Wednesday, 30 September 2015

UEFA Youth League - Mönchengladbach 1-2 City

Sadly I couldn't make it to this game, what with it being a plane journey and hundreds of miles away, and there was no streams either, so I had to make do with live twitter feeds like everyone else. Bearing that in mind, this article is something a placeholder, admittedly, though there was some things of note worth discussing to take from the day's events. For those not privy to the game's unfolding, City went behind after about twenty seconds on the clock. Apparently a midfield mix up and a thirty yard drive were enough to put Mönchengladbach ahead before most had probably even taken their seats. Not ideal, and not too unlike how we started the opening game of the tournament at Juventus, conceding with barely any time on the clock after a defensive mistake. Encouragingly though, the team, as with the Juventus game, seemed to show real character, keeping their composure to eventually come from behind to win the game.

Nemane celebrates his goal
Will Patching, in something of a hot streak of form at the moment, took advantage of Nemane's good work to slot home and then Nemane himself scored what was, apparently, something of a belter, skipping past two challenges to curl past the keeper. Impressive fortitude, especially against players with professional experience too. This can't be downplayed - Mönchengladbach are no mugs, with several already playing regular competitive football due to the b-team scenario in Germany. Most play week in week out alongside adults in games that actually matter, in a testing professional environment. That matures you, quickly. And this was a young City team too. Three sixteen year olds, three aged seventeen, Gunn the solitary nineteen year old representative and four aged eighteen left City with an average age of just seventeen and a quarter. All this seemingly against them, and yet in a different country, despite a difficult start, they carried on playing the way they know and the way they've been taught to win the game. It's impressive, it really is.

There's also the factor that apart from the Garcia's in midfield, this was a team with nine players eligible for England. Numerous Mancs too, which is always welcome. Add this to the fact that Brandon Barker and Kean Bryan would almost certainly start, both local boys too, and the claims that City are perhaps neglecting English talent seem a little futile. There's more to come from this team and the UEFA Youth League campaign should prove fascinating when players such as Bryan, Maffeo, Ambrose, Barker, Brahim and Boadu are all either back from first team commitments, eligible after legal red tape or have finally recovered from injury. The depth is frightening and it's a team that could go all the way, quite easily. The next challenge, Sevilla, should prove interesting, as shall tonight's first team game. Brandon Barker, George Evans, Pablo Maffeo and Thierry Ambrose all made the trip, with the former three on the bench. What i'd give for a Brandon Barker late winner. One can but dream... soon on the blog there will be the first loan report of the season, and at the weekend both the u18s and the EDS play. Reports will follow on here as ever.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

City u18s 2-0 Stoke City

Like the EDS last night, this was a bright, powerful and confident display of football. City were strong, and if anything the scoreline flattered Stoke as Wilcox's men comprehensively outplayed the visitors from the off. it should have been more, and it would have been too if it wasn't for several missed chances in the second half, including a penalty that Buckley won and then fired straight at the keeper, and some whipped, teasing crosses from the substitute and u18s debutant Jadon Sancho. It remained at two, but it was impressive either way, especially considering the numerous regulars who weren't available for selection. Nmecha, Patching and Duhaney all sat out the game following their involvement with the EDS last night, and the likes of Faour and Adarabioyo were also conspicuous in their absence. Grimshaw lined up in goal, Davenport stepped in at left back in place of Duhaney and Charlie Oliver, Ash Kigbu and Callum Bullock completed the back four. A powerful midfield three of Sadou Diallo, Rodney Kongolo and Marcus Wood lined up behind the wingers Dilrosun and Fernandes and Buckley started the game through the middle.

The changes didn't make any notable difference in the end - the eleven picked attacked from the off and before long City broke the deadlock. It came in spectacular fashion. Isaac Buckley picked up the ball, skipped past one before he rifled a sumptuous twenty yard Yeboah-like effort into the roof of the net. Unstoppable. After Buckley then went close again and Fernandes fired a couple of efforts at Stoke's keeper, we eventually grabbed a much deserved second. Dilrosun found space down the left and whipped in a cross that Fernandes cleverly diverted in off the post. Two nil at half time and that's how it remained at the final whistle. A hugely deserved victory and It was a performance that extended the u18s impressive unbeaten start to the season. Eight games in now, and six wins and two draws with the promise of more to come. A relatively flawless start and testament to the amount of ability the club has coming through. Next weekend's trip away to Everton will prove a stern test but a team this confident will travel to merseyside rightly feeling confident.

Individually, Marcus Wood was outstanding. A real powerhouse in central midfield, he was simply everywhere as he drove forward and repeatedly won possession in midfield with a dominant captain's performance. Kongolo and Diallo were equally effective alongside him, both providing committed, industrious box to box options in a dominant midfield display. Buckley continued his impressive start to the season, scoring an absolute wonder goal and Fernandes was a real box of tricks, repeatedly tearing the left back to pieces as he cut in from the right. Dilrosun grabbed yet another assist before he was replaced by Jadon Sancho, and the u16s regular wasted no time making an impact. A hugely hyped wonder-kid, it wasn't difficult to see why he's made great strides this year at youth level. A real box of tricks and a huge handful, he ran at Stoke repeatedly as the ball stuck to his feet. With a little more luck could have had an assist too, picking out his fellow sub Tom Dele-Bashiru who only managed to fire his shot straight at an onrushing defender. Dele-Bashiru was yet again good - a confident young lad despite his youth, and he hit the post from twenty five yards after a great run from deep. Oliver and Kigbu were both solid, imposing presences at centre-back and Bullock carried on his good form of recent weeks, competently marshalling the right back role. Davenport, usually a holding midfielder, looked totally at home in the left-back role. Late sub Hardy had no real time to make an impact.

It was a good day elsewhere for the academy, the u16s running out 5-0 victors with yet another display of attacking football. Both Tom Dele-Bashiru and Jadon Sancho both actually played 45 minutes for the u16s before running across to join the u18s at half-time as subs - an odd quirk of the way the youth footballing calendars fall, admittedly, but one within the laws of the game at this level. It was a weakened u16s team too, with some apparently away on international duty, yet there was still a hatful of goals, with two for Luke Bolton and one apiece for Foden and Brahim, a player still awaiting his international clearance so he can join up with the EDS and u18s regularly. The final came courtesy of one of the two Columbian trialists City had involved. Further good news was made as Evans and Barker made the bench for the first team. Neither found any minutes to add to the game time afforded to Garcia and Evans in midweek, but it was a welcome sight nonetheless. Next up for many involved today is the Uefa Youth League on Wednesday as City travel to Borussia Monchengladbach.

Friday, 25 September 2015

City EDS 5-1 Middlesbrough

A comprehensive, intricate and intelligent display of football. City were at times brilliant, easily the most assured the EDS have been this year and the scoreline was just rewards for some beautiful football. The damage was done mostly in the first half, City blowing Middlesbrough away as Aleix Garcia and Patching dictated proceedings with an almost arrogant ease. We couldn't have started better either - Garcia scoring with a mere 56 seconds on the clock. An innocuous effort from the edge of the area was embarrassingly spilt by the keeper and it trickled into the net. It set the tone, and buoyed by the early gift, they knocked the ball around with delightful panache. The second came not long after, Will Patching the provider. It was exquisite, too - a sublime no-look reverse through ball from the u18s man found the unmarked Bersant Celina who drilled past the keeper. Nmecha grabbed the third, and his first at this level, around the half hour mark, bundling in a rebound after Glendon had stung the keeper's hands from twenty yards. He had his second soon after, stabbing him from inside the six yard area after some good work down the right. City went in four nil at half time. Truthfully, it could have been more.

Predictably, the second half was considerably more low-key. Think the first team's display against Sunderland. First half drubbings usually end up this way. We've seen it a thousand times before - the losing team tighten up, the winning side take their foot off the gas and the sting's well and truly removed from the tie. This was no exception. There was the odd moment of life as City's passing machine sporadically sputtered into life again, and there was a couple of goals too to warm the crowd up as the cold began to bite, but in general both sides went through the motions. Middlesbrough did manage to pull one back, taking advantage of some questionable defending, though it only seemed to wake City up from their self-imposed slumber. We quickly restored our four goal advantage, the two subs Demeaco Duhaney and David Faupala combining well, the latter toe-poking home from a whipped cross. It was to be the final real moment of note as City closed the game out to put last weekend's torrid 3-0 capitulation against Sunderland behind them with a performance of real quality.

It was an interesting lineup too. After his brief spell on the sidelines, Gunn returned in goal and the back four was made up of Pablo Maffeo, Cameron Humphreys, Ellis Plummer, fresh from a trial at Walsall, and Ashley Smith-Brown. In midfield Aleix Garcia was partnered by George Glendon and Will Patching and Thierry Ambrose and Bersant Celina lined up either side of Lukas Nmecha. Patching was sumptuous, gliding through midfield knitting together countless passes with his midfield partners and causing all sorts of trouble. It was a real coming of age performance from the u18s regular and it could cement his position as an EDS member. Manu Garcia could have a fight on his hand's when he returns from first team duty, put it that way. The other Garcia, Aleix, clearly revelled in Patching's presence and he was once again an intelligent, impressive performer, cleverly recycling possession and controlling the flow of the game from his deep-lying position. If there's doubts to his game, its in his defensive work but he was considerably better here than his previous outings. Encouraging.

Glendon alongside them played his part, feverishly working up and down and he grabbed an assist too, albeit by means of a parried shot by the keeper, but he deserved some form of statistical reward for his efforts. Ambrose toiled hard, though it was a mixed performance. There was some good, as ever, and he did everything right 90% of the time. He just often fell at the final hurdle, sometimes literally too, slipping when put through, uncharacteristically losing his composure as he found space. Celina was a buzzing, bright performer on the left, grabbing a goal for efforts and coolly linking up with Patching. He sprayed some delight cross field balls as well, notably in the first half where he found Ambrose on the right wing repeatedly. Nmecha had a strong game. Another natural at this level, he deserved the hat trick that sadly just alluded him. His goals were both instinctive efforts, scuffing in rebounds as he was the first to react as the ball broke free. Forwards goals, and a skill you simply can't teach. His hold-up play was good too, bringing others into the game and linking play intelligently with the onrushing midfielders.

Defensively we were rarely tested, and in general it was a solid performance. There was a few sloppy moments, Humphreys selling Gunn short in the second half, which most likely lead to his departure as Duhaney came on and Maffeo stepped into the middle, and the whole defence switched off too as Middlesbrough grabbed their (predictable) consolation, but it was a composed display overall. The centre-halves passed well, Humphreys stepping into midfield confidently and Plummer linking up well with his left-back, and Smith-Brown and Maffeo and Smith-Brown got forward wherever they could. In general it was a stroll in the park for all involved. Gunn too, his only real save coming at the end of the first half as he tipped a decent long range effort over the bar. He had no chance with the goal. Faupala made a nice little cameo, working hard down the right, grabbing his first goal, deftly flicking a wonderful whipped cross from Duhaney in off the post. Kean Bryan was a solid introduction and Duhaney continued his fantastic start to the season at all levels, grabbing the earlier mentioned assist.

This was all without regulars Barker, Manu Garcia and George Evans too. With the injuries, i'd expect two of them to be involved with the first team tomorrow alongside Patrick Roberts. Most likely two will make the bench. However, next up for most of this team is the Uefa Youth League as they travel to Borrussia Monchengladbach on Wednesday as they look to build on the thumping 4-1 victory against Juventus last week. Long before that for myself however, it's the u18s tomorrow morning as they take on Stoke City at the CFA as they look to extend their lead at the top of table before they face Everton the week ever. As ever, a report will follow on here.

Monday, 21 September 2015

UEFA Youth League - City 4-1 Juventus

An encouraging, efficient start. It wasn't glorious, particularly emphatic or anywhere near as good as this team could potentially be, but it was still a performance littered with moments of class and high technique. Juventus of course helped City out with their rather lax approach to discipline, reducing themselves to nine men not long into the second half, but in truth City were the better team even before any players were dismissed. After going behind against the run of play, a defensive mixup saw Grimshaw gift the ball to a Juve forward who promptly lifted the ball over the stranded u18 keeper, City controlled the rest of the game. We were level not long after. After the referee had reduced Juventus to ten men, deservedly so too; Nemane being brought down when he was through on goal left the official with no option, City took advantage. Some good work between Manu Garcia and Patrick Roberts left Aaron Nemane an easy finish, and he gleefully slid in to equalise. Despite some solid pressure and a couple of good chances, Manu Garcia notably spurning one from a brilliant pull back from Roberts, the score remained level until half-time.

City eventually took the lead, and it was a goal to remember. Majestic, Messi-like stuff from Patrick Roberts. The summer signing ran from his own half, jinked past numerous challenges before coolly slotting the ball into the far corner. Glorious, and he wasn't finished there, confidently gliding past Juventus' centre-back in the final minutes to leave Lukas Nmecha with the simple task of a tap-in to make it 4-1. A goal and two assists on his first full appearance of the season. Not bad at all. Before that Will Patching had stretched the lead to 3-1 with a perfectly placed 20 yard effort past the keeper's out-stretched right hand. Both those goals came with minutes left on the clock and they added a welcome sheen to a decent performance. City, in truth, made relatively hard work of the game and if it wasn't for one or two moments of ingenuity the game could have ended up a little closer than it did. Admittedly, they weren't helped by Juventus' understandable decision to totally shut up shop given the numerical advantage, but Vieira would have expected more.

It was a new team however with most having never played alongside each other, so a little indecision is understandable. There was a few surprises within the starting lineup too. Angus Gunn was relegated to the bench, though it later emerged that he was suffering a slight knock, and current u18s keeper Daniel Grimshaw took his place. The back four was as predicted in the earlier preview piece - Maffeo and Duhaney were the full-backs and Adarabioyo and Humphreys marshaled the centre. The Garcias, Manu and Aleix, lined up alongside Rodney Kongolo and up front Aaron Nemane and Patrick Roberts flanked Thierry Ambrose. Roberts was the star man, unquestionably. He's some player. He glides past players for fun, constantly darting from the right side inwards. A real menace and a frightening talent. Not everything came off, but he plays a high risk game and the rewards when it all clicks are simply spell-binding. Surely he'll be involved with the first team sooner rather than later - the upcoming Carling Cup game seems a perfect opportunity.

The Garcias were both neat and tidy in midfield. The new man, Aleix, was a lovely, calm presence in midfield. Pirlo-like distribution and a real classy presence in the heart of midfield. There's question marks over his defensive abilities, and if he is to carry on in the anchorman role, he'll have to improve markedly. He's technically excellent though - as is Manu Garcia. After an indifferent opening to EDS life for the young Spaniard, it was an encouraging performance full of creativity. Another likely to be in and around the first team's squad come the Carling Cup. Kongolo was efficient, if not eye-catching, and he'll likely move to the bench when the suspended Kean Bryan returns. Thierry Ambrose, for all his energy and endeavour, didn't have his greatest day in front of goal, spurning some good opportunities with uncharacteristic hesitancy. Nemane was a livewire, driving from deep over on the left and, as ever, he scored his usual backpost tap-in. Defensively we had little to worry about, and a few sloppy passes aside in the early minutes of the game, the pairing of Humphreys and Adarabioyo dealt with what little they had to do with ease.

Duhaney was impressive. Still only sixteen, the first year scholar didn't look out of place, covering plenty of ground on the left hand flank, nearly scoring too with a deflected effort in the first half. He's an exciting prospect - excellent going forward, but, importantly, he can defend too. As can Pablo Maffeo, and he was as steady as ever. Yet another likely to be involved come Tuesday's trip to Sunderland in the Carling Cup. I felt a little for Grimshaw - the overly watered pitch and a slightly short back-pass caught him off guard a little for their goal and it could have been demoralising. Credit where it's due though, he recovered well and had a solid game. There was encouraging cameos from the subs. U18s Nmecha and Patching both grabbed a goal each, and it was the latter that impressed most. He was an assured, intelligent presence and immediately added an incisiveness to City's play. Nmecha, too, did well getting into several good positions. Marcus Wood came on for a minute or two but had no real time to make an impression. All in all, it was a good start to the UYL and it was without several who will consider them regulars when they're back. Gunn, Boadu, Bryan, Barker to name but a few. Its a campaign that promises a lot and hopefully it'll be two wins from two as Vieira's men travel to Borussia Monchegladbach a week Wednesday.

Monday, 14 September 2015

UEFA Youth League - Squad preview & Analysis

Ahead of the big kick off for the Uefa Youth League tomorrow, I thought it'd be a good idea to profile all the players involved in the squad. All 30-odd of them. A mammoth task, admittedly, especially given the vast nature of the flexible squad boundaries, but a worthy one. There's a few players i've not seen yet in the flesh, but as ever, I've done what I can. Either way, just browsing through the squad makes for exciting, interesting reading. It really is a diverse, talented group. After last season's efforts, where City frequently dazzled, winning a perfect six from six in the group stages, including drubbings handed out to Roma and Bayern, 4-0 and 6-0 respectively, City will want the u19s to go further than the quarters this year. There's certainly the talent there. It's a squad absolutely bursting at the seams with ability. Perhaps the best we've had in years at youth level, with every possible approach covered by the flexibility of those involved. There's options galore and it'll be interesting to see just who exactly lines up tomorrow when the game kicks off.

In goal it's an easy one - Angus Gunn, a sure fire future England number one if there ever was one, will surely start between the sticks. A complete keeper, only lacking the experience he needs before he inevitably gives Joe Hart a run for his money. His understudies will be the Norwegian youth international, Kjeti Haug and Daniel Grimshaw. The former was a regular for the u18s last year before he moved up to the EDS, with Grimshaw his replacement and the current u18s keeper of choice. Both are confident, capable keepers who will ably step in if required. Defensively, there's a whole host of options. We're blessed in the centre of defence. The budding partnership between Humphreys and Adarabioyo needs no introduction. An exceptionally talented pair - both grew in confidence and stature last year at a remarkable rate, leading to Humphreys' inclusion in the first team tour at the tender age of 16. Adarabioyo is a leader, a tall elegant warrior of a defender, impossibly composed too. U18s regulars Oliver and Kigbu are further exciting prospects. The former a tough, old school centre-half, strong and committed in the tackle - likewise Kigbu, who aggressively defends on the front-foot, all pace, power and tenacity. There's shades of Mangala there. The intelligent and assured first year scholar, Joe Coveney, will provide further cover in the centre, though he's equally capable of slotting in anywhere across the back.

Cameron Humphreys

Either side of the centre-backs, the excellent Maffeo will surely hold down the right back slot. Given his deserved proximity to the first team squad this year, it's a no-brainer - he's a leader too and his natural confidence will make him one of the more senior members of the squad. Behind him the ever-improving Callum Bullock is the obvious standby, especially given his increasingly impressive performances, notably his most recent this weekend for the u18s. The left-back role is a little more open. Seeing as Angelino isn't around and Ash Smith-Brown is over-age, it leaves a gap for an u18 player. My guess would be Demeaco Duhaney, a player who's started the year impeccably for the u18s - extremely comfortable technically and equally capable with either foot, he's very much a modern full-back. He's strong too, adept defensively and a real battler. Lewis Blackshaw, another first year scholar, will provide competition. A slight, whippet of a defender, his energy is boundless and he's impressed with his intelligence and movement whenever he's been afforded time this year. The recently signed Eirik Sarmiento, a Spanish youth international, is nominally a left-back too according to one of his team-mates, though I can't profess to know much about him.

In midfield there's no let-up. I don't envy Patrick Vieira. Having to choose three from this list is incredibly difficult with multiple options in all midfield roles. Defensively, there's three clear candidates - Kean Bryan, Marcus Wood and Jacob Davenport. Kean Bryan is a powerful, imposing prospect. A real tenacious, likeable leader. Though often stationed at centre-back so far this season for the EDS, his best work unquestionably came last season during the u18s FA Youth Cup run to the final. He was magnificent - a real driving force at the heart of the team. Marcus Wood is cut from a similar cloth, too. The current u18s captain, he's a real force. He's another outsider for the left-back role, having very competently filled in on multiple occasions there for the u18s already this season. Jacob Davenport will likely play understudy to these two. A new face for Jason Wilcox's team this year, he's excelled in the holding midfield role, smartly recycling possession and tenaciously snapping into challenges. New signing Aleix Garcia, a Spanish youth international from Villareal, is an outside for the anchoring position as well. Think Pirlo's take on the defensive midfield role however, as opposed to Makelele's. 

Denzeil Boadu

Manu Garcia will surely occupy one of the spots. Rightfully so, too. A wonderfully talented prospect, this is a competition he'll want to stamp his artistic, velvet-like mark on. If he recovers from injury soon, Denzeil Boadu is a shoe-in for me. Powerful, hugely skilful, fast, a workhorse, capable of the spectacular, Boadu is one of our very brightest academy hopefuls. There's shades of Barkley to the way he drives through the midfield and he could be a real star if his injury problems fade. I wouldn't have been surprised to see him with the first team during pre-season if he hadn't been so unfortunate with his knocks. Will Patching will provide competition for both. The England youth international is a lovely little player. Graceful, calm and intricate in everything he does, he'll look to challenge the more senior members around him for a starting spot. Sadou Diallo could force his way in too. A complete box-to-box midfielder, he's rated highly by both England and City and, alongside Rodney Kongolo - a similar option, he'll challenge the Garcias for the number 8 role. O'Driscoll is another where I come up short. Currently injured, I've not had the chance to see the Irish youth international in action yet.

Going forward is where things get even more exciting. Brandon Barker, one of the academy's golden boys, is one of the three overage players (Gunn and Bryan are the other two) named and if he performs anywhere near his best, he should see his growing star reach another level - he'll quite possibly feel he has something to prove too after not quite expressing himself as he can during his first team pre-season exploits. On the opposite flank to him, rather excitingly, will be Patrick Roberts. The new boy. The much hyped prospect, and rightly so. Not eligible for the b-list for the first team's exploits in Europe, he'll be correctly involved with the u19s instead. A bundle of sheer joy going forward, he's capable of destroying defences and it'll be fascinating to see him in a blue shirt, especially in a team that dictates possession like City do. Hopefully he'll be involved when Barker is - the pair of them will be too much to handle at this level. Roberts understudy, or the likely starter if the former Fulham man is away with the first team, will most likely be Aaron Nemane. A stocky, direct winger, Nemane's a real handful with his Wright-Phillips-esque forays forward, a goal threat as well. Isaac Buckley will offer a strong, exciting alternative. The youngster has started the season remarkably well for Wilcox's team, terrorising left-backs with his delightfully nimble footwork and lighting turn of pace. Paolo Fernandes will provide further, excellent competition on the right. Surprisingly on the outskirts of the u18s this year, the Spanish winger remains a real threat anywhere across the frontline.

Brandon Barker

Brahim is a talent. A serious talent. The pint-sized Spanish forward is quite frankly, marvellous. He reminds me of Kinkladze, but with a work-rate. I rate him that highly. Still only sixteen, he'll be (finally) collecting his international clearance soon and City will want to test him at a higher level than the u16s football he's been involved in. This competition is perfect. He'll be vying for the number 10 role, or most likely Barker's spot on the left. Dilrosun will be too - an old fashioned winger, the former Ajax man has impressed so far this year with his direct, surging runs forward, and Myles Beerman, still only sixteen, will provide further competition if he recovers from injury soon. Hailing from Malta, he's another fast, technically excellent wide player, capable on the wing or at left-back. Up front, the two EDS regulars Thierry Ambrose and David Faupala will likely fight for the number 9 shirt. Ambrose is great. Hugely likeable, and hugely effective. Just a real, direct and imposing handful wherever he plays. Towering in the air, fast on the ground and with a trick or two up his sleeve, he'll prove a great asset. Faupala, a free signing from Lens in France, hasn't quite hit the ground running yet, but he's worked hard and with a little more luck will surely start to find the net regularly.

Behind them will be the u18s strikers, Lukas Nmecha and Zack Faour. Nmecha started the season like a house on fire, clinically bagging chances as they fell his way. He's a complete centre-forward, intelligently linking the midfield and attack, and more or less always in the right spot at the right time. And last, but not least, Faour isn't one to be shirked at either - he's added a physicality to his game this year, and though he hasn't quite lived up to his much-vaunted potential yet, he's still capable of the spectacular, evident against Blackburn a few weeks back for the u18s.... And breath. There we have it. All thirty-five. A brilliant thirty-five. It's a squad equipped with a vast array of options and potential. It could go all the way too, quite easily. A lot depends on how some of the younger players integrate with the more senior members of the academy, but it'll make for fascinating viewing either way. Thankfully, UEFA are streaming these games live this year on their Youtube channel. I'd recommend, naturally, that you head down to the CFA and witness these games in the flesh of course, but it makes a welcome alternative for all not capable. The first game is tomorrow, as Juventus bring their no doubt typically wily, Italian approach to the CFA at 5pm. Get down and enjoy it. If not, as ever the report will follow on here.

The full squad

Sunday, 13 September 2015

MCFC u18s 1-1 West Brom

After a flawless start to the new season, five wins from five nonetheless, the u18s eventually came crashing back down to earth yesterday. It was only a draw, but this felt like an opportunity missed - sitting the top of the Barclays u18s Premier League, City should have extended their already impressive lead at the summit. Early signs indicated they would - it was a confident and composed opening. Predictably, City quickly broke the deadlock. Some excellent work down the left by Javairo Dilrosun lead to a whipped, teasing cross - Buckley looked likely to connect before he was impeded by a particularly overzealous West Brom defender. The referee pointed to the spot, Buckley picked himself up off the ground, before coolly placing the ball into the lefthand corner. One nil after ten minutes, and deserved. There could have been more too as City elegantly prompted and probed for a second. It didn't quite happen, disappointingly, and City's missed chances gave West Brom the confidence to grow into the game. They did, and they had their own notable moments, even if they did often came from a mistake or two of our own making. It was left to Grimshaw to keep us ahead, pulling off a great double save to preserve the slender lead at the interval. 

Frustrated by the slack ending to the first forty-five, Wilcox rang the changes at half-time. Charlie Oliver was replaced by Lewis Blackshaw and Will Patching made way for Tom Dele-Bashiru. Despite their best efforts it didn't quite happen, and West Brom eventually grabbed a deserved equaliser. Sadou Diallo was far too slack, caught dallying on the ball and West Brom took advantage, dispossessing the midfielder before breaking away to score. It was a disappointing blow to the players, and it showed. A few fiery challenges, notably by Callum Bullock, raised the temperature and the game descended into a niggly, scrappy, if passionate and entertaining, affair. Both had their chances to win the game. The usually clinical Nmecha, a second half sub for Faour, was the most guilty, somehow missing from four yards out when it would have been easier to score. Buckley had a strong claim for a penalty and Grimshaw almost gifted West Brom a late winner, cannoning an attempted clearance straight off a West Brom forward. Perhaps the miserable, miserable weather had an effect, as the heavy rainfall made conditions made the usually slick passing game difficult, but it was a frustrating result as the game eventually petered out and the scores remained level at 90 minutes.

It felt like an opportunity missed. West Brom were there for the taking, and it was a strong lineup too. Grimshaw was in goal. Bullock continued at right back and Marcus Wood dropped into the left-back slot in the place of the absent Demeaco Duhaney. Centrally, Ash Kigbu and Charlie Oliver partnered, and in front of them were the midfield three of Patching, Diallo and Davenport. Dilrosun, fresh from international duty, lined up on the left wing, with Buckley over on the other flank, with Zack Faour the lone striker up top. Bullock was the pick of the bunch. After a competent and consistent start to the season, this was his most encouraging display yet. Strong, powerful, committed and great going forward, it was a complete full-back performance from the Stockport-born youngster. He was lucky to escape further punishment after a rather cynical hack on their left-winger in the second period, but he was everywhere, charging up and down the right flank, crossing well, crunching into tackles and in general being a persistent nuisance. Wood, in the unfamiliar position of left-back for the first half, was equally impressive, strolling powerfully down the left and linking up well with Dilrosun. He wasn't quite as assured when switched into the middle of defence in the second period, but it was a positive outing for the u18s captain.

It was a little more mixed for Kigbu and Oliver. The latter lasted only half the game, hooked at half-time after an indifferent start to the game. He was far too loose in possession, gifting West Brom the ball on more than one occasion. Kigbu, too, wasn't his usually reliable self and positionally was a little lapse, caught on the ball a couple of times, nearly gifting West Brom a goal on the counter. Both had their moments defensively, but it wasn't the best outing and a game they'd rather forget after a good start to the season. Second half sub, Lewis Blackshaw, a slight, whippet of a left-back, looked assured and got forward well in an encouraging second half cameo. It wasn't the most productive days for the midfield trio. Patching found himself unable to make any real impact - there was the odd nice touch but it wasn't particularly surprising that Dele-Bashiru was introduced at the half-way point. It was another decent outing for the youngster, though perhaps not quite as involved as he was last weekend. Diallo was a mixed bag, culpable for their goal, but also involved in some strong midfield work - his partner Davenport was arguably the pick of the three. After an in initially hesitant opening fifteen, he grew into the game well and was a calm, intelligent presence in the midfield as he snuffed out West Brom's forays forward with relative ease.

Faour had a quiet outing - he toiled, ran and put himself about but looked off the pace as he struggled to make any real impact. His replacement, Nmecha, was doing all the right things before he fluffed his one real chance, somehow firing wide with the goal at his mercy. After a blistering start to the campaign, he's missed a few sitters recently, but that will happen. There's far too much innate talent there, and his next goal will surely come soon. Buckley wasn't quite his usual, explosive self,  yet he still proved a menace and was often our greatest threat when he was given the space to run at his left-back. He scored too, his fourth in four starts and two sub appearances this year. Not bad at all. Dilrosun was involved in a lot we did right, creating the first with a powerful run that lead to the penalty but faded in the second period. After returning from injury, Grimshaw made a few strong saves, and one heart in mouth moment aside where he nearly gifted West Brom a late winner with a miscalculated pass from the back, he had a solid game. 

Elsewhere, it was another great day for the academy. The u15s turned Arsenal over 3-0, with two goals from Bobby Duncan, a relative of Steven Gerrard nonetheless, taking his tally to eight in four for the season. The other came from Henri Ogunby in a team containing Taylor Richards and Jeramie Frimpong, a relative of the ex Arsenal midfielder. The u16s carried on their impeccable form too, this time only winning 5-0 against West Brom - relatively modest compared to their previous weeks efforts, bagging ten and nine against Middlesbrough and Sunderland respectively. Mr 'Own Goal' opened the scoring for City, Tyrese Campbell grabbed another brace, Ed Francis scored from the spot and Matt Smith added the cherry on the proverbial cake as the remarkable form continued. There was a trialist involved too, a young player from Benfica, and according to reports from the parents at the game, he was great. Another name we'll surely be hearing more of, when we eventually hear who he is of course. Before you ask, Diaz wasn't involved. He's continued his involvement with the EDS and hopefully, with a little luck regarding his international clearance, he should be involved in the UYL on Tuesday.

And finally, but not leastly, a shoutout for Kelechi Iheanacho. He joined Manu Garcia and Patrick Roberts on the bench yesterday for the first team, and what an introduction he made. He scored the winner, and to put it simply, it felt wonderful. What a player he is. A magical talent, one that lit up the CFA last year with some tantalisingly promising displayers and this felt like deserved recognition for his ability, and for the wonderful work currently being done at the CFA. He's not the only one either. I've said it a thousand times - we have some exceptional talent at this club and we won't know how they will take to first team football unless given a chance. Some will surprise us, I'm certain of it. He's just one of many, great young footballers this club has and given a little more faith we could unearth some stars of our own, saving ourselves a fortune in the transfer market. Here's to many more Kelechi moments. Next up at the CFA is the the first game of the Uefa Youth League. Juventus take on City at 5pm on Tuesday before the first team. See you there.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

BluemoonRising TV - Lopes, Denayer, Pozo, Roberts and more...

A little different than normal - BlueMoonRising TV asked me to guest on two video blogs this week discussing all things transfer related to the EDS and Academy this summer. In the first we talked about the incomings; Patrick Roberts, Enas Unal, David Faupala and Aleix Garcia. In the second it was the outgoings - Lopes, Denayer, Rekik and Pozo. Hopefully a little insight was offered, naturally there was initial nerves, but by the end I was ranting as passionately and as waffly as ever. Enjoy!

Saturday, 5 September 2015

City u18s 3 - 0 Sunderland / u16s 9-2

Another day, another league game and another victory for the u18s. That's five in five now as Wilcox's team deservedly extended their lead at the top of the Barclays Premier League u18 table. Two tough, uncompromising, but ultimately successful games, at Blackburn and Middlesbrough were followed by this, up against a confident Sunderland team. It was always going to be a difficult - Sunderland have started the season well and they were second behind City at the start of play. It was evident early on. Both teams worked tirelessly, cancelling each other in a niggly, scrappy, non-event of a first half. There was effort and energy, plenty in fact, but neither keeper was really tested, with the game resembling something more approaching a rugby game as the ball moved side to side repeatedly. Whatever Wilcox said at the interval, it worked. City were good. Very good. There was an added impetus, and with confidence City pushed forward ruthlessly with the three resulting goals a fair reward for a convincing display of attacking football. 

Nemane and Buckley were the catalysts for the turnaround - they were brilliant. Like most, it didn't happen for them in the first forty-five, but they ran Sunderland ragged in the second with their skill, desire and pace. It was Nemane that broke the deadlock, wonderfully cutting in from the left, leaving the right back for dead before cooly slotting into the far corner. Lovely stuff, and it was just rewards for the manner which we had started the second half. Buckley was even better, scoring two and terrorising their left-back repeatedly with his Sterling-like approach. His goals were clinically taken - both drilled efforts into the bottom left hand corner, the first coming after some magical footwork left Sunderland's left-back dazed and confused. The second was emphatic, placing the ball beyond the keeper's reach after a strong, driving run from Diallo had set him free. I commented last week on his development and it rang true again here. He's improving rapidly - a real technically proficient handful, something of a talisman for this team now too, and this could be an exciting season for the young English forward.

7. Isaac Buckley

Nemane and Buckley were joined by Nmecha up top and it wasn't quite as productive a day for the usually clinical forward. He made his debut for the EDS last week, despite being only 16 - just rewards for a fine start to the season, but it didn't fully happen here. He showcased some lovely footwork, as ever, but he would have been disappointed with a sitter he missed at the back post after Buckley had tore away down the right hand side. In midfield u18s regulars Sadou Diallo and Jacob Davenport were joined by the u16s midfielder, Tom Dele-Bashiru, for his first appearance at this level this year. It was a confident, bullish outing too. He's a pleasingly direct presence - not overly huge, but powerful and a real handful - technically strong as well, as you'd expect of any City academy prospect. He was here in place of Will Patching, away on England duty, and he stood in well. Davenport, too, was the beneficiary of an international call, stepping into Marcus Wood's slot in the defensive midfield role. He was typically everywhere, snapping into challenges and spreading the ball confidently. Diallo was strong, elegant and it was his burst forward that freed Buckley for his second. Good displays by all three as City dictated proceedings.

Defensively we were solid. Charlie Oliver, days after signing his first professional contract with the club, and Ash Kigbu, stepping into the injured Tosin Adarabioyo's shoes, both marshalled the defence aggressively, with real purpose. Sunderland barely mustered a shot in anger and on the one occasion they did, Albinson threw himself to his right hand side to just tip a twenty-five yard effort around the post. Bullock and Duhaney both came out on top of their opposing wingers, and with no real threat the other way, they took the opportunity to get forward. Both played their part as City upped the game in the second half, each whipping in some tempting crosses that could have lead to more on another day. There was cameos for Fernandes, Joe Hardy and Lewis Blackshaw, but the game was long won by then as City held out for all three points on yet another highly satisfying day for Jason Wilcox. The season's shaping up impeccably, and this was without Kongolo, Wood, Faour, Dilrosun and Patching, five regulars so far this year. Hugely encouraging and the league title seems a very plausible aim.

Tom Dele-Bashiru

Elsewhere, the u16s continued their phenomenal form. 10-0 victors last week, they followed this up with a 9-2 victory over Sunderland's u17s today. Outstanding stuff. Nineteen goals in two games is simply incredible, regardless of the level. They were shorn of numerous regulars too. Matt Smith only played half the game before running across to join the u18s at half-time. Tom Dele-Bashiru and Blackshaw were both fully involved with the u18s too, and Brahim Diaz, one of the jewels in a glorious attacking crown, wasn't involved either, carrying on his EDS involvement as the club waits for his international clearance that will happen in two to three weeks time. In a nutshell, it was far from a strongest eleven, yet they still did this. Frightening. Jadon Sancho, Tyrese Campbell and Phil Foden did most of the damage, all grabbing a brace, as Colin Rosler, son of former City legend Uwe nonetheless, Luke Walsh and Luke Bolton scored the other three. They're a hugely promising generation, and big things are expected of them and rightly so. The amount of attacking talent they seem to possess is frightening to be honest. Something tells me we'll see plenty of them as the season progresses, with many increasingly likely to see u18s game time before the end of the campaign. You can't keep this good a thing down, and I can't wait to witness it. Next up for both teams is West Brom a week Saturday.