyo being prime examples, all ending the season with Vieira's u21s. Unsurprisingly, consistency suffered. Results were patchy as very young players, often still schoolboys at fifteen, filled the vacated gaps, leading to some indifferent results - yet all this is part of the process, and all it would have been expected. Regardless, The season was rightly considered a success. Players improved, many stepped up and the transition to the CFA was a resounding success.

The club will expect similar this year, and rightly so. The new campaign starts in earnest on Saturday morning against Liverpool, and the expectation surrounding the u18s is as high as ever. Admittedly the make up of the team is still a little uncertain - the dust hasn't yet fully settled following the typically disjointed preseason exploits. Many of last year's u18s traveled with the EDS during the summer, leaving a youthful, fresh looking touring squad - though just as many of Vieira's team traveled with the first team too, so perhaps those promotions were necessary short-term measures. Where they'll all end up once everything kicks off remains to be seen. My gut instinct, as is the City way with these things, is that we'll see a similar scenario to last season. The two u18s friendlies I've caught in the past week would seem to tally with this. The line ups were primarily first and second year scholars. Garcia, Haug, Nemane, Humphreys, Celina, Adarabioyo, Tattum, Oliver, and possibly Paolo Fernandes too, have all outgrown the u18s league, and none of them were involved with Wilcox's preseason preparations. Indeed, all except Fernandes were announced as EDS members during the City Live show this week. Though these things are hardly sacrosanct, they're as good an indicator as we're likely to get. However, like last year, I'd still expect the vast majority of them to drop into the FA Youth Cup squad from time to time. The club seem to approach these competitions with a degree of flexibility, clearly seeing the benefit of mixing the younger, first year graduates with those a little further along the path. There's no reason this will change now.

Certain other players, in particular the ones who spent last seasons regulars in Barclays u18 Premier League, will consider themselves viable EDS candidates. Presuming he remains at the club, Emmanuel Vasi could prove to be a reliable and sturdy option at left-back, capable of challenging Ash Smith-Brown for the vacant Angelino role. The Dutch youth international, Javairo Dilruson, would be a real contender if Brandon Barker vacates his usual left-wing station in the search of first team experience and Isaac Buckley, a pacy and skilful striker, will have eyes on a movement up through the ranks. Marcus Wood will too - a tough-tackling box-to-box midfielder who impressed with his powerful, driving performances last year. He's more than capable of vying with Kean Bryan for a spot in the heart of Patrick Vieira's team, despite his tender years. Even then, the latter two, or quite possibly all four, could all be conceivably involved with the u18s come Saturday morning. The club are acutely aware of affording game time to all involved, so there will eventually be a resolution for those seemingly stuck somewhere in-between the two age groups, or the competition-specific squads. Presuming they start the season with the u18s, they'll be joining a whole host of impressive footballers.

Sadou Diallo
None more so than England u17 international, Sadou Diallo. Highly rated at City, he was granted his first taste of u18s football last year - at the grand old age of 15. He's tall, strong and impossibly composed. An assured leader in midfield, with shades of Yaya to his game. Encouragingly though, not just for his physicality - its his technique and ability to dictate from deep that draw the obvious comparisons. He's a wonderful prospect, and he'll most likely line up anchor the midfield alongside fellow first year scholar, Jacob Davenport. Another that impressed greatly during pre-season. As we'd expect of any academy graduate these days, he proved himself more than capable on the ball, but it was his reading of the game that really stood out during preseason. Every team needs a 'water carrier', so to speak - a term Makelele was once labeled with, but it takes intelligence to be able to play the defensive midfield role effectively. Its a responsibility much more nuanced than many would have you believe. There's a real skill to knowing where you need to be, and what to do when you're actually there. Early indications suggest Davenport is good at this. He may be small, but he's tenacious and recycles possession well. An ideal candidate in the heart of the attacking 4-3-3 the club favours at academy level.

Of the other midfield options, expect Will Patching to most likely complete the usual midfield triumvirate. He's a delightful footballer. Technically exquisite, fleet-footed and with an eye for a pass. He'll be the most advanced of the central midfielders and predominantly assigned with supporting the forward three. Deri Corfe will provide opposition for that role, a small but skilful attacking midfielder, and Rodney Kongolo will challenge both Davenport and Diallo for the other midfield positions. It didn't quite happen for Kongolo last year after joining with a big reputation from Feyenoord, but this year offers a chance for a redemption for the seventeen year old, and with a season behind him it may happen. Defensively, Ash Kigbu stands out. Yet another fantastic young English centre-back, equally capable of matching the gigantic strides made by Cameron Humphreys and Tosin Adarabioyo last term. Fast, aggressive and always on the front foot, there's shades of Mangala - the positive aspects of his game at least. He's vocal too - combine that with his obvious athletic prowess and it's clear he'll be a hugely influential presence on match days. Captain material. Alongside him Josh Murray will prove a calm, composed companion, with Joe Coveney an equally competent alternative, capable of playing anywhere across the backline. Lewis Blackshaw is yet another first year graduate, and he's a real live-wire. He shuttles up and down the left wing to great effect, admirably persistent. Demeaco Duhaney, afforded his debut for the u18s  last year, should take the right-back spot. Fast, attacking and comfortable with either foot, he's very much a modern footballer. He was impressive in last weekend's friendly against QPR, coming on at left-back, not his preferred side, yet he excelled, doing a more than passable Angelino impression. Callum Bullock will have ideas of his own - dogged and determined, he's a likeable little player, capable of crossing a ball too, and he'll challenge Duhaney for a spot on the right hand side of defence.

Will Patching
Behind them, presuming Haug completes his transition to a full-time member of the EDS, expect Daniel Grimshaw and Charlie Albinson to take turns between the sticks. Both are good, promising young keepers. Grimshaw, in particular, is remarkably composed with the ball at his feet, and Albinson a solid, brave shot-stopper. The attacking options don't let up. Brahim Diaz is a potential star - the one most likely to 'do a Garcia'. Hugely coveted, he's finally free of the legal red-tape that prevented him from playing until his sixteenth birthday. The little Spaniard is some player. Diminutive he may be, but he's bullish, direct and blessed with magnificent ability, capable of beating numerous players within seconds. There's shades of Kinkladze to his game - he'll surely shine this year from his left wing position where he's given licence to drift in field and run incessantly at the opposing defenders. Alongside him, and through the middle, will most likely be Lukas Nmecha or Zack Faour. Both come with strong reputations. Nmecha, already a regular England youth international, is frighteningly clinical. Just a purely instinctive finisher. Quick, strong, with good footwork and an uncanny knack of being in the right place. He's scored frequently at all levels - his summer tally of 11 goals in 4 friendlies being clear evidence.

Faour was tipped for huge things, arriving as the 'next Ibrahimovic'. Clearly hyperbole, as ever with the press, but it wasn't just based around his Swedish heritage and Malmo connections. He as talent, clearly. Yet he struggled to find consistency in England last year, only shining sporadically. A scorer of great goals, as opposed to a great goalscorer, if you like. He's looked stronger in pre-season though, encouragingly, working the line well. Expect him to interchange with Nmecha up top. Over to their right, Buckley is a handful. Nominally a striker, he'll most likely start on the wing, yet he's good at it. He cuts inside well, the Pedro-at-Barcelona-run if you like, breaking defensive lines and linking up intelligently with Patching, Diaz and Nmecha. He'll score plenty. Joe Hardy, another with a very strong reputation at youth level, will challenge Buckley for his position, though expect Fernandes, the delightfully mercurial Spanish winger, to be a regular if he doesn't complete his transition to the EDS.

As ever, the players a year below will be given opportunities as the season progresses. The u15s and u16s are equally blessed with top-class talent. Tyrese Campbell is a ridiculously powerful, beastly forward. Devastatingly strong and lightning quick, he scored 49, yes forty-nine, goals at youth level last year. Luke Bolton is another handful, a strong runner, tireless and impressively direct out wide. Skilful too, and a goal threat. Myles Beerman combines pace, technical ability and flair wonderfully on the left-wing and Phil Foden is another headline stealing wonder-kid. Admittedly still tiny, he's a playmaker with exceptional potential, possessing a Silva-like touch. Rafael Camacho, a Portugese winger brought in from Sporting, is capable of the spectacular. Never more evident than his simply incredible free-kick at an invitational tournament back in May. Jadon Sancho, a real street footballer, blessed with a whole array of tricks is a match-winner, and Matt Smith is a complete box-to-box midfielder. There's more too - all will be pushing for quick promotions, and some will find it if they carry on in a similar vein to last season.

It's a campaign that promises much. For the first time since the Academy was revamped, there's a real depth to the talent pool available. The fruits of the intense labour put in by all involved are really starting to show. It's frightening to be honest, and it's only going to get better. This year will be yet another fascinating insight into how the future of this club will be shaped. There will be hiccups along the way, as ever, but with the CFA and all that surrounds it, we're witnessing something not seen in English football for a long time, if ever. The club's commitment to producing well-rounded individuals, evident in the club's insistence on overseeing private education for all academy players until they become scholars, and emphasising technical ability over physicality will soon start to effect the club where it matters - in the first team. This year we'll see the first players promoted since the take-over in Denayer and Lopes, and this trend will not slow down. The u18s start their season tomorrow morning at the CFA against Liverpool  at 11am. As ever, there will be a report on here after the game.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

MCFC u18s 5 - 3 QPR

Ah how I missed the City Football Academy. Such a wonderful place - breathtaking in scope with pitches as far as the eye can see, all perfectly groomed and impeccably presented. A full-sized blue one too, brilliantly. You wonder if they did that simply because they can? Why the hell not hey? Either way, it's glorious stuff. A real football factory in the making, easily capable of hosting several games at once for all ages and sizes. It's perhaps apt that the players we're producing now are most likely going to surpass anything we've produced before. We're on the cusp of a golden generation, and they're all honed in a glorious golden (blue) home. With the season approaching and minutes needed for our younger lads, two of the academy teams played today. The u16s comfortably ran out 5-1 winners against QPR with Luke Bolton, Tyrese Campbell, Diego Lattie all scoring a goal apiece. Matt Smith grabbed a brace too as Michael Owen, now an agent, watched on from the sidelines.  A few pitches away, around the corner, u18s were looking to finalise their preparations for their opening Barclays u18 Premier League fixture.

After a promising 1-0 victory against Rhyl's first team on Tuesday, the final test before the big kick off came in the form of QPR. It was a goal fest. 5-3, and it could have been more if the finishing hadn't been a little wayward. It was hugely entertaining from the off, blessed with technique, endeavour and some pretty committed challenges from both teams. And it came with a slightly changed team from the one that lined up against Rhyl too. The midfield three of Davenport, Diallo and Patching all remained, as did the two wide men of Buckley and Brahim. Ash Kigbu and Lewis Blackshaw kept their positions in defence, but they were joined by Callum Bullock and Joe Coveney as Demeaco Duhaney and Josh Murray were moved to the bench.  Zack Faour and Charlie Albinson were the other two to make way, with Jason Wilcox handing England youth international Lukas Nmecha the number 9 role and opting for Daniel Grimshaw in goal.

Nmecha was very, very good. He's a finisher, that's for sure, ruthlessly bagging three to take his tally to a pretty ridiculous 11 in 4 pre-season games. He's tall, confident and deceptively quick - QPR struggled to handle his movement. Some players just seem to have an uncanny knack of being in the right place at the right time, and he's seemingly one. Evident in his first and third in particular, getting ahead of QPR's defence to sweep the ball past the keeper to open the scoring after a beautiful, flowing counter attack involving Diallo and Bullock - his third came after he crept in unnoticed at the back post to head in a Will Patching corner. It's a lovely trait to have, add that to the fact that he's comfortable in possession and equally capable of linking up with on-rushing midfielders then you get the impression that he could have a pretty promising career in football. Buckley over to his right ran himself into the ground as ever. He's lightning quick, a little Walcott-esque in a way, though arguably a little more in control than the often erratic Arsenal forward. He was a threat throughout, with QPR taking to some pretty extreme measures to stop him running away from their defence, blatantly pulling him back by his shirt after he'd twice ran past their back-line. He grabbed a goal, deservedly, bundling in at the second attempt after seeing his initial shot saved after being played in by Patching.

Though not quite as explosive as he was on Tuesday, Brahim had a highly effective game yet again. He nearly scored a wonder goal within the first couple of minutes, magically skipping away from three challenges, before firing just over the bar. He was bright, eager and positive throughout, tirelessly harrying when not in possession. Not everything he tried today came off though - he was perhaps a little guilty at times of over-playing it, slightly over-running the ball or trying to beat one too many men. The naivety of youth, clearly - yet as many good players do when not at their very best, he still walked away with an assist and a goal. It was a wonderful assist too, setting up Nmecha's second with a perfectly scooped ball over the back line who ran through and finished with aplomb. His goal came from the spot, a penalty he won himself after skipping past two challenges before being brought down in the area. He took the penalty well, sending the keeper the wrong way, taking it with his 'weaker' right foot. Patching carried on where he left on Tuesday, coolly strolling around the pitch, turning and twisting in every direction. He's an immaculate footballer, technically astute. There's shades of Michael Johnson to his game actually - he glides around the pitch in a very similar way to he did before his career sadly went wayward. Both possess that same natural ability to make football look enviously easy. This should be a big year for him in the u18s - he's the focal point of the team now creatively and he'll surely grow in stature.

I like Davenport. Again, he was strong in the challenge, quick to intercept anything that rolled loose, and, yet again, he used the ball incredibly well. There's a real fire to his game and it's admirable - he snapped into challenges without hesitation, nipping at heels and pressing throughout. Positionally he was excellent. It takes an intelligence to play the holding midfield well, and it was his reading of the game that started the move that lead to Nmecha's second, winning the ball confidently from a stray QPR pass before quickly setting Diaz through who played in the young forward. It was a solid, convincing performance and alongside Diallo, he controlled the midfield. Both were measured and calming influences on the team. Defensively, we weren't as bad as conceding three might suggest. Their second was wonderful, a beautifully placed curling effort into the top corner from twenty yards, and their first came after Bullock couldn't quite intercept a through-ball. Kigbu had another assured game - he actually reminds me a lot of Mangala, and I mean that as a compliment. He's strong, aggressive and has that same quick, galloping stride that the Frenchman possesses. He plays the game on the front foot too, looking to nip in ahead of his opponent and win the ball.

Joe Coveney alongside him was assured, starting at centre-back after coming on at right-back against Rhyl, and Blackshaw put in yet another energetic shift on the left. Both him and Bullock worked the flanks tirelessly, shuttling up and down, proving a constant outlet for the midfield. Bullock in particular, setting up the first with a perfectly whipped cross from the right that left the chance on a plate for Nmecha. Duhaney came on in the second half at left-back, and he was good. Naturally right-footed, he seemed to take to being on the 'wrong' side with surprising ease. He was incredibly direct, getting in behind QPR's defence numerous times. He's fast, and he's confident too. Faour carried on his good preseason, looking stronger and being a lot more involved than we saw last season, nearly grabbing a goal after he raced onto a delightful through-ball from Patching only to see his shot come back off the post. Josh Murray, Deri Corfe and Joe Hardy all gained some vital minutes before the seasons opener too, slotting in comfortably as the clock wore down. Grimshaw in goal had little to do in fairness - he didn't have much chance with any of their goals, but when he was called upon he was reliable. His distribution was notably excellent, receiving the ball from the defence whenever needed and finding a blue shirt more or less faultlessly throughout.

It was an entertaining game, and yet again another good workout. We could have several more on another day - Buckley, Faour, Diaz and Patching all culpable of squandering numerous good chances. It wasn't always perfect, and perhaps we were a little over-eager to push forward at times, leaving a few holes at the back, but that solidity will surely come as they grow into the season. Wilcox would have been pleased with what he saw - there was no lack of desire from any of involved and he'll rightfully feel confident going into the campaign. The season starts a week today against Liverpool, and as ever there will be a report on here after the game.