I want to say thank you to all of the academy – Guardiola hails Man City youngsters

By Sports Desk September 21, 2021

Pep Guardiola thanked Manchester City's academy after handing debuts to five youngsters in Tuesday's EFL Cup win over Wycombe Wanderers.

City, who have won the EFL Cup in each of the last four seasons, stormed to a 6-1 victory over their third-tier opposition at the Etihad Stadium.

Wycombe did take a shock lead through Brandon Hanlan, but Kevin De Bruyne's strike swiftly restored parity before Riyad Mahrez and the excellent Phil Foden put City in control.

Ferran Torres, Mahrez and substitute Cole Palmer – another academy graduate – got in on the act after the break.

All four of City's defenders were debutants, with each player born after the turn of the century, while holding midfielder Romeo Lavia was also making his senior bow.

Guardiola had said ahead of the tie he had no alternative but to call on City's youngsters, and he was not let down by what he saw.

"I am just going to say thank you very much to all the academy," he said.

"They have many good players, not just one or two. All of them are incredibly well-educated people. Thanks to their families. We have talented players. We can count on them absolutely."

With so much inexperience in the side, Foden – playing in midfield – was seen as an older head, despite being aged just 21.

Having had a delayed start to his campaign after sustaining an injury during Euro 2020, Foden clicked fully into gear with a hugely impressive display.

His goal was a venomous strike from long range that was too good for Wycombe goalkeeper David Stockdale, with the playmaker then providing the assist for Torres' goal having earlier teed up De Bruyne's leveller.

Foden had four attempts, while only Mahrez created as many chances (seven).

"Of course, definitely [impressed]," Guardiola said of Foden's display.

"Phil was injured for two months after the national team. Phil doesn't need many games to get his rhythm because he lives for football 24 hours a day. He is sharp."

De Bruyne also played the full 90 minutes, with Guardiola saying: "Kevin needs time for a proper pre-season. He was injured in the Champions League final and for the national team.

"He needs his rhythm to be fit. That's why it was so good for him to play 90 minutes today. Knowing he is not in the right condition. Now is the moment for Kevin to start to be ready.

"He has not been running back like he runs forward. Today he did it for the first time. He will be back because he is an incredible player."

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    Grealish has featured in 15 of City's 21 matches since joining the club from Villa in a £100m British record transfer from Aston Villa in August, starting 13 of those.

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    "He has started perfectly," Guardiola said of Grealish at Tuesday's pre-match news conference. 

    "It's easy because of our English players and the other guys here are nice people. He's played good but needs more time to settle." 

    Grealish has scored two goals and assisted three more this term, while his tally of seven big chances created is the joint-most of any City player alongside Joao Cancelo.

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    He is also attempting fewer dribbles (3.39 compared to 4.53) for City and is being fouled less frequently (down from 4.53 to 2.66), a sign that he is getting at opponents less.

    Guardiola puts down that down to the contrasting styles of City and next opponents Villa.

    "If you analyse games, he hasn't played badly. The way we play and our expectations are different to Villa," Guardiola said.

    "He did incredibly well at Villa. His commitment to the club to stay and get promoted was amazing. 

    "Now he has come back from the international break injured. Hopefully he comes back and step by step finds his form. 

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    Providing an update on City's other recent absentees, Guardiola confirmed Kevin De Bruyne has returned a negative coronavirus test but has yet to train.

    Phil Foden remains doubtful having trained only once, while Ferran Torres is a long-term absentee and Aymeric Laporte is suspended.

    "All the people who have had coronavirus say it drains them and Kevin needs time to show his form," Guardiola said. 

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    "The rest, we have just 14 or 15 players. But I trust this squad a lot. If one is out, another comes in.

    "December is the toughest month of the year for us and we are in trouble because we have so few players available."

    Wednesday's match at Villa Park will be the first managerial encounter between Guardiola and new Villa boss Steven Gerrard.

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    Gerrard has won his first two Villa games since arriving from Rangers – no manager in the club's history has won their first three matches – and Guardiola is expecting a tough test in the Midlands.

    "He's managing in the Premier League, so he is already a good manager," Guardiola said. "I don't believe there's a manager in the Premier League, even the Championship, who isn't good. 

    "They can train good players in good clubs to punch for the titles. There are incredible managers in all aspects and maybe they win titles because they are lucky to train a good team.

    "I can imagine with a new manager everybody steps forward for training sessions and methodology to convince the manager. 

    "They have had two good results against tough teams like Brighton and Crystal Palace. It will be the toughest game possible tomorrow."

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    The league leaders may be without Messi for the clash at Parc des Princes, though, after the former Barcelona forward, along with Leandro Paredes, did not train on Tuesday due to a stomach bug.

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    The 33-year-old has scored 34 goals for Madrid this calendar year and was recalled to the France squad in May after a six-year exile.

    Benzema's combined 46 goals and assists in 2021 has been bettered only by Erling Haaland (48), Kylian Mbappe (51) and Robert Lewandowski (59) from Europe's top five leagues when taking all club competitions into account.

    The Madrid striker finished behind Euro 2020 winner Jorginho, Lewandowski and record seven-time winner Lionel Messi at Monday's Ballon d'Or ceremony, with N'Golo Kante completing the top five.

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    Benzema and Vinicius are in contention to start Wednesday's clash with Athletic as Madrid aim to make it five league wins in a row and maintain a four-point lead at the top.

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