Saturday, 21 November 2015

MCFC u18s 2-2 Blackburn Rovers

In the end this was probably a fair result. City were competent, at best, and if it hadn't been for a late resurgence the visitors would have left with all three points. Blackburn would have certainly felt slightly aggrieved that they didn't claim the victory, but in truth it was a game lacking in any true quality from either side. Blackburn were a threat, but a functional one, relying mainly on their delivery from out wide and set pieces to crafted their few decent chances. City, too, resorted in more direct measures with their usual methods, all methodically intricate and precise, giving way to a rather laboured approach. It was indicative of the team's current form. The u18s aren't in a particularly purple patch currently, and that early season swagger has disappeared a little, even if a few of the scores on paper would suggest otherwise. The winter months and the (usually forced) ever-changing lineups will do that to any team, and City are no different. Still, Wilcox's team does have a welcome knack of finding a way back into games where most would see a game as lost, and not for the first time this year they mustered up something to snatch a point from the jaws of defeat.

It was a young lineup. Albinson started in goal and it was a relatively inexperienced defensive pairing of the u15 Joel Latibeaudiere and Joe Coveney that partnered ahead of him. Callum Bullock started at right back and Jacob Davenport, usually a smart, intelligent holding midfielder, stepped in on the left in the absence of Demeaco Duhaney. A more experienced midfield three sat in front of them - Marcus Wood partnered Will Patching and Sadou Diallo, and up top Lukas Nmecha lead the line with the pair of Spaniards either side of him. Brahim Diaz on his left, and Paolo Fernandes continuing over on the right. City took the lead half way through the first half. After a relatively uninspiring opening, only really notable for a few strong challenges from Blackburn's defenders, we scored seemingly out of nowhere. A delightful, whipped Callum Bullock cross from the right found Lukas Nmecha at the back post and the young forward made no mistake from a few yards out. City should have stepped it up from there, and for a handful of minutes they looked confident, knocking the ball well around midfield as Blackburn chased shadows, yet it didn't last.

Joel Latibeaudiere

Barely five minutes had passed when Blackburn levelled, and it was soft. A corner swung in from the right saw a header diverted goal-wards. Albinson did manage to get a touch, yet it wasn't particularly substantial and he could only watch as the ball trickled into the bottom corner. Their second goal quickly followed, Albinson this time spilling a cross to their forward who fired home on the stroke of half-time. Not the keeper's finest ten minutes, but his team mates were culpable too, gifting possession sloppily and inviting unnecessary pressure. The referee blew the whistle seconds later with the score at 2-1. There was no changes at half time, yet Dele-Bashiru, and Dilrosun were quickly introduced for Patching, Diallo. The third and final change followed not long after, Nmecha making way for Isaac Buckley as City desperately tried to shake off the general malaise that had descended over the game. Thankfully, the equaliser did come, even if it hadn't looked likely. Both teams were trading relatively limp and pointless punches in midfield when, seemingly out of nowhere, another wonderfully delivered cross from Callum Bullock found the most unlikely of sources, Brahim Diaz. Despite being the smallest on the pitch, he rose highest to head past the keeper with only ten minutes left on the clock.

From there on out, a resurgent City looked the most likely to win it, and a few chances did follow. Buckley hit the post from a tight angle, yet the best chance fell to Brahim who somehow failed to score from two yards, a chance that would have completed a brilliant hat-trick of assists for Bullock. That was the last moment of note and it remained level at full-time, a score that, on reflection, probably felt fair. Bullock deserved more. He was easily City's stand out player. The eighteen year old is turning into a fine right-back. Strong, consistent and tough with several assists to his name already this year, he's a very likeable player and he deserved better today. He was a cut above most. It was a day to forget for Albinson in goal and there was moments when the young centre-half pairing showed their age too. Both momentarily showed their class, undoubtedly, yet at times they were caught ball-watching. The naivety of youth clearly evident. Davenport over on the left was functional, yet lacked, understandably given his midfield preference, the intelligence that Duhaney offers at full-back. It wasn't the finest day for any of the usual midfield three. Wood, Patching, Diallo - none of them were at their usual, silky best as the biting cold stifled proceedings and played up to the visitors more robust style.

Brahim grabbed a goal, his first officially at this level, yet he was lucky to be on the pitch. He arguably should have been replaced long before he levelled proceedings. Despite the odd fleeting moment, the youngster has found the transition into life in the u18s a little difficult and he was guilty of overplaying or under-hitting passes here. I guess this is understandable - he looked marvellous with the u18s in preseason, a real live-wire, all fleet-footed and impossibly tricky. He spent weeks being the standout in an all conquering u16s team too, but this is clearly a step up and the games are notably tougher, and its told. He will adapt to the demands and considerably higher physicality, but it will take time and he is still only just sixteen. The goal was encouraging though, even if just for the brief glimmer of confidence it gave him. Time, thankfully, is on his side. Fernandes, equally mercurial, couldn't quite spark into life either. The Spanish winger has been arguably the team's star playing recently, scoring a plethora of simply brilliant goals, but he struggled to isolate his marker and, one decent effort aside from twenty yards, it was a quiet day for the usually buoyant forward. Nmecha toiled, grabbing a goal for his efforts, but he was offered little support in a day that City's forward line struggled to click into gear. The subs, Dilrosun, Dele-Bashiru and Buckley in general blended in with the rest, though the latter two did add a little energy at least, but they couldn't change the overall flow of the game. Elsewhere the u16s continued their remarkable run, winning out 4-3 winners. Tom Dele-Bashiru grabbed a goal before heading over to join the u18s bench at half time, Tyrese Campbell and Mace Goodridge scored one apiece and the other came from an own goal. Next up is the u19s in the UYL on Wednesday with a trip to Juventus. 

Sunday, 15 November 2015

CFA Roundup - 14th/15th

I couldn't get to the game this weekend for the u18s. Sunderland is a three hour drive too far for me sadly, but it was heartening to see Wilcox's team get back to winning ways. They fielded a strong team - Grimshaw in goal, a defence of Duhaney, Kigbu, Oliver and Bullock, the midfield three contained Patching, Diallo and Wood, and Brahim and Buckley lined up either side of Nmecha. Yet City fell behind early on, with Sunderland quickly doubling the advantage too. Charlie Oliver pulled one back before half-time though reducing the deficit to 2-1. A few changes in the second half, notably the introduction of Fernandes and Dele-Bashiru saw the tide turn quickly in City's favour. Goals from Duhaney, Nmecha and Fernandes secured the victory.

Elsewhere there was yet another win for the u16s, this time they only managed the two. England youth internationals Ed Francis and Tyrese Campbell grabbed the goals. The u15s went a little crazy, beating Blackburn 13-1. Keke Simmonds grabbed a hat-trick, there was braces for Hulme and Vasilliou, with Corrigan, Simms, Ogunby, Richards and Ogbeta all getting on the scoresheet. The u14s beat Aston Villa 3-1, with Tommy Doyle, grandson of the Manchester City great, Mike Doyle, grabbing all three. The u13s picked up a 4-1 victory too, and the u12s grabbed a hatful, scoring twelve without reply. As ever, a phenomenally productive weekend at youth level for City. There will be a feature on the players out on loan this week coming up, by the way. The next game up is the u18s at the CFA on Saturday.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

City u18s 2-2 Wolves

This was a disappointing result and unquestionably two points lost. At half-time it felt comfortable, despite the one goal lead. City were in control, confidently dictating proceedings and two or three nil really wouldn't have flattered Wilcox's men. Several additional chances were created after Dilrosun had opened City's account, finishing neatly after some good work down the right from Paolo Fernandes. It remained one at the interval, but it was totally one-sided. It didn't take long for City to extend their advantage after the break either - Brahim brilliantly skipped past a Wolves challenge in midfield, drove at the defence before sliding in Dilrosun on the left who squared the ball across goal for Buckley to convert the easiest of chances. Simple, but beautifully effective. And then, for some reason, it all went wrong. A series of changes seemed to invite pressure onto City, the subs seemingly disrupting the rhythm. They pulled one back almost immediately, Davenport hanging out a leg that the Wolves forward promptly went over. The right decision, and they made no mistake from the spot. After a scrappy, midfield battle for twenty minutes, a whipped free kick from Wolves' right hand-side found three Wolves players totally, and criminally, unmarked. Their forward controlled the ball, turned and fired past Haug for an equaliser.

Despite a late surge, it remained 2-2 at full time. It was a frustrating watch, and one entirely unpredictable given City's promising early start. Haug had started between the sticks and there was two returning centre-backs. After a spell on the sidelines, Kigbu reunited his partnership with Oliver and Lewis Blackshaw carried on at left-back, with Duhaney getting a rare outing over on the right for once. There was no changes ahead of them from last weekend's game against Liverpool, with Davenport, Diallo and Brahim making up the midfield three and Dilrosun and Fernandes the wingers, with Buckley through the middle. It was working well - neat, tidy and intricate, City were in cruise control. Fernandes sparkled yet again, dancing past challenges on the right, though he faded later on as City's confidence disappeared. Buckley was bright, though struggled to get involved and he was replaced in the second half by Will Patching in a move that saw Brahim become the nominal centre-forward. Brahim's many things, but he's not a striker. He struggled to provide a real focal point, understandably give his size. It was an encouraging performance before that, with his powerful, exciting run that created the second goal the real highlight. He's finding his way at this level still, playing deeper than I expected, but the talent's clear.

Diallo was a strong presence in midfield before he was replaced by the returning skipper, Marcus Wood, half way through the second half. Though sadly like his fellow substitutes, Bullock and Patching, Wood struggled to find his feet in the game, uncharacteristically sloppy in possession as the game ran away from City. Patching couldn't quite get involved as City's shape seemed to disappear, and Bullock, who replaced the impressive Blackshaw at left-back, who left the game due to a knock, found himself on the periphery too. Defensively we were relatively solid until the aberration that was their second goal. Oliver and Kigbu had coped pretty well with what little they had to do before they, and many others, were guilty of ball-watching and leaving a whole host of Wolves players unmarked. Blackshaw, as mentioned earlier, was having an excellent game at left-back. Only small, the first year scholar was a bright and intelligent presence on the left and he formed an excellent partnership with Dilrosun, who impressed in the first half with some powerful, surging runs down the left. Duhaney over on the right was his usual steady self, though having spent most of the season at left-back, he was a little rusty and Davenport was having a good, solid game before he gave away the penalty and his usually slick game took a slight hit.

Against the back drops of all the highs the u18s have been through this year, the lows do seem to stand out. Admittedly, that is a little unfair at times, as this is a team that deserves admiration. But days like this will happen, and though it wasn't catastrophic, it wasn't good either. It'll serve as a stark reminder that you simply can't switch off at any level in football, regardless of how well you're playing. Wolves were defiant, dug in and worked hard, and a job was still there to be done, yet City invited them back into the game. Wilcox expects impeccably high standards from his players, and rightly so - these are a talented bunch who should be controlling games for 90 minutes, not just one half. Nine times out of ten, this is the case, thankfully. The decision to leave Brahim upfront didn't help, admittedly. Faour was left on the bench, despite being a recognised forward, and it told. The other changes, though they didn't help, were understandable - Patching and Wood needed game time after their spells away with England, and usually they'd slot in with no problems whatsoever, but it didn't happen today. So be it. The ever changing nature of the u18s lineup will cause moments of inconsistency, as is to be expected too given the age of the players involved. A disappointing day, but, as ever, one to learn from. Next up, the EDS face Norwich tomorrow at the CFA.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Liverpool u18s 1-1 City u18s

In the end this was probably a fair result. City perhaps worked their keeper more, and arguably looked most likely to grab a late winner, but Liverpool posed a threat of their own too, rightly feeling aggrieved when they were denied a clear penalty as they broke midway through the second half. Overall, it wasn't the most exhilarating of games, yet it was understandably given the relatively untested lineup. Several regulars were absent which lead to a very young, and very inexperienced team. Most notably in defence - Demeacho Duhaney, Charlie Oliver, Tosin Adarabioyo and Cameron Humphreys were all elsewhere and Ash Kigbu only made the bench after a spell on the sidelines through injury. This meant a first start at this level for the fifteen year old Joel Latibeaudiere. He lined up alongside two 16 year olds. Joe Coveney made only his second start at this level at centre-back it was a first start of the season for the slight, whippet of a left-back, Lewis Blackshaw. Callum Bullock lined up alongside the three of them on the right.

Ahead of them there was even more missing. There was no Wood, Kongolo, Nmecha, Faour or Sancho, and Tom Dele-Bashiru and Will Patching only made the bench. This meant a u18s debut for the Spanish wonderkid Brahim Diaz, another that only turned sixteen two months ago. He lined up at the tip of a midfield three that also involved Sadou Diallo and Jacob Davenport. In the absence of Lukas Nmecha, Isaac Buckley carried on as the nominal number 9 and Dilrosun and Fernandes played out wide. And it was Fernandes that once again found himself on the scoresheet. After a relatively even opening, with both sides crafting a few half chances, Brahim in particular powering one effort right at the keeper after a lovely one-two with Dilrosun, it was another moment of individual brilliance from Paolo Fernandes that saw City break the deadlock. Sadou Diallo drove forward and put the young Spanish winger through down the right - he ran at the left-back, brilliantly sent him the wrong way with a drop of the shoulder and fired under the advancing keeper for his fourth goal of the season in seven starts.

Brahim & Fernandes

Liverpool equalised not long after. Brahim was guilty of overplaying only yards outside of his own area and he naively gave away a dangerous freekick, which Liverpool punished expertly. A dipping, bending 20 yard strike beat Albinson to the top corner to tie the game. There was chances for both as the game reached its final moments - late sub Will Patching brilliantly whipped in a cross from the left that Buckley just couldn't quite reach to turn in, and Dele-Bashiru drove straight at the keeper from just inside the area. Davenport, too, could have had a goal from a free-kick to his name if it hadn't been for a smart stop from Liverpool's keeper, tipping an effort just around the post with ten minutes left on the clock. It remained 1-1, and truth be told, it wasn't a bad result given Liverpool's current form. Individually, Fernandes impressed. He's in a real purple patch of form. A delightfully skilful little winger, he has an incredibly handy ability to go either way, with real pace too, and he's blessed with excellent technique. He caused Liverpool all manner of problems throughout and on another day his goal would have been a worthy match winner.

Dilrosun was a good, powerful presence down the left, running repeatedly at Liverpool. He was victim of a few crude challenges from Liverpool, one that went totally unpunished that should have resulted in a yellow card at very least. Davenport was once again a tidy, neat presence in midfield, getting forward well where he could and Diallo was decent, working through the gears well in a game that was mainly fought through the middle. It was a mixed debut for Brahim - some delightful moments, as ever - in particular one piece of skill that saw him break away from two defenders was inexplicably called back for a foul against Brahim, confusingly.  He's clearly a talent, yet it will take a few games for him to settle into the team and really start to express himself. Interestingly, he seems to be physically growing. He's already an inch or two bigger than he was in preseason which will definitely help. Buckley worked the line well upfront though couldn't quite isolate his opposition marker enough to showcase his lightning feet and impeccable skill-set. Defensively we were pretty solid. There was some hairy moments, though that was to be expected given the extreme youthfulness of those involved, but in general they were encouraging performances.

Liverpool's Melwood Training Ground

The two young centre-backs, Latibeaudiere and Coveney, were both a little guilty of ball watching at times, but they were also often in the right place at the right time, and both showed great amounts of composure when given the ball. Blackshaw was good at left-back, shuttling forward when he could, likewise Bullock on the right. The two midfield subs, Patching and Dele-Bashiru certainly made an impact. City pushed forward with considerably more confidence when they came on and they were unlucky to not create a winner. Albinson in goal made some good saves after a relatively shaky opening with the ball at his feet, and Kigbu made a late appearance in defence. Given the age of this team, with two 15 year olds and numerous aged just 16 involved, this was no bad result against a very good side - especially considering three of them were making their first start at this level too. It's impressive that they adapted so seamlessly to the way Wilcox wants his teams to play at this level. You get the feeling a few more could step up from the u16s too and make the transition just as easily. It's a talented generation that Gareth Taylor coaches - one that picked up yet another win despite being denied the services of several regulars too. An u16s team with plenty of u15s involved beat a strong Liverpool lineup 5-1. Tyrese Campbell scored another two, Luke Bolton grabbed a brace and Henri Ogunby scored the other. Next up is the u19s on Tuesday as they face Sevilla in the UEFA Youth League.