There might only be one positive to take from the 5-1 thrashing we’ve just received at Chelsea: the performance of the youth team players. On a day where City were forced into playing perhaps the weakest team since the takeover, six youth products started the game, with a further two coming off the bench, and despite their inexperience were the players who gave the strongest showing.
Now, it’s those eight – Tosin Adarabioyo, Manu and Aleix Garcia, Bersant Celina, David Faupala, Kelechi Iheanacho, Cameron Humphreys and Brandon Barker – who can be proud of their performance against a very strong Chelsea team. Indeed, the biggest disappointments came in the form of the so-called ‘experienced’ players, such as Martin Demichelis and Willy Caballero, who can both be marked down as responsible for multiple goals each.
I’ll admit, I hadn’t been confident for days coming into this game. We knew the challenge we were facing, with Pellegrini making it clear that he would be forced into playing an inexperienced lineup – a Champions League tie in Ukraine and a Capital One Cup final rightfully taking priority – and my main concern was the confidence hit that the players would take with a heavy loss.
Needless to say, it’s hard to imagine any of them being unduly concerned after a performance like Sunday’s. Many of the players showed confidence beyond their years and held the team together when more experienced partners let them down. They are the reason City are still able to take hope from the FA Cup drubbing, both for the rest of the season, and beyond.
Adarabioyo, who’s risen through the ranks quickly to become a regular for the under-21 team and in the England youth squads, had possibly the most difficult challenge of any of the City players on that pitch. He was set up alongside Demichelis, as a more experienced and – presumably – steadying influence, but that scenario was turned effectively on its head. Tosin looked calm, professional, and hardly put a foot wrong while his partner constantly stood and allowed the Chelsea defence to run rings round him. He could be held accountable for at least two goals, as well as giving away a penalty, but Adarabioyo has staked his claim as City’s other defining young central defender.
Further up, Aleix Garcia put in a strong performance on his full debut, having got on the bench for the last two league games against Leicester and Tottenham. Much like Adarabioyo, he looked as if he’d been bedded in the team for a substantial amount of time, and never stopped running, always hounding the Chelsea midfield. Given the impressive performances from the stars upfront, Garcia’s display has been somewhat unsung, but based on this he has a very bright future in City’s central midfield. And with Yaya and potentially Fernandinho moving on sooner rather than later, his chance may not be too far away.
Unfortunately, we didn’t see as much from Bersant Celina as we’ve glimpsed in the cameo appearances he’s made in the league, including an assist against Leicester. He struggled to get into the game for the first half, with much of City’s attacking play going down the right and (if lesser so) through the middle. He was eventually removed as the third goal went in, to be replaced by Brandon Barker, who looked sharp when he was able to get on the ball and could have set up a goal late on – not that it really mattered by then.
Manu Garcia also impressed, building on the times he’s managed to get into the team earlier in the year, also in the cup competitions. He looks comfortable on the ball, and is able to find a good pass. You get the feeling there’s very much a place in this team for him, should he continue to develop. He’s been likened to David Silva in the past, and Pep Guardiola will almost certainly mould him into doing a similar role once he arrives and takes over from Pellegrini. Garcia will probably end the day as being the highest-rated of the players who impressed at Stamford Bridge, but you’d probably say that regardless of that, these six were the best six City players on the pitch.
The surprise inclusion of the day – for me, anyway – was David Faupala from the start. It’s rare to see us starting two upfront even when we’ve got a fit squad, so to do it with such a youth-centred team was strange, but definitely paid off. Faupala and Iheanacho linked up sublimely, with both giving convincing performances. Questions can be asked whether Kelechi meant his assist to the Frenchman, and Faupala certainly didn’t mean to score, but it shows a fantastic attitude for him to get in and around the six-yard box just in case. That’s something City lack at times, and to have it today ended up paying off. There’s a lesson to be taken from that.
It was also especially pleasing to see Brandon Barker and Cameron Humphreys take to the field from the bench. The two are among the top prospects the club have to offer and it was refreshing to see three Mancunian’s on the pitch at the same time.
At the end of the day, the result was disappointing, but the performances of the youngsters on the field is a big positive to take. I’m extremely hopeful we can see some of them play some more during the rest of the season – Aleix Garcia wouldn’t go amiss if we continue to struggle to contain lay in midfield – and given we’re unlikely to win anything if we lose at Wembley next weekend, it could be a good opportunity to integrate the biggest talents more, ready for Pep’s arrival. We need to ensure we get Champions League football, of course we do, but based off the showing as Stamford Bridge, there’s no reason why these youth graduates can’t help us do that.