Ahead of the big kick off for the Uefa Youth League tomorrow, I thought it'd be a good idea to profile all the players involved in the squad. All 30-odd of them. A mammoth task, admittedly, especially given the vast nature of the flexible squad boundaries, but a worthy one. There's a few players i've not seen yet in the flesh, but as ever, I've done what I can. Either way, just browsing through the squad makes for exciting, interesting reading. It really is a diverse, talented group. After last season's efforts, where City frequently dazzled, winning a perfect six from six in the group stages, including drubbings handed out to Roma and Bayern, 4-0 and 6-0 respectively, City will want the u19s to go further than the quarters this year. There's certainly the talent there. It's a squad absolutely bursting at the seams with ability. Perhaps the best we've had in years at youth level, with every possible approach covered by the flexibility of those involved. There's options galore and it'll be interesting to see just who exactly lines up tomorrow when the game kicks off.
In goal it's an easy one - Angus Gunn, a sure fire future England number one if there ever was one, will surely start between the sticks. A complete keeper, only lacking the experience he needs before he inevitably gives Joe Hart a run for his money. His understudies will be the Norwegian youth international, Kjeti Haug and Daniel Grimshaw. The former was a regular for the u18s last year before he moved up to the EDS, with Grimshaw his replacement and the current u18s keeper of choice. Both are confident, capable keepers who will ably step in if required. Defensively, there's a whole host of options. We're blessed in the centre of defence. The budding partnership between Humphreys and Adarabioyo needs no introduction. An exceptionally talented pair - both grew in confidence and stature last year at a remarkable rate, leading to Humphreys' inclusion in the first team tour at the tender age of 16. Adarabioyo is a leader, a tall elegant warrior of a defender, impossibly composed too. U18s regulars Oliver and Kigbu are further exciting prospects. The former a tough, old school centre-half, strong and committed in the tackle - likewise Kigbu, who aggressively defends on the front-foot, all pace, power and tenacity. There's shades of Mangala there. The intelligent and assured first year scholar, Joe Coveney, will provide further cover in the centre, though he's equally capable of slotting in anywhere across the back.
Either side of the centre-backs, the excellent Maffeo will surely hold down the right back slot. Given his deserved proximity to the first team squad this year, it's a no-brainer - he's a leader too and his natural confidence will make him one of the more senior members of the squad. Behind him the ever-improving Callum Bullock is the obvious standby, especially given his increasingly impressive performances, notably his most recent this weekend for the u18s. The left-back role is a little more open. Seeing as Angelino isn't around and Ash Smith-Brown is over-age, it leaves a gap for an u18 player. My guess would be Demeaco Duhaney, a player who's started the year impeccably for the u18s - extremely comfortable technically and equally capable with either foot, he's very much a modern full-back. He's strong too, adept defensively and a real battler. Lewis Blackshaw, another first year scholar, will provide competition. A slight, whippet of a defender, his energy is boundless and he's impressed with his intelligence and movement whenever he's been afforded time this year. The recently signed Eirik Sarmiento, a Spanish youth international, is nominally a left-back too according to one of his team-mates, though I can't profess to know much about him.
In midfield there's no let-up. I don't envy Patrick Vieira. Having to choose three from this list is incredibly difficult with multiple options in all midfield roles. Defensively, there's three clear candidates - Kean Bryan, Marcus Wood and Jacob Davenport. Kean Bryan is a powerful, imposing prospect. A real tenacious, likeable leader. Though often stationed at centre-back so far this season for the EDS, his best work unquestionably came last season during the u18s FA Youth Cup run to the final. He was magnificent - a real driving force at the heart of the team. Marcus Wood is cut from a similar cloth, too. The current u18s captain, he's a real force. He's another outsider for the left-back role, having very competently filled in on multiple occasions there for the u18s already this season. Jacob Davenport will likely play understudy to these two. A new face for Jason Wilcox's team this year, he's excelled in the holding midfield role, smartly recycling possession and tenaciously snapping into challenges. New signing Aleix Garcia, a Spanish youth international from Villareal, is an outside for the anchoring position as well. Think Pirlo's take on the defensive midfield role however, as opposed to Makelele's.
Manu Garcia will surely occupy one of the spots. Rightfully so, too. A wonderfully talented prospect, this is a competition he'll want to stamp his artistic, velvet-like mark on. If he recovers from injury soon, Denzeil Boadu is a shoe-in for me. Powerful, hugely skilful, fast, a workhorse, capable of the spectacular, Boadu is one of our very brightest academy hopefuls. There's shades of Barkley to the way he drives through the midfield and he could be a real star if his injury problems fade. I wouldn't have been surprised to see him with the first team during pre-season if he hadn't been so unfortunate with his knocks. Will Patching will provide competition for both. The England youth international is a lovely little player. Graceful, calm and intricate in everything he does, he'll look to challenge the more senior members around him for a starting spot. Sadou Diallo could force his way in too. A complete box-to-box midfielder, he's rated highly by both England and City and, alongside Rodney Kongolo - a similar option, he'll challenge the Garcias for the number 8 role. O'Driscoll is another where I come up short. Currently injured, I've not had the chance to see the Irish youth international in action yet.
Going forward is where things get even more exciting. Brandon Barker, one of the academy's golden boys, is one of the three overage players (Gunn and Bryan are the other two) named and if he performs anywhere near his best, he should see his growing star reach another level - he'll quite possibly feel he has something to prove too after not quite expressing himself as he can during his first team pre-season exploits. On the opposite flank to him, rather excitingly, will be Patrick Roberts. The new boy. The much hyped prospect, and rightly so. Not eligible for the b-list for the first team's exploits in Europe, he'll be correctly involved with the u19s instead. A bundle of sheer joy going forward, he's capable of destroying defences and it'll be fascinating to see him in a blue shirt, especially in a team that dictates possession like City do. Hopefully he'll be involved when Barker is - the pair of them will be too much to handle at this level. Roberts understudy, or the likely starter if the former Fulham man is away with the first team, will most likely be Aaron Nemane. A stocky, direct winger, Nemane's a real handful with his Wright-Phillips-esque forays forward, a goal threat as well. Isaac Buckley will offer a strong, exciting alternative. The youngster has started the season remarkably well for Wilcox's team, terrorising left-backs with his delightfully nimble footwork and lighting turn of pace. Paolo Fernandes will provide further, excellent competition on the right. Surprisingly on the outskirts of the u18s this year, the Spanish winger remains a real threat anywhere across the frontline.
Brahim is a talent. A serious talent. The pint-sized Spanish forward is quite frankly, marvellous. He reminds me of Kinkladze, but with a work-rate. I rate him that highly. Still only sixteen, he'll be (finally) collecting his international clearance soon and City will want to test him at a higher level than the u16s football he's been involved in. This competition is perfect. He'll be vying for the number 10 role, or most likely Barker's spot on the left. Dilrosun will be too - an old fashioned winger, the former Ajax man has impressed so far this year with his direct, surging runs forward, and Myles Beerman, still only sixteen, will provide further competition if he recovers from injury soon. Hailing from Malta, he's another fast, technically excellent wide player, capable on the wing or at left-back. Up front, the two EDS regulars Thierry Ambrose and David Faupala will likely fight for the number 9 shirt. Ambrose is great. Hugely likeable, and hugely effective. Just a real, direct and imposing handful wherever he plays. Towering in the air, fast on the ground and with a trick or two up his sleeve, he'll prove a great asset. Faupala, a free signing from Lens in France, hasn't quite hit the ground running yet, but he's worked hard and with a little more luck will surely start to find the net regularly.
Behind them will be the u18s strikers, Lukas Nmecha and Zack Faour. Nmecha started the season like a house on fire, clinically bagging chances as they fell his way. He's a complete centre-forward, intelligently linking the midfield and attack, and more or less always in the right spot at the right time. And last, but not least, Faour isn't one to be shirked at either - he's added a physicality to his game this year, and though he hasn't quite lived up to his much-vaunted potential yet, he's still capable of the spectacular, evident against Blackburn a few weeks back for the u18s.... And breath. There we have it. All thirty-five. A brilliant thirty-five. It's a squad equipped with a vast array of options and potential. It could go all the way too, quite easily. A lot depends on how some of the younger players integrate with the more senior members of the academy, but it'll make for fascinating viewing either way. Thankfully, UEFA are streaming these games live this year on their Youtube channel. I'd recommend, naturally, that you head down to the CFA and witness these games in the flesh of course, but it makes a welcome alternative for all not capable. The first game is tomorrow, as Juventus bring their no doubt typically wily, Italian approach to the CFA at 5pm. Get down and enjoy it. If not, as ever the report will follow on here.