A disappointing night at the CFA. City crashed out of the Premier League International Cup at the first stage, the defeat condemning Vieira’s men to a limp group stage exit as their defence of last season’s title came to a premature end. In truth, City beat themselves. An unremarkable Bilbao were gifted victory as two wholly preventable goals, both atrociously defended, saw them take the three points despite being out-played for the vast majority of the match. It was a confident start for the EDS too, Ambrose spurning two excellent chances within the first five minutes, and there was decent efforts from Garcia and Celina, yet it remained level at the break – City perhaps lacking a cutting edge that their efforts had deserved. The longer the game went on the more predictable the outcome came. There was a creeping sense of inevitably that City would rue the wasted chances, and so it proved. Bilbao scored not longer after the restart, and it was entirely preventable. City have mistakes in them at this level, and their commitment to the passing style often does cause problems when it’s not at its most fluent. This was one such occasion – a flimsy pass across the backline was intercepted, Adarabioyo lost out, perhaps unconvincingly, in a 50-50, and Bilbao broke through to take the lead.
To City’s credit, there was an immediate fightback. The one true moment of quality in the game saw City level quickly after. A double one-two between Celina and Nemane, the former setting the young winger away down the left, saw the ball squared back once again to the Kosovan international who finished with nonchalance, caressing the ball into the far corner past the out-stretched hands of the Spanish keeper. That should have been the platform that City built on, and half chances for Garcia and Nmecha offered hope, yet it didn’t happen and the game lost not long after City switched to 3-5-2. Injuries and a desperate need for a winner, with City’s hopes of progressing resting on victory, saw Vieira switch to a more top-heavy formation. Faupala went through the middle alongside Ambrose, Nmecha and Nemane lined up out wide, and Garcia and Glendon prompted and probed as Smith-Brown moved into midfield, sitting ahead of the back three. Sadly, it proved a disastrous move. Defensively we fell to pieces. Gaps appeared everywhere and twice numerous Athletic Bilbao ran through on goal, more or less unchallenged, before finally the real damage was done. A cross from the right saw the simplest of unmarked headers fired home as their forward drifted off Maffeo and Adarabioyo far, far too easily.
There was to be no glorious fight-back and despite a bit of last-gasp pressing, the game was lost. Out at the group stages, and despite some nice football, it was probably deserved. This is a talented team, but it lacked cohesion and spirit. Individually there was some nice moments, perhaps Faupala coming away from this with the most credit. The French forward arrived as a striker but he’s recently found something of a niche out wide offering a powerful, direct option as one of the two wide forwards. Ambrose was all action, as ever, but his composure deserted him in front of goal – notably towards the end of the game where he decided to try and bring the ball down after a delightfully whipped cross from Nemane, despite only being five yards out when a first time finish would have been much more suited. Nemane had some decent moments, his assist the highlight, but he flitted in and out of the game. Likewise Celina, the goal being a highlight, as was his overall delivery but he perhaps was hindered by a lack of options as the relatively static forward line struggled to find space around him. Garcia came on mid way through the first half, replacing Kean Bryan who unfortunately hobbled off after picking up a knock. The young Spaniard was encouraging. He’s struggled a little this season, perhaps so far not living up to his preseason form, and though not everything came off his attitude was good. There was ideas and energy and more of the same will see him play himself into form.
Defensively it wasn’t the EDS’s best. Terrible, if I’m being entirely honest. Tosin Adarabioyo, usually a calm, consistent presence, was sloppy in possession and he was bypassed far too easily for their goal. He has higher standards than this and it proved to be an evening to forget for both him and Pablo Maffeo, another guilty of ball-watching as Bilbao scored their second. Plummer alongside them was decent at best, and Smith-Brown was functional at left-back before, once again, proving just functional in a shift as a holding midfielder. Glendon scurried about, yet couldn’t really get a grip on the game, neither could Nemcha as he struggled in his cameo. In the u18s striker’s defence, he was positioned out wide, despite clearly being a centre-forward, and he understandably looked a little lost. Gunn had a relatively quiet game, despite picking the ball out of the back of the net twice. It was a disappointing performance for a team that has yet to reach the level they’re capable of. The team is a little unbalanced compared to last year’s eleven, admittedly, but Vieira will expect more. Perhaps the lingering departure of the world cup winner to New York City hasn’t helped, but that’d be an easy excuse, and one none of the players would take either. Next up for the EDS, and a chance for redemption for most involved, is the u19s final UEFA Youth League group game as Borussia Monchengladbach arrive at the CFA. Before that the u18s face Derby County at the CFA this Saturday.