With Manchester City being drawn against lower-league opposition in the Carabao Cup in Oxford Untied on Tuesday evening, Pep Guardiola had the opportunity to give some of his highly-rated youngsters some well-deserved game time. Phil Foden, Brahim Diaz and Aro Muric were the three players all chosen to start in the 3rd Round Carabao Cup game with summer acquisition Adrián Bernabé given 10 minutes in the closing stages. In this analysis I will look in detail at how each player got on against at the Kassam Stadium.
Starting from back to front, 19-year-old Aro Muric deputised for Ederson. Muric has recently declared for Kosovo and was experiencing his first full 90 minutes for the senior side having been recalled from a loan spell at NAC Breda following the injury to Claudio Bravo. Muric is an imposing goalkeeper who is also technically adept, something which would appeal to Guardiola.
Given the nature of the opposition, Muric didn’t have to make a save against Oxford with the League One side failing to register a shot on target. However, Muric was kept involved in the game with City frequently passing the ball to him whilst he was also active in sweeping up balls that were launched in behind or coming to claim crosses, corners and long throws.
Below of a few examples of Muric’s involvement in the game.
Muric mostly looked calm and composed when rushing out from his goal to sweep up overhit through balls. As seen in the above image he was always very capable at negating Oxford’s press with clever a clever ball into John Stones while under pressure from three Oxford forwards.
He did have one hairy moment from an Oxford long throw. (As seen below) Muric’s starting position was very positive. He wasn’t glued to his goal line and knew that if he was able to come and use his considerable height to claim the ball the Oxford attack would be over. However, he seemed as though he had made the decision to come no matter whether the ball was there to be won or not. As was the case here, Muric came steaming out and stumbled into a group of bodies in front of him with the ball drifting over his head, luckily Otamendi was on hand to clear the danger and I think this can be put down to youthful exuberance more than anything.
Muric looks as though he will be a capable deputy for Ederson this season, but it will be important for the shot-stopper to get as many minutes as he can at senior level as was clearly the idea with his loan move to NAC Breda. It is likely that we will see more of Muric this season in both domestic cup seasons and a move back on loan will probably be in the offing next season.
With the arrival of Riyad Mahrez in the summer, game time for Brahim Diaz has potentially been further reduced for the young Spaniard who is rated as one of the more exciting young players at City. Having been in and around the first team squad since the days of Manuel Pellegrini, Diaz will be eager to grab as many opportunities as possible in this stacked Manchester City side.
Diaz operated on the left-hand side of City’s midfield and looked very dangerous whenever he received the ball in advanced areas. His close control and link play with David Silva caused problems for the right-back of Oxford up until he was forced off through injury in the 55th minute.
Below are some examples of the dangerous positions and movements that Diaz made while he was on the pitch.
I think that Guardiola will be impressed with what he saw from Diaz. The wide-man worked incredibly hard when not in position and was a constant threat in the 1st half, arguably City’s most positive player. Diaz even managed to grab himself an assist when his shot was parried to Gabriel Jesus who headed in from close range. As with Muric, for the time being it looks as though Diaz will have to settle for starts in the domestic cup competitions, however with rumours of a possible contract dispute between Diaz and the club, the young Spanish midfielder may have to decide whether he wants to wait for his chance or follow in the footsteps of Jadon Sancho and find pastures new away from City.
Phil Foden seems to be coming on leaps and bounds every time he pulls on a Manchester City shirt. He was instrumental in the community shield victory against Chelsea where he played from the start and he could have very easily grabbed his first Manchester City goal off the bench away at Cardiff. As it happens he only had to wait a matter of days to register his first goal for his boyhood club as he netted City’s third against Oxford. For me, Foden was the payer of the night on Tuesday. He showed incredible maturity throughout the game, using the ball intelligently and frequently picking up dangerous positions when City were on the attack.
Below are some examples of Foden’s quality on the ball and also his footballing intelligence from Tuesday night.
Foden exhibits his close control in the opening seconds of the game (above) as he attracts towards him two Oxford defenders and then quickly drops his shoulder and turns into open space leaving the two for dead.
He showed off his range of passing with a delightful lofted through ball (above) for the onrushing Brahim Diaz who didn’t have to break stride as the ball dropped in front of him, the following the strike from Diaz was parried to Gabriel Jesus who headed home City’s first goal on the night. Foden hugely responsible for the goal.
Foden’s awareness of space at such a young age is very impressive. (above) Gabriel Jesus has sucked in both centre-halves as the on-rushing Danilo has attracted the attention of the Oxford full-back. Foden recognises where space is and darts in behind the defence.
Again Foden highlights his game intelligence (below). Riyad Mahrez has the ball on the opposite side of the field but instead of moving towards the ball in order to be involved Foden cleverly hangs out at the far post as the two more central players drag the 3 Oxford defenders towards the near post. Foden sneaks in at the back post and was unlucky not to score. Foden’s highlight reel moment came with his delightful through ball on the counter-attack for Riyad Mahrez, leading to the second goal. Foden timed the pass perfectly with the exact right amount of weight on the ball. Again a runner from a Foden pass didn’t have to break stride and finished the ball calmly.
Twice towards the end of the game, Foden found himself in-behind the right-back for Oxford, who at this point in the game was pushing high-up the field looking to get the League One side back into the game. Foden recognised where space was and was twice found by Raheem Sterling in space. His first effort was superbly saved by the Oxford goalkeeper but he wasn’t to be denied a second time as he drilled the ball across the keeper with his first touch to secure his first Manchester City goal.
With an already very young squad at City the future looks bright, if Pep Guardiola can include the likes of Foden, Diaz, Muric and young Bernarbé as much as possible, City’s future will be secure for the next 10 years. Tuesday night was only the beginning.