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.

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