World Cup fever has hijacked the minds of football fans alike for the last month, meaning pre-season has had to take a back seat for the time being.
Manchester City’s pre-season began a week ago, but with England in a World Cup semi-final and 3rd place play-off for the first time in 28 years, it has somewhat gone under the radar.
City’s stellar season and numerous high-profile players has meant 16 stars have been away in Russia and will miss the beginning of pre-season, a new record. A further seven made it to the last four with England, Belgium and France respectively, the third most of any team globally, so extra holidays will be granted especially to the seven who were involved all the way up until the last two fixtures of the World Cup.
Their involvement means that not only will Pep Guardiola be able to work with existing players further, but also other fresh faces he hasn’t had a proper in-depth look at due to their involvement in the academy.
City’s pre-season tour of the U.S kicks-off in less than a week’s time in Chicago, whereby the Blues will be facing Borussia Dortmund.
With every position in the squad missing one regular due to the World Cup, and some positions affected more so than others, here are five players that may not have been pondered prior to this, to keep an eye on during pre-season.
Coming from Manchester, Daniel Grimshaw has been on City’s books since his early years and has been a lifelong blue during his tenure.
Ederson’s involvement as the second-choice goalkeeper for Brazil at the World Cup as the Selecao’s journey took them to the quarter-finals means he will be allowed an extended holiday. Aro Muric also looks to be heading out on loan to sister-club NAC Breda to gain first-team experience in the Eredivisie.
That leaves Guardiola with just Claudio Bravo, Grimshaw and Joe Hart at his disposal, with the latter surely seeking a permanent move away this summer. During the pre-season tour, until Ederson returns, Grimshaw is more than likely to be given game-time to show what he can do as a testament to his new three-year deal.
The 20-year-old’s goalkeeping heroics were displayed in the UEFA Youth League last campaign against both Inter Milan and Liverpool in penalty shoot-outs, alongside making some fine saves during the competition and displaying the technical adequacies in possession required at City, so he is one to keep an eye out for.
Eric Garcia was snapped up from Barcelona just over a year ago. Garcia’s agent, Carles Puyol, noted the reasoning for leaving the Catalan club being that they see City’s youth project as superior to Barcelona, and a year on from the move, he has certainly developed well acquiring City’s under-18’s Players’ Player of the Season award from last campaign in the process.
The 17-year-old is a cool, calm and collected centre-back, also adept at right-back, who excels in bringing the ball out from the back. He certainly fits the City philosophy, alike La Masia, of playing out from deep and stringing together a collection of accurate, perfectly placed passes.
Unlike many other defenders of his age, when oppositions are sitting back and man-to-man marking, Garcia has no issue of driving forward with the ball to create openings and drag opposition players out of position, creating space to move the ball forward.
Garcia doesn’t neglect his defensive attributes either as he is often seen sniffing out danger before it can prosper and when called into action, displays maturity in his positioning and unwillingness to dive in, often waiting until the right moment to make a pivotal interception.
With three out of City’s five first-team centre-backs involved at the World Cup (Nicolas Otamendi, John Stones and Vincent Kompany), and the latter pair both making the semi-final, first-team opportunities could be heading Garcia’s way over pre-season as Guardiola is expected to reignite his relationship with the 3-1-4-2 formation just like last pre-season and the start of the following campaign.
It is more than understandable that some of the City faithful will have only just heard of this man, or teenager in fact. City fans who have followed his progress since links began in January, will be well aware of the phenomenal prospect that could be involved over the course of pre-season.
Gomes, a 17-year-old holding midfielder, came to an agreement with City at the beginning of the month that is the last step in a deal that has been on the cards for the last six months, in which time Gomes has been running down his PSG contract. He will officially join the Blues on July 23rd, when he turns 18, and will join up with the pre-season contingent in the States.
Standing at 5’3, do not let his height or slight stature fool you. From a first look, his play-style revolves around sitting deep in midfield and chasing down oppositions at a ferocious speed to intercept or recover the ball, resulting in a turnover in possession.
He is equally as accomplished on the ball, whether that be moving it via chipped passes out wide, or a killer pass down the middle, he certainly has the qualities to be a specialist in the ‘6’ role.
Gomes voiced his concerns about a clear pathway to the first-team in the French capital that he clearly sees in Manchester. Jorginho moving to Chelsea and the reports that Guardiola may not sign another midfielder leaves just Fernandinho and Fabian Delph as the clear-cut options. The fact that both ventured into the latter stages of the World Cup, means that Gomes could a significant part in a pre-season that could shape his City future.
Midfield maestro Tom Dele-Bashiru would have only expected a handful of minutes when coming on in the 91st minute for Phil Foden in the EFL Cup away at Leicester last season, but little did he know this would become a 30-minute cameo allowing him to play his role in extra-time.
This involvement surely won’t be the only first-team experience he receives this year, with more coming this pre-season and depending on his performances, a possibility of additional opportunities next season.
The 18-year-old operates in central midfield and in that Leicester game displayed many of his fine qualities. He obtains nifty footwork on the ball and a slick drop of the shoulder to maneuverer his way out of complex situations.
It wasn’t just his attacking qualities on display as his interceptions and composure when under pressure also showed why he has been utilised in the ‘6’ role at times in the youth setup.
Dele-Bashiru’s versatility and experience in first-team football already, albeit limited, should bode well ahead of pre-season due to the World Cup knockout stage involvement of City’s midfield trident – Fernandinho, Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva – meaning opportunities to showcase his ability should be presented.
Joining Dele-Bashiru in the Leicester away dugout was Lukas Nmecha who also came on to make his debut that day, and also demonstrated the poise to calmly slot away a penalty in the shootout. That wasn’t Nmecha’s only first-team involvement last campaign as he made a further two Premier League appearances.
Nmecha’s goal-scoring nous across City’s age groups and especially of last year, netting 15 goals in 11 appearances in the Premier League 2 division, has certainly caught the eye of Guardiola. The idea that Nmecha’s poaching style could be moulded into a high-pressing, hard-working forward under Guardiola is on the cards due to his determined and driven persona.
The 19-year-old was promoted to the first-team late last season and his position of third-choice striker stands him in good stead for pre-season with both Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus, ahead in the pecking order, involved in the World Cup Knockout Stages meaning Nmecha looks set for certain game-time.
Striking competitor Thierry Ambrose has been linked with a move away, if not, Nmecha may have company in the forward department until the former pairs’ return. However, he, like the other names mentioned, can still capitalise on the minutes provided to showcase their promise resultant of first-team stars involvement in the World Cup.