Features and profiles on all the players involved and on tour with the first team.
Part 1 - featuring Unal, Gunn, Glendon, Maffeo, Evans, Humphreys and Zuculini.
Ah football, how I missed you. I thoroughly enjoyed this, even if it wasn't the most exciting game we'll ever see. It was just great to have City back on the pitch, playing football, but more than that it felt like relative vindication too. In the piece posted last night I found myself ranting away rather emotively about how blessed we were at the moment. I couldn't help but wonder if maybe I was getting a little carried away. I'm biased, clearly, and perhaps I was letting my heart rule my head a bit. But this morning's game felt like a whole lot of justification. The young players involved were all good, with others excellent. It was hugely encouraging and exciting in equal measure.
Pellegrini stuck to his word, naming a relatively senior eleven with only four youngsters in the starting team. They were four of our best though. Sixteen year old centre-back Cameron Humphreys lined up alongside Vincent Kompany, with Pablo Maffeo, days after celebrating his eighteenth birthday, starting on the right and Clichy on the left. A senior midfield of Fernando, Yaya, Nasri and Navas was complimented by the prodigiously talented seventeen year old Manu Garcia and the fourth EDS member involved was Brandon Barker. Nominally a left winger, he was given the unfamiliar task of leading the line through the middle. It was a slow first half as both teams looked to test each other, with the early threat coming down Melbourne's left. Maffeo was up against their best player. A skilful, fast winger, Novillo would give most a game, and if last season's form was anything to go by, he probably would have turned a tired and jaded Zabaleta inside out. After initially looking a little flustered, understandable for any player in preseason, never mind for a kid, Maffeo grew into the game confidently, perfectly tracking his man and getting stuck in as he played a very good part in what was a fascinating duel. Maffeo's a natural defender, and he showed it. His positional sense is great and he has an uncanny knack of getting his body between the ball and the attacker. Add to that the fact that he's a tough little son of a gun and overall you had a highly encouraging 45 minutes.
Garcia was even better. He got just over an hour on the pitch and he was magnificent given the context. It's hard to believe he's so young. He just gets it. He gets the way City want to play, and he just gets football. He's truly a remarkable prospect. He looked better and better as the game grew on, confidently involved with everything good that happened, receiving the ball in tight positions, moving it quickly - even getting stuck in too. He's not big, he's tiny in fact, but there's an admirable tenacity to his game. Never at any point did he look overawed by the occasion or the increased physical nature of professional football, and that in itself is impressive. He's a huge talent and his star is rising. And quickly. Barker had a tougher task, and I felt for him. He's many things, but he's not a centre-forward. He looked a little lost out there, and many could have told you that would be the case before it happened. It negates every positive attribute he has, but it was a relief to see that on the rare occasions he found himself on the left he looked bright and confident. He came alive mentally, clearly much more comfortable cutting in and running at defenders. And he did it well too. He should have had an assist as he dipped inside, skinning his defender twice before teeing up Nasri who wasted the chance. He nearly scored too, darting inside on a couple of occasions, narrowly drilling shots just past the far post.
The best possible compliment I could pay Humphreys was that I often forgot he was there. He's a kid. Literally. He's sixteen still. He can't drive or drink yet, legally at least, and he only finished school this summer. Yet here he was, playing the whole 90 minutes alongside our captain, a genuine world superstar, looking totally at ease. He should have been nervous, unsure and edgy. He wasn't. Instead he made the right decisions, kept it sensibly simple and acquitted himself well. It could have been Demichelis and you wouldn't have questioned it - and that's a positive if you weren't sure. He's still got things to learn, yes, but he's an exceptionally talented prospect and it won't have gone unnoticed. Of the subs, Horsfield replaced Maffeo at half-time and he was good, shuttling forward well with energy and purpose. He's a right-back in my opinion, definitely. He looks vastly better there than he does in central midfield. Zuculini came on and played with decent purpose and Pozo showed a couple of nice touches in a game that was slowly fading to an end. It was my first glimpse of Unal and from what little I saw I thought did quite well. Not lots to do, but he ran the channels well, worked hard and was clearly eager to impress. It'll be interesting to see him get more minutes.
Fofana and Evans made up the rest of the EDS involvement, but they were on the pitch for a matter of minutes so there was nothing of note to report. In general it was a really good work out - Pellegrini would have surely been impressed by the way they acquitted themselves, and rightly so. There's real talent bubbling under the surface here and we have every reason to be excited. Add that to the fact that Kompany, Yaya and Nasri, who scored an absolute belter, looked more than up for it, clearly refreshed for a summer's rest, and we've got the makings of a very interesting campaign. I'm looking forward to seeing how the rest get on in the next friendly. I suspect we'll see Denayer, Lopes, Iheanacho and the two new boys, Sterling and maybe even Delph as well.