Manchester City became just the second English side to win all six group stage matches in the Champions League this week as they secured a 2-3 win over Crvena zvezda.
Despite a heavily rotated squad, that at one point featured five academy products, Pep Guardiola’s side rarely looked in danger as they cruised to a record eight consecutive Champions League wins, and extended their unbeaten run in European games to 20.
Manchester City grabbed the lead on 19 minutes when debutant Micah Hamilton announced himself to the world. The 20-year-old received a pass from Matheus Nunes on the edge of the box, beat two players to give himself enough space to score an excellent goal from a tight angle.
Crvena zvezda responded well in the second-half, with the defending Serbian league champions having the home crowd behind them and an intense press forced Stefan Ortega Moreno to make a few poor passes. If it wasn’t for some overzealous tackling and some favourable refereeing decisions, Crvena zvezda could have grabbed an equaliser within the first 10 minutes of the second 45.
However it was City who would instead double their lead through a calm Oscar Bobb finish. The Norwegian received the ball from Rico Lewis 40 yards from goal, immediately driving towards goal. Within seconds, the 20-year-old beat his defender, moved inside in the penalty area and found a yard of space to curl home his first ever competitive goal for the club.
Crvena zvezda refused to back down, and just 15 minutes later In-Beom Hwang grabbed a goal back with an excellent finish that left Stefan Ortega stunned. City nabbed their third in the 85th minute, when Micah Hamilton split two defenders with a lovely bit of skill and was taken down to draw the penalty.
Surprisingly, the ball was handed to Kalvin Phillips to take the penalty, and the midfielder did a fine job to score his first ever goal for the club. Following the third goal, Crvena zvezda upped the tempo to the highest it had been all match. A few chances created, some chaos in front of goal, and even a VAR check for a potential penalty, all before they headed in their second.
While it was yet another example of this Manchester City squad being unable to remain composed in the closing moments and prevent late goals, an overall positive night had plenty to takeaway and discuss.
Here are five things we learned from the contest in Belgrade this week!
Micah Hamilton has the potential to be the next breakthrough talent
There likely has not been a better debut from a youth player during the Pep Guardiola era at Manchester City than what 20-year-old academy graduate Micah Hamilton accomplished on Wednesday night in Belgrade.
Despite battling injury issues, Hamilton has shined at both the under-18 and under-23 level. However, success within the academy has rarely translated to guaranteed first-team minutes. From Brahim Diaz, to Felix Nemecha, and Romeo Lavia, there have been plenty of promising young players to never break through to being regular members of Manchester City first-team.
It remains to be seen what becomes of Micah Hamilton’s career as a Manchester City player. But few players before have excelled at both the right and left-wing in the same match, and a knack for goalscoring certainly cannot hurt either.
Oscar Bobb continues to show he is deserving of more minutes
While Micah Hamilton will steal the headlines for his impressive debut, Oscar Bobb continues to impress in his limited minutes this season.
The Norwegian’s composure on the ball, close control and decision making has been apparent in every game he has featured in so far this season. It is a feature that has separated him and Rico Lewis from most of the other academy graduates who have tried to climb into the first team.
It is hard to imagine Oscar Bobb becoming an ‘FPP tool’ like so many of the former academy teammates before him, but unless he is featured more soon under Pep Guardiola, there remains a chance he falls down that path.
Matheus Nunes highlights Pep’s next tactical tweak
It is hard to imagine, but Rodri is the only midfield signing that Manchester City have bought in the past seven seasons that has cost more than Matheus Nunes.
Since joining in the summer of 2016, Pep Guardiola had only signed Ilkay Gundogan, Bernardo Silva, Rodri and Kalvin Phillips as central midfielders. With Gundogan gone, and Phillips likely to leave in January, Nunes will be expected to become a key member of the squad soon.
The 25-year-old is a slightly different profile than what one would stereotypically expect from a Pep Guardiola midfielder. Instead of being a metronomic passer, the former Wolves man is more of a ball carrier, and he consistently showed his ability to carry and progress the ball in his fourth Champions League start this season.
Kalvin Phillips had his swan song moment
Unfortunately it just has not worked out for Kalvin Phillips at Manchester City.
Since joining prior to last season, the former Leeds United midfielder has rarely, if ever, played any meaningful minutes under Pep Guardiola and appears set to leave in the January window either on a temporary or permanent agreement.
Despite all of that, Pep Guardiola and the rest of the Manchester City squad continue to say nothing but positive things about him. And the outcry of love the player received both on the field and on social media after the game was get another example of that.
While he may feature in the upcoming FIFA Club World Cup, his potential last moment scoring a penalty he did not draw, in the closing minutes of a dead rubber Champions League group stage match perfectly sums up the Kalvin Phillips experience.
The CFA remains one of the best investments in the history of the club
A LOT has been written about Manchester City’s spending over the years.
From artificially inflating transfer fees, to disproportionate net spending (just disregard the past five seasons if you’re trying to make that point), to forever ruining the competitive balance sport.
It was commonplace during the early days of the Sheikh Mansour era for few, if any, academy players to feature in Manchester City squads. Now it’s the opposite. Five academy players featured in last night’s game, and there are academy graduates all over Europe.
The under-21 squad has won three consecutive Premier League 2 titles, and the under-18s have won four. The CFA will turn 10 years old next year, and the hefty £200 million investment has more than paid off.
At worst, the academy can be used as a tool to increase outgoing transfer sales and fund first team recruitment, at best it’s the English La Masia. Regardless, it’s clear at this point that City’s academy is comfortably the best in the world right now.
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