March has been and gone, bringing us a host of fantastic footballing action both on a domestic and international level. Yet whilst all eyes remain transfixed on Manchester City’s first team and the highest quality Premier League title race in years, it is worth remembering that many of the young stars at the City Football Academy have their heads down as they work hard to improve their game and, with any luck, snatch the attentions of Pep Guardiola.
With an international break dividing up much of the past month’s action, Ben Golding has caught up with @MCFCReserves&Academy to find out all there is to know about a victorious March for City’s young talent…
What have been your match highlights from March?
I think the standout highlight has to be winning the Premier League U18 Cup away at Middlesbrough.
The game was a one-sided 1-0 mauling where Middlesbrough hardly got a sniff of the ball and Boro’s goalkeeper Solomon Brynn was kept very busy and pulled off some great saves to keep the score down. Middlesbrough were mainly restricted to long range efforts that were comfortable saves for Louie Moulden (son of Paul) in the Manchester City goal. This result also meant that the club completed a historic League cup treble of the 1st team, the Women and the U18s all within the space of a few weeks.
Who have been your Star Performers in March? Might anyone have made Pep take notice?
Once again, we find ourselves talking about those key players of Tommy Doyle and Felix Nmecha. They cause players to back up through skill and an ability to drive the ball into pockets of space, leaving opposition players in that horrible dilemma of whether to close down and leave openings behind or leave that space to help gain forward momentum.
As to whether Pep Guardiola is taking notice, then yes, I think he is. More players are spending greater time training with the first team and Pep can clearly see that we have some real talent bubbling up just under the surface.
What about the Hidden Gems? Are there any players that you think deserve more attention?
I think we have to look at Ben Knight. He seems to have really found his feet recently and is starting to play with some real confidence and cause defenders a lot of problems. He’s showing the reasons why we bought him from Ipswich last year for a fee that could rise to around £1m.
City ground out their win at the Riverside Stadium with a feisty 1-0 win. What did you make of the game and how City played in their Premier League Cup victory?
I think that ‘ground out’ is perhaps not the term I would use, as I have previously mentioned the young blues played very well and on another day they might not have faced a goalkeeper that had the game of his life to spare Middlesbrough’s blushes.
City do lack a genuine No.9 at youth level, which can hamper them in certain games. With Nabil Touaizi just returning from a lengthy injury spell on the side lines, City did not quite have that killer edge in front of goal but I have no doubt that had Boro managed to get an equalizer, City would have gone up the other end to score again.
Who stole the show against Middlesbrough?
Yet again we find ourselves talking about that young man Felix Nmecha again, as he teased and tormented most of the Middlesbrough team at times with his skill and vision. You can see that he is always watching what his next play will be with the way he keeps his head up at all times. However, just to single out Felix when every City player stood up to be counted and put in a very good performance seems a bit cruel.
What do you think lifting a trophy will mean for these young lads?
Most of these lads have tasted glory in the last couple of years by winning the Floodlit Cup and the U16s equivalent league cup last season. With so many already knowing what that hunger and desire brings to winning these national tournaments, they clearly want more of it. It will boost their confidence that they have won one cup and now they want to win the other cup on offer, I’m sure.
Have any City players stood out to you whilst they were on international duty?
This is always difficult to appraise because the coverage and the ability to watch the youth games is either non-existent or very limited. It’s very disappointing in this day of age when live streaming is available at minimal costs. But I think we have to single out and say well done to Colin Rosler who captained the Norway U19s on a couple of occasions to top their group in the elite qualifiers ahead of the likes of Germany to make it to the finals in Armenia this July.
Could these international call-ups be an early sign of who to watch in the future?
The one to watch would probably be Taylor Harwood-Bellis as he captained the England U17s to top their group and qualify for the finals in Ireland next month. He has big admiration from around the youth football Twitter scene.
Did any notable players miss out on national selection?
Jeremie Frimpong was initially called up to the Dutch U19s squad but then was put on a standby list for the qualifiers. All I can say is that the Netherlands must have some pretty good fullbacks at that age group for Jeremie not to be included!
Then there is the situation where England U19s failed to qualify for the finals and yet left Felix Nmecha on the bench for the majority of the games. It makes you wonder whether Felix will follow his older brother and choose to represent Germany like his older brother Lukas has.
Now that April is here, what about City’s upcoming fixtures? Which ones should the young Blues be looking out for?
The FA Youth Cup run to the final has meant that the U18s have had to postpone a few league games, meaning that they now have to squeeze in seven games during a four/five week period as the season draws to a close. During that congested run, City will play the top three in the league and so will have a big say who wins the Northern league. Two of those three games are at home to United and Liverpool and so I’m sure the lads will be well up for those games.
The U23s have two re-arranged fixtures, the first being at home to Everton at the Academy stadium on Sunday the 7th with a 2pm kick off. The other is an away fixture at Blackburn Rovers’ Ewood Park the following Monday. They will then conclude their league campaign towards the end of the month at home to Swansea City.
Which ‘Big Match’ is on the way in April?
Well City’s youth have already passed the test on the opening day of the month by making it through to the final of the most prestigious club youth football tournament in the world by beating West Brom in FA Youth Cup semi-finals. They now have to face northwest rivals Liverpool in the final of the tournament. Clearly, the final will be the BIG match, but at the time of writing this (despite what was announced inside the stadium at West Brom) there is no confirmation as to whether City will be home or away. As with the semi-final, the final is now also just the one-off match and no longer the two-legged as it has been for so many years.
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