There was a point when things looked up at the Young Boys on Wednesday night late in the second half and Manchester City suddenly looked more comfortable.
Pep Guardiola made seven changes from the weekend’s Premier League win over Brighton & Hove Albion. It is important to say that the Champions League championship in Switzerland has generally been played well.
But once Julián Alvarez and Bernardo Silva came on for Mathieu Nunes and Jeremy Docu with 20 minutes left of normal time, they started to resemble the side that won last season’s treble.
Doku was by no means poor but summer signing Nunes struggled and Guardiola said he was “a little bit further from where he should be”, hinting at the teething problems common to new players at City. Mateo Kovacic, another newcomer who started the season well, didn’t have a particularly bright night either.
City have such comfortable players for obvious reasons; You trust them a little more than the others these days, and perhaps Alvarez is the latest addition to that bracket.
The next member may just be Rico Lewis. The 18-year-old was certainly one of them last night and in recognition of that he was named man of the match.
Guardiola went on to say that Lewis looks comfortable in his hybrid right-back/midfield role: “Today he played more in his usual position. He is very intelligent. “
Technically, the City Academy graduate is incredibly clean, scheming in midfield, but also has the ability to carry the ball upfield quickly. According to Guardiola, he knows exactly how to play a complex role.
Guardiola said Lewis’s ability to move into midfield from the right-back helped City find their form and win that treble.
“Thanks to Rico. “He helped us understand what we need to do to play better and better,” Guardiola said in May.
He didn’t play much in the last 10 games, but without Rico this season, our team action would have been more difficult.
It was John Stones who made the biggest change, moving from right-back (and then centre-back) to midfield, linking up with Rodrigo and moving forward. That helped Guardiola find the same balance, create the same pressure, with the false nine. But Lewis insists he has paved the way for that.
The only reason he was left out of the lineup was the vast experience of Stones and Kyle Walker.
Currently, Lewis is not in the top bracket of City players who can be trusted at every moment; For example, it seems unlikely that he will start the Manchester derby at Old Trafford on Sunday.
However, those days are not far off. He soon started in this competition against RB Leipzig in a more attacking midfield role, earning him much praise.
“Well played, huh?” Guardiola said that day. “What a player. What a player. 18 years old. I’ve been a manager for 14 or 15 years coaching unbelievable players and how to get a player like him in the pocket, how to move as a holding midfielder, moving in at full-back in a small position. The hardest. … He’s one of the best I’ve ever coached.”
He was moved to Arsenal four days later after a fine performance at Leipzig, a clear indication of Guardiola’s faith in him, although the caveat was that Rodri would miss out on penalties and the Catalan would need to find more players in the middle. Especially those who have the ability to keep the game going with good passes and good decisions.
Before the Young Boys game, Guardiola was asked about Phil Foden and finally revealed the qualities he likes most in Lewis.
“Sometimes as a footballer you have to find a step, ‘OK, if I’m going to play in that position, I’ve got to do it for the team.’ If you do this, I must do that; If you don’t do it, I have to. Certain players, such as Rico Lewis, have it right away. “I didn’t teach him anything when he moved in, it just came naturally.”
They will complement Louis Foden brilliantly on the pitch, that’s for sure, and what a case for City to have two of the club’s lifelong fans who have been in their system since primary school.
Lewis is certainly on the same path as Foden. In fact, in terms of minutes and first-team exposure, the unsuspecting poster boy from City’s academy is ahead of his age.
Foden played 374 Premier League minutes before turning 19. Lewis has played 1,052 and has another month until his birthday. Foden played 1,435 senior minutes in all competitions in his first two seasons with Guardiola. Lewis is at 1,851, with seven months to go in his second season.
Guardiola has been patient with Foden until there is a nationwide clamor for him to get more playing time. In the year In February 2020, three months before the 21-year-old’s death, Guardiola finally called on Foden to ‘trust’ him, which he described as surprising but felt he had to wait.
Given Luiz’s first-team form, it’s tempting to think he’ll be firmly in the City squad two years from now.
He doesn’t exist yet, of course. Lewis had a hard time going into that game at home to Arsenal, although so did most of his teammates. Speaking after the game last night, he said he was frustrated with himself for the chance to equalize early in the second half.
If it’s understandable that even Nunes, Kovacic and Docu need time, you can understand why the 18-year-old isn’t perfect just yet. And if all goes well, Lewis must be patient.
But he has shown more than enough to suggest he can cope with what is thrown at him – at Liverpool and Leeds in the first two of his first two starts last December, where he has been targeted for serious treatment.
Guardiola loves him.
“The most important thing for a footballer is to earn the respect of your teammates,” he said after the Leipzig game three weeks ago. “When they trust you on the pitch and you know what to do, you’re in heaven.
“The players are not stupid, they smell everything on the pitch, they know who they rely on on the pitch and they can rely on him.”
Not bad for 18.
Half-way health check – Champions League statement
(Top photo: Christian Kaspar-Bartke/Getty Images)