Manchester City Youth Players Poised for 1st-Team Action Next Season
Manchester City easily have the deepest squad in the Premier League. Going beyond that, though, we see loads more talent waiting in the wings in the club's youth ranks.
City's Elite Development Squad, under the guidance of former player Patrick Vieira, had quite a fantastic season. They finished fourth in the U21 Premier League and qualified for the playoffs, where they lost to Chelsea on penalties.
Vieira's charges also made it to the quarterfinals of the UEFA Youth League, narrowly losing to eventual runners-up Benfica at that stage. Meanwhile, the U18s won the North Division of their age-group league but fell 1-0 to Everton in the playoff finals.
City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak spoke in his postseason interview of how impressed he has been with Vieira's work with the EDS as well as the youth setup as a whole.
There are plenty of reasons to agree with him.
Part of his and Sheikh Mansour's vision for developing the club centers around growing the academy, and that's coming to fruition. The level of talent continues to increase, and the results are coming along with it. We could easily see some of these young stars emerge as legitimate first-team options—some already have.
Looking forward to next season, let's examine a few EDS players who look likely to break into Manuel Pellegrini's squad. For consideration, players must be on this squad list provided by City's site.
One notable name missing here is that of John Guidetti. The 22-year-old Swede is already listed as a first-teamer, though that's a bit of a stretch. Truthfully, Guidetti's first-team opportunities at City went out the window with his freak injury issues two seasons ago.
When he was ready to get back in action, Roberto Mancini never gave him a chance. Indeed, his unsuccessful loan stay at Stoke this winter led to criticism—per Yahoo Sports—from no higher a power than Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Moving on to better news…
Karim Rekik returns to City this summer fresh off a loan spell at PSV in Holland. The young defender made 25 appearances in Eredivisie play as the Eindhoven side finished fourth and featured six times in European competitions.
Such solid work earned him a call-up to Louis van Gaal's 30-man national squad ahead of the World Cup.
At the very least, he will bring back with him an almost full season of first-team experience—he sat out a spell through injury—giving him a leg up on other young hopefuls.
Much talk continues around City's chase of defensive reinforcements, with Roma stopper Mehdi Benatia the latest target, according to the Manchester Evening News. The move would be an alternative to signing Porto's France international Eliaquim Mangala, who may join former Porto boss Jose Mourinho at Chelsea as a replacement for PSG-bound David Luiz.
Having Rekik around would be a wise move for Pellegrini. With an injury-riddled Matija Nastasic and aging Martin Demichelis the competition to partner Vincent Kompany, having a young and strong presence as depth is invaluable, especially considering the hectic nature of an English champion's schedule—the league, two domestic cups and Europe.
Expect Rekik to be part of Pellegrini's rotation, though he might just miss the cut for City's reduced Champions League roster. We should certainly see plenty of him in the preseason tour of the United States in July.
The young man known as "Rony" is surely not an unfamiliar face for City fans.
The Portugal youth international became City's youngest-ever goalscorer in an FA Cup win over Watford in January 2013 and has done nothing but impress since. He was named City's inaugural Academy Player of the Year that season and captained Vieira's EDS this past campaign.
Perhaps the highlight of his season came when he bagged a hat-trick in UEFA Youth League play against Bayern Munich.
He scored the opener in City's friendly win over Al Ain a couple of weeks ago, yet another notch in the belt of this young dynamo. With a fantastic season now behind him, his future is looking brighter.
We've already seen what Lopes is capable of when given a chance with the senior team. And after Lopes' superb season wearing the armband for the youth squad, it would seem as though his Premier League debut is not too far away.
So while he'll likely spend a decent chunk of his time with the EDS, Lopes is perfectly positioned to regularly crack Pellegrini's plans.
Emyr Huws is another name that shouldn't be unfamiliar for City fans. The 20-year-old from Llanelli, Wales, has been in City's youth system for several years now, making his first-team debut in the FA Cup replay against Blackburn in January.
Shortly thereafter, he was sent on loan to Championship side Birmingham City, where he spent the rest of his season. While Birmingham barely avoided relegation, Huws made his mark in his short spell, notching the club's goal of the season.
Seriously, just watch this strike. 35 yards out, from nothing. Birmingham would lose that game, but they surely gained a new cult hero in the process.
Huws can also add Wales international to his growing CV, playing the whole 90 minutes in a March friendly against Iceland while filling in for an injured Aaron Ramsey. Wales won that match 3-1 thanks to Gareth Bale, but the young midfielder's performance surely did not go unnoticed.
A growing international reputation, first-team experience in England's professional scene and a wicked left foot: The ingredients are in place for Huws to see time under Pellegrini. Now, all he needs is the opportunity.
It surely won't be too long until he gets it, and he should get it regularly from here on out.
We've covered a defender and two midfielders already, so why not move on to forwards? EDS leading scorer Jordi Hiwula fits the bill just fine. The England youth international notched 12 goals in league play, helping the side reach the heights they did this season.
He regularly featured alongside Devante Cole—son of former City striker Andrew—at youth level, and his performances were rewarded with a substitute appearance against Al Ain. In Abu Dhabi, he partnered Stevan Jovetic up top.
Not a bad step up in quality there.
And he made an impression on the Montenegrin. After winning a penalty with a nice run, he talked his more experienced mate into letting him take the penalty. As we see in the picture above, he converted it confidently to mark a special moment for the youngster.
Looking ahead, you have to wonder if the injury histories of Jovetic and Sergio Aguero make Pellegrini think about striking depth over the summer. Edin Dzeko enjoyed a stellar season, but Alvaro Negredo had, well, only half a stellar season. His stunning dip in form came after his own brief injury layoff, though.
That hectic schedule can cause some real issues for managers if they're not careful with squad rotation. Should some of the strikers need rest to prepare for bigger matches, it wouldn't be surprising to see Hiwula crack the squad in cup matches more than once.
An official first-team debut may not be too far away.
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