At under-21 level, the result is not all important, it’s the development, and the lessons you can learn from the performances that matter most. The 2-1 defeat suffered by Manchester City’s Elite Developmental Squad on Saturday against Liverpool will not hurt in terms of the result, but the cruel manner in which they lost the points and the way they struggled to break down their opponents defence will worry Patrick Vieira more than the actual result.
Before the game, Liverpool sat six points behind City, sitting second bottom of the Under-21 Premier League. However, they started the game much brighter and controlled the early play.
It showed that there was no real point in paying too much attention to the league positions. Players change in and out of the sides’ game-by-game. Either loaned out for experience, or pushed up to the first team, the landscape is always changing.
Liverpool had only won three out of their nine league games, but they instantly looked more of a challenge than City had faced against either Schalke or Leicester City. Vieira made six changes from the side that lost 3-2 in the Premier League International Cup, with a whole new front three tasked with breaking down Liverpool’s defence.
Michael Beale’s side came out playing a back three, the exact same formation that Leicester used to frustrate the home side on Monday. It worked to perfection.
With the full-backs defending deep, City’s front three struggled to find space to create chances and Lawrence Vigouroux in the Liverpool net was rarely troubled in the opening 45 minutes.
The away side had settled the quicker of the two and their eye-catching duo of Jerome Sinclair and Harry Wilson were causing the City back four problems. After just 17 minutes Wilson came inside onto his left foot, he found Sinclair and the 18-year-old jinked onto his right-foot before smashing an unstoppable shot off the crossbar.
That was a warning, but the City defence failed to take note. Sinclair turned provider on 20 minutes. The forward powered past the City defence, got his head up, slid the ball to Wilson, and the Welsh international tucked it under Angus Gunn to put the away side 1-0 up.
City tried to hit back, but neither Barker on the left nor Bersant Celina on the right could give the almost invisible Denzeil Boadu the service the centre-forward craved.
Given a stern word by Vieira at half-time, City came out more assertive for the second half, but the Liverpool defence was holding strong. For all the nice midfield build-up coming from Olivier Ntcham and Jack Byrne, the trio of Dan Cleary, Joe Maguire and Jordan Williams seemed to have all the answers.
With just 20 minutes to go, City’s persistence paid off. Celina, who had been quiet, gained some space on the right. His pass slipped through to Byrne left the defence exposed and the Irish midfielder calmly slotted the ball under Vigouroux.
It was the least City deserved for the way they had commanded most of the second half, now they went looking for a winner.
Both sides went looking for a winner, with neither side was happy to share the points, giving the on-looking 1,000 or so City fans an entertaining last 10 minutes at the Academy Stadium. However, it was the away side that would have the last laugh.
Pushing through the centre, Liverpool got the ball to Sergi Canos inside the penalty area. Desperate to stop him, legs went flying in, Canos went down and referee Ricky Wotton had no choice but to point to the spot with only two minutes left on the clock.
Substitute Daniel Trickett-Smith, only just on the pitch, stepped up and fired his spot kick to the keeper’s left. Gunn had gone the right way, but the penalty had too much on it for the young ‘keeper to keep it out.
On the balance of play, a point apiece would have been fair, but Liverpool were much better defensively throughout the game and limited the chances City created.
Going forward, Beale will expect more from his midfield, they were unable to assert any dominance against City’s 4-3-3, but more worryingly for Vieira, his side has struggled when faced with a back three and two strong full-backs.
Liverpool’s attacking duo of Wilson and Sinclair impressed, but the goal-scorer had to go off injured in the second half. The Anfield club will hope it’s not serious as they look to climb up the Premier League table. They are now only three points behind City, with two games in hand.
Next up for Liverpool is Sunderland at home, a chance to move another place up the table. City will be wary of taking things easy away at 11th place Norwich City. Positives for both sides, but ultimately a cruel lesson for Vieira and his EDS team.
Manchester City: Gunn - Bossaerts (Maffeo), Bryan (Drury), Adarabioyo, Angelino - Glendon (c), Byrne, Ntcham - Celina, Barker, Boadu (Pozo)
Liverpool: Vigouroux - Cleary, Williams, Maguire - McLaughlin, O'Hanlon (Trickett-Smith), Randall, Smith - Brannagan - Wilson (Canos), Sinclair (Chirivella)