It was a night of heartbreak once again in the FA Youth Cup for Manchester City, as after such repeated disappointment against Chelsea in recent years, City’s youth team saw their long-held dream of lifting England’s premier youth competition creully snatched away from them by Liverpool on penalties.
On a calm evening at City’s Academy Stadium, the young Blues produced a mature display on the whole, combining their youthful tenacity with a startling maturity as they dominated possession for much of the match, likely bringing a smile to the face of the onlooking Pep Guardiola as the teenagers swept the ball from left to right in a manner all too familiar to the Catalonian first team manager.
However, for all their control, City would see their opponents Liverpool dial up the pressue in the second half, though their goal would be gifted to them by a mistake from Blues keeper Louie Moulden. Unable to decide the final in either ninety minutes or in extra time despite a strong penalty claim, despair set in during the decisive penalty shootout as Cole Palmer’s effort cannoned off the bar, leaving Liverpool free to seize the result and the cup with a series of cool efforts.
Whatever the result though, there were more than a couple of exceptional performances from City’s youngsters on the night, where all should take courage from making this final and continuing to maintain the high standards of the youth academy.
Here’s how we rated the players:
Louie Moulden – 6
It was an unfortunate night for Louie as he was ultimately culpable for Liverpool’s equaliser with a poor effort to meet Bobby Duncan’s shot. His mistake will be all the more painful due to the fact that he was otherwise unfazed throughout the match, notably dealing well with a looped deflection in the first half, as well as getting a good hand to the first couple of penalties. He shouldn’t let his night define him.
Alpha Diounkou – 7
Eric Garcia – 7
Whilst on the pitch, Garcia looked every bit the player that Pep Guardiola has been so smitten with since arriving in Manchester, playing assured forward passes whilst maintaining brilliant positions at the back. Both he and the team were incredibly unfortunate when he left the field due to injury in 60th minute, as the City captain had truly lead from the back until that point. It was a testament to his high standards that City seemed to drop after his departure.
Taylor Harwood-Bellis – 9 (Man of the Match)
My word, what a performace from Taylor Harwood-Bellis. Still just 17 years old, the young Englishman was the image of a modern centre-back colossus at the Academy Stadium, dominating his way to every ball and staying clean in his ball possession. It was the sort of match where you could have sworn that Harwood-Bellis was playing in three positions at once, prowling along the backline one moment, clearing aerial balls in midfield the next, as well as being one of City’s foremost goal threats on set pieces, too.
Given his sheer class on the pitch (and off of it, consoling his team mates and congratulating Liverpool’s lads after the game), I wouldn’t be surprised if he had single-handedly played his way into City’s pre-season tour of Asia as Guardiola watched on.
All that and he’s from Stockport. Taylor Harwood-Bellis. Remember the name.
Jeremie Frimpong – 8
With endless energy and bite to pursue his man across every blade of grass, Frimpong made an outstanding contribution to the City cause as he left it all on the pitch tonight. What was even more remarkable was that the Netherlands youth international was able to hound Liverpool from multiple positions, starting off as a tenacious attacking full-back then moving across to the right wing and finally swapping to attack the left-hand side.
Rowan McDonald – 7
Tommy Doyle – 8
There is a lot to be said for Tommy Doyle’s rich City pedigree, but his own time on the pitch is showing why he merits inclusion on his own terms. With exceptional ball delivery and an unbelievable turn on the ball, Doyle made the midfield his own whenever he could, with the added bonus of some sweet set-piece delivery also.
Garcia’s injury had major repurcussions on Doyle’s game when the young Englishman had to drop back into holding midfield for the second hour of play, depriving City of their main creative outlet. Though he might take the defeat harder than most what with the blue expectations surrounding him, the signs are there that he is developing into a future City player in his own right.
Felix Nmecha – 5
Of all the nights for Felix Nmecha to suffer a poor performance, this was probably the worst time. A victim of his own play style, Nmecha’s usual relaxed approach seemed to overwhelm him on the big occassion, his typical calm manner becoming increasingly cagey and intermittent. When you know a player has such talent at his disposal, it can hurt to see the play break down from his influence, particularly when the Blues needed a game-changer in the latter stages.
Ben Knight – 8
Adrian Bernabe – 7
Nabil Touaizi – 7
Fisayo Dele-Bashiru – 8
Nathanael Ogbeta – 7
Cole Palmer – 6
Henri Ogunby – N/A
No time to mark.