Friday, 24 July 2015

MCFC 1 - 4 Real Madrid - EDS Watch

After the excitement, promise and joyous youthful abandon of the Roma game, this was always likely to be something of a come down. And so it proved. Sticking to his word, Pellegrini opted for a much more experienced team, giving Delph his debut alongside Fernando and Yaya in midfield with a front three of Sterling, Silva and Nasri. There was just two youngsters involved initially - the inexperienced centre back pairing of 16 year old Cameron Humphreys and Belgian international Jason Denayer started the game, flanked on either side by Sagna and Kolarov. Joe Hart lined up behind them between the sticks. Unfortunately it turned into a relatively sobering experience. Real Madrid opted for pretty much their strongest XI, and it told. For all their talents, the Barclays u21 league and the Scottish Premier Division won't quite prepare you for the experience of facing Benzema, Bale and Ronaldo for the first time. Not many things can really, but that's football and it's all part of their development.

Denayer and Humphreys were hardly awful, but their hesitancy and naivety was evident as they picked up a full 90 minutes each. Both were comfortable in possession, as ever, though both struggled with picking up the precise and varied movements of their opponents. Partnerships take time to gel, and that's nowhere more evident in the centre of defence. Humphreys in particular learned this cold, hard lesson - even though you may hold your line perfectly, there's no guarantee that Kolarov to your left will do the same. And he didn't, unsurprisingly, as Ronaldo ran through for Real's second. He's sixteen though, and he remains a tremendous prospect regardless, surely buoyed by a summer that he'll never forget. He did improve a little as the game went on, possibly due to the vast departure of some of Real's stars in the second half, but it would have been a night to remember either way. He's not the first that will struggle against Real Madrid, more or less everyone does, but this is a game and occasion that he won't forget in a hurry. One that will do him a world of good too.

Denayer on the hand will probably feel a little more disappointed with his performance. He's a excellent footballer, and a rusty preseason game in a thrown together defensive lineup doesn't change that. But it clearly wasn't his best display. He's better than this, and though he did improve a little in the second half like his defensive partner, he would have hoped for more from himself, especially given the opportunity to impress in the absence of Kompany and Mangala. He was notably a little slow to react to their first, caught ball watching from a whipped in cross from the right - it was a fine finish by Benzema, yes, but that's the life at the top and games are won on such narrow margins. Players are quicker, more technically astute and punish you where others would simply scuff a chance wide. He could have done more, and he'll know it. The third, too, wasn't his best as he looked lost in the middle from a corner, running into Kolarov leaving both Ramos and Pepe fighting each other for a free header at goal. Pepe won the duel, claiming the spoils to top off a relatively miserable half of football for City.

The second half gradually saw an influx of academy prospects, notably around the 65 minute mark as Iheanacho, Zuculini and Lopes joined entered the fray alongside the lesser spotted Edin Dzeko. Kelechi was initially stationed on the left wing, with Lopes again coming on as the focal point of a midfield three ahead of Fernando and Zuculini. Sadly, despite a few minutes of minor promise, the general flow of the match didn't notably change - Real continued to push forward, maintaining their stranglehold on the game with relative ease. Zuculini harried well, as eager and as energetic as ever, but found himself barely involved as the game passed City by. A cameo mainly spent chasing shadows. Likewise, Lopes and Iheanacho looked initially bright before finding themselves unwitting passengers as Madrid flexed their muscles in front of a near 100,000 strong crowd. After a relatively flat spell they extended their lead to 4-1, with a Yaya penalty the briefest of consolations, which more or less signalling the end of the game. 

A brief spark of interest arose ten minutes before the end as Patrick Roberts came on for his first taste of football in a City Shirt. He took up his usual role on the right side of the attack, but truth be told, it was tough debut for him. Hardly an ideal situation to introduce a new player, admittedly - never mind one who's only eighteen year old, regardless of how precociously talented he is. But he tried, and he had a few touches too, briefly highlighting his natural inclination to play the game on the front foot, even if nothing did quite come off. But then again nothing any other City played attempted throughout the second half found success either. Real were very much in cruise control and it petered out to a relatively flat ending. It'd be easy to feel despondent about this, but it is a friendly after all. Games like this go either way, and a makeshift line up against arguably the second strongest team in the world was always going to struggle. Perhaps it was just one step too much for a few of the kids, but there's no shame in that. They remain a hugely talented bunch of players and this doesn't change a thing. How could they not learn from this? Up against the very best, first hand experience of what it takes to be a top class footballer, without consequence too. This was a great test for them, and the club will know that.

It's been a hugely encouraging and rewarding tour for many involved -  the likes of Garcia and Humphreys probably didn't even expect to be on the plane to Australia two months ago. And here they were, holding their own, often excelling alongside some of the world's greats. Most of the EDS players involved were relative unknowns to many fans just over a week ago, yet they're now on their radar for all the right reasons. Naturally, that can only be a good thing. This tour has been yet another significant marker placed down by the academy. A shining example of all the magnificent developments down at the CFA, and further validation of the hard work put in by the likes of Mark Allen, Jason Wilcox, Patrick Vieira and all involved with the set up. One result against Real Madrid and a couple of indifferent performances by a few kids making their first steps into professional football doesn't alter this in any shape or form. I still feel as hugely excited about the new season and about what it holds for many involved today as I did this morning before kick off. This is just the beginning for them, and just another necessary step along the path of their development into top class footballers. Onwards and upwards.

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