Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Stoke City 2-3 City u18s

This was a tough game. You'd have been forgiven for thinking that this would have been something of a walk in the park for City's u18s. They've been irrepressible recently, riding high at the top of the league as Stoke watched bleakly on from the foot of the table. On paper it didn't bode well for the midlands club, yet, typically, they took the lead within two minutes. It was a real sucker punch too, a soft, avoidable goal that followed some questionable defending. Duhaney was initially guilty, poorly heading the ball backwards straight into the path of on-rushing Stoke forward. He broke down the left, cut in and somehow managed to score from a nearly impossible angle - the shot tamely trickling past Haug at the near post. It was unexpected, and it set the tone for a frustrating hour for City. Stoke sat back, happy to invite Wilcox's team onto them, and it proved a test of patience as the game broke into an extended game of attack versus defence. There was some chances, Fernandes and Davenport both stinging the keeper's hands, Buckley went near too, hitting the side netting from just inside the area, but City couldn't break the deadlock and went in behind at half-time.

The pattern repeated well into the second half. Nmecha was brought on at the interval, and he nearly levelled things moments after the kick-off, just missing a drilled Dilrosun cross-shot as it flashed by. Eventually the persistence told, and it came from an unlikely source too. Rodney Kongolo broke character and wandered forward, and he was the first to react to a deep Dilrosun cross as he volleyed home to the keeper's right. Barely ten minutes later and City had their noses deservedly in front. Patching drove forward through midfield before spreading the ball out wide to Dilrosun. He looked up and curled in a delightful first time cross to Nmecha who fired into the roof of the net from six yards out. It should have been comfortable from that point. Sadly, it wasn't. City once again switched off, allowing Stoke far too much time on the ball and an equaliser came against the run of play. A low cross in from the right lead to a swept finish past the helpless Haug. Credit where it's due, City struck back immediately. With more or less his first real involvement, the substitute Brahim drove straight at their right-back and he was brought down in the area. Nmecha missed the resulting penalty, but his blushes were spared when Isaac Buckley picked up the ball ten yards from goal and fired through the defender's legs into the bottom left-hand corner with barely a minute left. Cue pandemonium in the blue dugout and the referees whistle barely seconds later.

Erik Sarmiento was impressive. The summer signing from Espanyol has had to sit on the sidelines while he waited for international clearance and this was his first full start at this level. He was very encouraging at left-back, typically Spanish with his distrubition - sharp, precise and intelligent. He was effective going forward too, twice setting off on marauding runs that saw him swerve past three or four challenges as he drove into Stoke's half. A promising debut, and clearly a very exciting player. Duhaney had a slightly quieter game over on the right, though that's understandable seeing as he's spent most of the season on the opposite flank. Humphreys had a mixed game, sometimes impressive and strong in the challenge, he was also caught out on a couple of occasions as the defensive line didn't quite get the offside trap right. Likewise Oliver, though the centre-half did put in some impressively strong challenges, twice sending Stoke players flying - albeit fairly. Davenport was good in midfield, keeping things ticking over as City pressed, and he pushed forward whenever he could too. Kongolo was similarly effective, bustling about to good effective in a nitty gritty midfield battle. He took his goal well and if he can continue adding goals to his game he'll go up another level.

Patching cut a slightly frustrated figure in the first half, though his influence grew as Stoke tired and it was his forthright play that lead to the second goal. He turned well and quickly drove at Stoke which left them out of position for the eventual Dilrosun cross. He's capable of this, and it was good to see his positivity rewarded. Fernandes wasn't his usually exciting flamboyant self, and despite a couple of decent moments he found himself crowded out as Stoke sat back. He was replaced at half-time for Nmecha, who went up-front with Buckley moving wide. Nmecha immediately offered a much more natural threat up top. His movement and intelligence, combined with a natural striker's instinct, and a greater threat out wide as Wilcox audibly encouraged Dilrosun and Buckley to hug the touchline, helped City turn the tide. He should have had a couple of goals at least, weakly seeing his penalty saved, but it didn't matter in the end as City collected all three points. Buckley struggled a little in the first half - he's the kind of player that revels in running in behind defenders, yet Stoke sat incredibly deep and it was notable that he was much more at ease when he switched out wide to the right in second half. It was a move that allowed him to have a run at his fullback one on one, and that eventually won the game for City as he isolated his defender, cut inside him and finished in his usual, emphatic style. I do prefer Buckley out wide, personally.

Brahim was only a substitute, replacing Dilrosun for the last ten minutes. He made an immediate impact though, setting off on a trademark run that lead to a foul by their right-back and a penalty. He was good, as ever, and played his part as City attacked with intensity and struck the late winner. Dele-Bashiru had little time to make an impact, yet settled in well as City held out. It was an intriguing game, and another example of the admirable character that the academy coaches have instilled into these players. They never know when they're beaten and it spoke volumes that despite Stoke equalising, and Nmecha missing that penalty, I still knew City would win. It just felt inevitable, as often is the case at this level. The u18s pull it out of the bag when it matters. They've lost once all season, and it's not hard to see why. It's all very well being exceptionally talented, but the work ethic is needed, as is self-belief and a commitment to the game plan. These players have that in abundance. This result put City three points clear of Everton at the top of the table, though the merseysiders do have two games in hand. The clubs meet on the 9th of January which should be a fascinating encounter. Elsewhere, the u16s carried on their remarkable run of form. They were exceptional as they trounced Stoke 6-0. Tyrese Campbell bagged four, taking his tally to 29 for the season…in December. Jadon Sancho and an own goal gave the scoreline sufficient gloss. It's some generation that. One we'll surely see a lot of in the next couple of years. There's no football over christmas for the academy teams, disappointingly, so there will be a small break on here most likely, but look out for a few pieces on loans and so on. Have a lovely christmas all!

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

FA Youth Cup Preview & Analysis

City's u18s started their FA Youth Cup campaign on Tuesday night, earning a 2-1 victory down on the south coast against Portsmouth. Brahim Diaz won the game late on, scoring a magnificent solo goal in a game that City should have won at a canter.  City were irrepressible, yet they spurned countless glorious chances to add a deserved gloss to the scoreline. Lukas Nmecha had initially opened the deadlock early in the first half before Portsmouth made City rue their wastefulness and grabbed a predictable equaliser. Harvey Bradbury, the son of former City striker, Lee, levelled proceedings mid-way through the second forty-five before the current man of the hour, Brahim Diaz, clinched victory with a piece of individual brilliance. It set up a fourth round tie with Leeds United in January ahead of what could be the start of something hugely promising. This is a highly talented squad with numerous players vying for a starting spot and Wilcox and his group will fancy their chances of matching last year's run to the final at very least. This felt like a good opportunity to take a closer look at the players involved, the set-up and the likely approach Wilcox will take this year.

To put it simply, the options available to Wilcox are ridiculously strong, and hugely varied too. The club are rightly taking this competition seriously, and they're following last year's ideology that saw the eligible EDS players integrated with the current standouts from the u18s league campaign. Aaron Nemane, Cameron Humphreys, Rodney Kongolo and Tosin Adarabioyo are all very much EDS regulars these days, despite their youth, yet they dropped back on Monday to work with Wilcox and will continue to do so throughout the duration of this competition. The formation the club instills throughout the academy set-up, a fluid, attacking 4-3-3, facilitates this pretty well, allowing players to move up through the age groups seamlessly, fully knowing what's expected of them in their roles. A player can move from the 16s to the u21s and slot in with ease, theoretically. And it was was no different on Monday night, Daniel Grimshaw sat behind a back four of Demeaco Duhaney, Tosin Adarabioyo, Charlie Oliver and Jacob Davenport. Ahead of them, Marcus Wood and Rodney Kongolo anchored the midfield with Brahim Diaz pushing on, and the front three consisted of Javairo Dilrosun and Aaron Nemane either side of Lukas Nmecha. Different names, but the same system. It was a strong line-up, with an equally as strong bench too. Haug, Dele-Bashiru, Fernandes, Buckley and Humphreys made up the numbers.

Grimshaw is the current number one, and it was a pretty simple decision to give him the starting spot. The Manchester born keeper has usually been the first choice for the u18s this year, and he's played well, yet he's ably supported by the tatlented Kjeti Haug, who's impressed when afforded the chance. Charlie Albinson, I think, is overage for this so there will no involvement there. If so, there's the promise of the u16's Joseph Hilton in reserve, plus the u15s keeper, Curtis Anderson - currently England u16s first choice. At right back it seems a clear choice between Demeacho Duhaney and Callum Bullock. Duhaney usually lines up on the left for the u18s, despite being naturally right-footed, yet he started on the right against Portsmouth, with Bullock nowhere to be seen. Perhaps an injury forced the change. Either way, both are strong options. Bullock's shone for the u18s this year - a tough, committed defender with an excellent cross, he's capable of bustling back and forth all day long. Duhaney is very much the modern full-back, at his best gliding forward with pace, all fleet-footed and technically proficient. Jacob Davenport is an option at left-back, and he started there on Tuesday, though usually he's a holding midfielder. His intelligent reading of the game suits the role well, likewise Marcus Wood, also a midfielder, who's stood in at left-back a few times this season. Lewis Blackshaw, a whippet-like first year scholar with boundless energy, has impressed when afforded an opportunity and there's the new Spanish import, Erik Sarmiento, now eligible. He made his debut for the EDS on Monday night and could be another left-back option. He looked encouraging in his brief run-out. 

At centre-mid there's huge competition for places. Marcus Wood is yet another with leadership qualities. The Sale born midfielder is a really likable player - he's a commanding influence and he offers plenty of drive in the heart of midfielder. Rodney Kongolo, one of the more experienced members of the team and a frequent member of Patrick Vieira's EDS teams this season, was chosen alongside him on Tuesday. He brings plenty of energy, desire and a solid box-to-box game. Jacob Davenport, when not at left-back, is a likely option too. He's great there, expertly snuffing out danger as it develops. Injury ruled out Manu Garcia, yet he might've not been involved anyway. Certainly eligible, the exceptionally talented young Spanish midfielder has been an EDS regular and on the periphery of the first-team this season, so his involvement may be circumstantial. However, given Adarabioyo and Nemane's involvement, you'd expect he would be. And rightly so. Only a substitute last year at this level, the gifted playmaker will be a key figure when fit and one of the team's stars. For now though, Brahim Diaz is the go-to option at the peak of midfield three. A real gem, mercurial and with an eye for the spectacular, the sixteen year old with the huge reputation has really come alive for the u18s now after a few weeks feeling his way in. He looks marvellous. Think Kinkladze with Tevez's attitude. He's only young, but like Garcia, he has the world at his feet.

Manu Garcia
Will Patching was surprisingly absent on Tuesday, though he was involved with the EDS on Monday night. Whether this is permanent, time will tell, and it could have just been a necessity given the paucity of options that Simon Davies had available to him with injuries to the Garcias, Manu and Aleix, and Kean Bryan. Either way, Patching is a fantastic talent. Graceful, skilful and a beautifully gifted midfielder, he'll be a key man if used. Sadou Diallo is another brilliant young midfielder. Composed and measured, the England youth international has been a regular at the heart of midfield down at the CFA, and it speaks volumes for the talent around him that he may have a fight on his hands to gain a starting spot. Tom Dele-Bashiru is fast becoming something of a mainstay of the the u18s squad, despite still being an u16. It's no surprise. He's a beast, a true powerhouse of a midfielder, capable of driving through midfield with a real ferocity, with a finish to match it too. Given his age, he may just find himself as an impact sub at this level, but he'll prove some option. His u16 partner, Matt Smith, the current Welsh u17 captain, is another exceptionally gifted, well-rounded midfielder and after making his u18s debut the other week, he could be another who finds himself involved eventually.

Out wide City are stocked full of attacking talent. A regular last year, and a current starter for the EDS, Nemane is still eligible. It's easy to forget how young some of these players are, and Nemane is a prime example. A stocky, small winger, he's a real handful with a great low centre of gravity and dangerous turn of pace. At this level he'll prove a real goal-scoring menace on either wing. With Nemane on the right, Javairo Dilrosun started on the left, and it's been a great year so far for the Dutch forward. He struggled a little at times last year in his debut season, but he's settled into life in Manchester well this year and he's been excellent all season. A tricky old school winger, he's capable of running the length of the pitch with his powerful, lung-bursting runs. He's added a goal threat too this season and I suspect he'll be a regular here. Fernandes is another wonderful player. In most teams the Spanish winger would be a star, yet here he's just another one of several gems. Impossibly tricky and a genuinely top class finisher with either foot, he's destroyed countless left-backs this season despite his small frame. So has Isaac Buckley. Equally capable through the middle as a number 9, and I suspect that's where he'll often find himself, Buckley, like Fernandes, is a a real livewire. Both are absolutely exceptional at dropping their shoulder and bursting past their opponent, with their goal tallies being clear proof.

Jadon Sancho is the dark horse, still only really an u16, the mesmerising forward has made his debut for the u18s this year, scoring two on his first full appearance, and he's proved a star at youth level so far. He models himself on Neymar, and it tells. If he carries on his progress, don't be surprised to see him involved later on in the campaign. Lukas Nmecha is the current first choice up top, and rightly so. Nmecha is a exceptional talent. Already a regular for the EDS, despite only turning 17 last week, Nmecha has a hatful of goals this season and it's not hard to see why. He possesses a real striker's instinct, always in the right place, and he's technically great too. His close control and ability to twist and turn in tight situations brings to mind players like Anelka and Berbatov, and it makes perfect sense that the club are already testing him at u21 level. Zack Faour will most likely be the backup choice behind Buckley and Nmecha, and though he hasn't perhaps quite lived up to the hype that surrounded his transfer, he had started the season relatively well before disappearing recently. Joe Hardy has been involved sporadically for the u18s this season, and you do feel for him given the vast pool of talent around him, but he's another with a good reputation and he may be used at some point. Further down the ranks, Luke Bolton and Tyrese Campbell are repeatedly tearing things up at u16 level, and I wouldn't be surprised if either followed the examples set by Tom Dele-Bashiru and Jadon Sancho this season.

It's a huge squad, but a talented one. City are among the favourites for this competition and so they should be. This is a team with hundreds of possible combinations of personnel, and Wilcox has numerous ways of setting up with every game. With pace, think Brahim, Fernandes, Buckley and Dilrosun, or with strength and power - Wood, Kongolo, Diallo etc, there's different approaches depending on the opposition, and it'll prove incredibly useful. Given the high profile of the competition, with last year's FA Youth Cup having plenty of support on television, it could prove to be a breakout year for some of the players involved. It's a huge platform for many and providing there's a real hunger and thirst from the squad, it could end spectacularly well. Expect there to be some rotation, and it'll be interesting to see if Manu Garcia is used when returned, especially considering he'll be vying for a spot against the likes of Patching and Brahim. I suspect he will, but I don't envy Wilcox - I wouldn't know where to start when choosing this team, yet its a nice dilemma to have. I suspect we'll know a lot more by the time the next game comes around. The date of the Leeds game has been set as the 16th of January, at Elland Road too, but these dates are often provisional with matches often rearranged at this level. As ever, there will be full reports of each game on the blog as it happens. Next up, Stoke for the u18s away on Saturday.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

City EDS 3-1 Southampton

This was an intriguing night. The game itself wasn't particularly memorable, but there was a plethora of subplots at play even before kick off; it was Simon Davies' first game in charge of the EDS since Vieira moved to New York, there was the surprise inclusion of Kelechi Iheanacho and Patrick Roberts in the starting eleven, plus the bench contained Erik Sarmiento, a Spanish youth international signed in the summer from Espanyol yet to make his debut. Will Patching started in midfield too, unexpected given the u18s' FA Youth Cup game tonight. The game itself was so-so, an indifferent performance with sporadic moments of individual quality, and it was a scoreline that, in truth, flattered City. Nevertheless, City did start brightly. Bersant Celina reveled in the movement of the experienced front three of Roberts, Iheanacho and Faupala. He played some lovely passes early on, notably picking out Patrick Roberts who was wasteful when played through. It was the Kosovan that broke the deadlock, and it was a peach too. Some nice intricate football saw Iheanacho roll the ball back to Celina twenty yards out, and he placed a perfectly curled shot into the far right corner. The second came courtesy of some neat work down the right, Roberts freeing Iheanacho in the area who squared for Faupala who turned six yards away from goal and finished well.

It should have been a stroll from that point, but some sloppiness and a lack of focus invited Southampton back into the game. After a few half chances had gone begging, usually from problems of City's own making, the away team pulled one back. A late and high challenge lead to a penalty and the Southampton forward, Ryan Seager, sent Angus Gunn the wrong way on the stroke of half-time. The second half was a relative non-event. Southampton had some decent moments, and perhaps should have equalised. The combination of Angus Gunn and Pablo Maffeo frequently came to the rescue, sparing the blushes of their teammates around them who were far too generous in possession. Eventually City confirmed the three points. Angus Gunn brilliantly set Kelechi through on goal, launching it over Southampton's backline and the Nigerian international got to the ball first before lifting the ball over the onrushing keeper. Southampton's defender seemingly recovered to clear it, but it fell straight to Patrick Roberts who drilled home clinically. It distinguished any real hope that the visitors had of grabbing a (probably deserved) equaliser.

Maffeo was the standout. Positioned at centre-back, he was simply outstanding as he strolled out of defence like a seasoned pro, and made he countless excellent last ditch tackles too. How he hasn't made his first team debut yet is beyond comprehension. He just exudes composure and class and he frequently swept up the messes caused by those around him. Plummer was sadly very poor, looking lost and far too hesitant, likewise Smith-Brown who had a day to forget, though he was offered little cover ahead of him from Faupala. Horsfield was functional at right-back, though he's another that perhaps isn't currently quite reaching the level that City demand from their young talent. Gunn behind them made a few excellent saves and was the instigator for the counter attack that lead to the third goal. He remains a brilliant prospect, another surely set for first team football somewhere sooner rather than later. Celina was the pick of the bunch in midfield, though he did fade in the second half. He was at his silky best early doors, dictating proceedings as he went hunting for the ball. His finish was typically Celina and technically perfect. It was a quiet outing for the u18 regular, Will Patching. Promoted in the absence of the Garcias and Bryan, he did little wrong, though mainly just kept things ticking over alongside Glendon without ever really exerting his authority on the game.

Kelechi had an odd game. At no point brilliant, and in truth on the periphery for most of the game, yet he still technically claimed three assists. Not something to be shirked at, I guess. It was great to see the forward involved though. That match sharpness is essential. Sporadic appearances for the first team are fine for his development, but games are crucial. Patrick Roberts being the clearest example - the winger had a pretty poor game. He scored, but very little came off as he ran frequently into traffic or misjudged passes. He needs games, it's clear. He's a wonderful talent, but one that clearly feeds off confidence, and that doesn't come from sitting and watching in the stands. The u19s games are far too infrequent to have any real effect. He can still be with the first team and get minutes at this level. Likewise Kelechi. Hopefully this wasn't a one off for both. Faupala grabbed a goal in a mixed performance. A strong, direct runner - he offered an outlet initially before fading as Southampton found their way back into the game. There was a debut for the new signing, Erik Sarmiento too. He only grabbed ten minutes at left-back though and it was hard to gauge anything of note, though he did whip in a couple of nice crosses. Sinan Bytiqi finally made his long awaited comeback too, and he looked strong and industrious as he tried to make things happen. Intima came on with little time to make impact as the game wound down. Overall, it was a decent three points, if a little unsatisfying. Thankfully, Simon Davies agreed. Next up is the FA Youth Cup, later on tonight. A full preview should be online just before kick off.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

City u18s 7-2 Derby

And to think, I nearly watched the first team instead… this was magnificent. The u18s more than justified the decision to make the trip to the CFA, comprehensively outplaying the midlanders with a phenomenal display of attacking football. It was scintillating from the off, and Derby simply couldn't handle the drive, energy, pace and sheer skill of the forward line of Dilrosun, Buckley, Fernandes and Brahim. A whole host of chances were created and this could have easily ended up double figures as City returned to the top of league on goal difference. It didn't take long for City to break the deadlock, Davenport picking out Buckley over the top who raced onto the lofted through ball before guiding the ball over the onrushing keeper. The second came barely ten minutes later, Joe Coveney rising highest to head home a Brahim corner, and Buckley had his second, and City's third, with half hour on the clock. Stationed at right back for the day, Marcus Wood linked well with Tom Dele-Bashiru before whipping in a delightful cross that Buckley reached before the keeper for an easy finish. The fourth was yet another Joe Coveney strike, firing home the rebound after a mazy Brahim run and shot was blocked into the path of the centre-back. 

It was five before half-time, this time the goal coming from the left-hand side as Dilrosun, a thorn in Derby's side all afternoon, breezed past his marker before drilling home from twenty yards with a thunderbolt of a strike. The whistle went for half-time as the referee momentarily put Derby out of their misery, yet little changed after the interval with City immediately prompting and probing from the kick off. Eventually the sixth came and it was Buckley again, grabbing a hugely deserved hat-trick after Dilrosun was freed down the left after a great cross-field run by Brahim. The dutch winger looked up and squared the ball across for Buckley to fire into the roof of the net. Simple, yet devastatingly effective. Derby, to their credit, kept their heads up throughout, and they pulled one back as Blackshaw was caught a little far too up the field, perhaps understandably given City's relatively trouble free afternoon, and City were made to pay as they broke down the right and played into the middle for an easy finish. The six goal margin was restored not long after, and it came from a piece of individual brilliance goal. Paolo Fernandes, outstanding throughout, picked up the ball, sumptuously left his defender for dead and ran straight towards goal before finishing coolly. Majestic. Derby pulled yet another back, but it felt irrelevant as eventually it finished 7-2.

Matt Smith & Javairo Dilrosun
Individually they were all good, some outstanding, but this felt notable for many reasons. It was a young team, vastly changed from the previous game, and it felt like something of a coming of age for many - Brahim in particular. The sixteen Spanish maestro has found settling into life in the u18s a little tough so far, but here he was simply sensational, repeatedly picking the ball up at the peak of the midfield diamond before spinning away, darting straight at the defence and skipping past challenges at ease. The Messi comparisons suddenly made sense. How he didn't score was beyond me, hitting the bar, having several shots blocked and nearly scoring a magical first time volleyed lob after connecting with a long ball over the top. Fernandes over on the right was equally brilliant, Dilrosun too - both wide men had the beating of their fullbacks all day long and the goal they each picked up was hugely deserved. Buckley was excellent, terrorising the Derby back-line with countless perfectly timed runs, utilising his lightning pace and quick feet to terrific effect. He deserves a call up internationally, and surely it's just a matter of time. Dele-Bashiru was everywhere. The u16 is a monster in this form - all action, power and skill. He made countless challenges in midfield and drove forward repeatedly. Davenport alongside him, too, was his usually precise self, starting attacks from deep with ease.

The centre-back pairing of Latibeaudiere and Coveney, in truth, had little to do in a game that was very much about those playing ahead of them, but they were good when called upon. The former is still only fifteen, and its remarkable considering the composure he exudes. Both him and Coveney strolled through the game, never really getting out of second gear, and the brace for Coveney was just rewards for a competent, mature display. With Duhaney and Bullock both sat out ahead of the u19s UYL game on Tuesday, Marcus Wood stepped in at right back and he did well. Strong in the tackle and consistently on the front foot, he claimed an assist with a delightfully whipped cross from the right, with his weaker foot nonetheless. Blackshaw too provided energy down the left and Haug had no chance with either goal in a game that he was largely a spectator. There was a debut at this level for Matt Smith, the u16s midfielder, and he slotted in seamlessly, as did Luke Bolton, his fellow u16 teammate, as City played the game out in the final moments. Joe Hardy had half hour and nearly had a goal for his efforts too, guiding an effort wide with his first touch. All in all, this was a wonderful day, and it only served to highlight the strength in depth City have at this level. Diallo, Nmecha, Patching, Adarabioyo, Oliver, Kigbu and others all sat out ahead of the Uefa Youth League game on Tuesday, yet the transition was seamless. There's talent in abundance coming through behind them and given the slight dip in form recently, a performance of this magnitude was long overdue and highly welcome. Next up, Tuesday, as the u19s play Borussia Monchengladbach.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

City EDS 1-2 Atheltic Bilbao

A disappointing night at the CFA. City crashed out of the Premier League International Cup at the first stage, the defeat condemning Vieira's men to a limp group stage exit as their defence of last season's title came to a premature end. In truth, City beat themselves. An unremarkable Bilbao were gifted victory as two wholly preventable goals, both atrociously defended, saw them take the three points despite being out-played for the vast majority of the match. It was a confident start for the EDS too, Ambrose spurning two excellent chances within the first five minutes, and there was decent efforts from Garcia and Celina, yet it remained level at the break - City perhaps lacking a cutting edge that their efforts had deserved. The longer the game went on the more predictable the outcome came. There was a creeping sense of inevitably that City would rue the wasted chances, and so it proved. Bilbao scored not longer after the restart, and it was entirely preventable. City have mistakes in them at this level, and their commitment to the passing style often does cause problems when it's not at its most fluent. This was one such occasion - a flimsy pass across the backline was intercepted, Adarabioyo lost out, perhaps unconvincingly, in a 50-50, and Bilbao broke through to take the lead.

To City's credit, there was an immediate fightback. The one true moment of quality in the game saw City level quickly after. A double one-two between Celina and Nemane, the former setting the young winger away down the left, saw the ball squared back once again to the Kosovan international who finished with nonchalance, caressing the ball into the far corner past the out-stretched hands of the Spanish keeper. That should have been the platform that City built on, and half chances for Garcia and Nmecha offered hope, yet it didn't happen and the game lost not long after City switched to 3-5-2. Injuries and a desperate need for a winner, with City's hopes of progressing resting on victory, saw Vieira switch to a more top-heavy formation. Faupala went through the middle alongside Ambrose, Nmecha and Nemane lined up out wide, and Garcia and Glendon prompted and probed as Smith-Brown moved into midfield, sitting ahead of the back three. Sadly, it proved a disastrous move. Defensively we fell to pieces. Gaps appeared everywhere and twice numerous Athletic Bilbao ran through on goal, more or less unchallenged, before finally the real damage was done. A cross from the right saw the simplest of unmarked headers fired home as their forward drifted off Maffeo and Adarabioyo far, far too easily.

There was to be no glorious fight-back and despite a bit of last-gasp pressing, the game was lost. Out at the group stages, and despite some nice football, it was probably deserved. This is a talented team, but it lacked cohesion and spirit. Individually there was some nice moments, perhaps Faupala coming away from this with the most credit. The French forward arrived as a striker but he's recently found something of a niche out wide offering a powerful, direct option as one of the two wide forwards. Ambrose was all action, as ever, but his composure deserted him in front of goal - notably towards the end of the game where he decided to try and bring the ball down after a delightfully whipped cross from Nemane, despite only being five yards out when a first time finish would have been much more suited. Nemane had some decent moments, his assist the highlight, but he flitted in and out of the game. Likewise Celina, the goal being a highlight, as was his overall delivery but he perhaps was hindered by a lack of options as the relatively static forward line struggled to find space around him. Garcia came on mid way through the first half, replacing Kean Bryan who unfortunately hobbled off after picking up a knock. The young Spaniard was encouraging. He's struggled a little this season, perhaps so far not living up to his preseason form, and though not everything came off his attitude was good. There was ideas and energy and more of the same will see him play himself into form.

Defensively it wasn't the EDS's best. Terrible, if I'm being entirely honest. Tosin Adarabioyo, usually a calm, consistent presence, was sloppy in possession and he was bypassed far too easily for their goal. He has higher standards than this and it proved to be an evening to forget for both him and Pablo Maffeo, another guilty of ball-watching as Bilbao scored their second. Plummer alongside them was decent at best, and Smith-Brown was functional at left-back before, once again, proving just functional in a shift as a holding midfielder. Glendon scurried about, yet couldn't really get a grip on the game, neither could Nemcha as he struggled in his cameo. In the u18s striker's defence, he was positioned out wide, despite clearly being a centre-forward, and he understandably looked a little lost. Gunn had a relatively quiet game, despite picking the ball out of the back of the net twice. It was a disappointing performance for a team that has yet to reach the level they're capable of. The team is a little unbalanced compared to last year's eleven, admittedly, but Vieira will expect more. Perhaps the lingering departure of the world cup winner to New York City hasn't helped, but that'd be an easy excuse, and one none of the players would take either. Next up for the EDS, and a chance for redemption for most involved, is the u19s final UEFA Youth League group game as Borussia Monchengladbach arrive at the CFA. Before that the u18s face Derby County at the CFA this Saturday.