Man City can’t ignore pressing transfer decisions on Cole Palmer, Kayky and Liam Delap after U23 Etihad rout – Joe Bray
Manchester City celebrated their Premier League 2 title in devastating style at the Etihad with a seven-goal performance led by the irresistible Cole Palmer.
With the title secured last week, this was a celebration at City’s main stadium, and Palmer’s effortless quality could prove to be a problem for the Blues this summer. He was sensational in the first half against Everton on Friday night, with Liam Delap and Kayky following with statement performances of their own after the break.
When City have finished celebrating their second successive title, this performance will be used as evidence of how far some of these youngsters have come. For Palmer, and maybe a few others, their future at under-23 level is surely limited.
Everton must have feared the worst as they arrived at the Etihad, with Palmer, Delap, Kayky, James McAtee and Sam Edozie in a formidable frontline. There was no easing off from City despite having the title in the bag.
Yet, for all City’s typical early dominance – with Kayky, Palmer and Edozie having efforts – it was Everton who could have taken a two-goal lead. First, Charlie Whitaker’s lovely volley hit the crossbar, before Mikki van Sas was caught in no-man’s land as Lewis Dobbin rounded him 30 yards out and his cross for Tom Cannon required Shea Charles to hack off the line. At the other end, as City responded, Delap’s effort hit the post and Kayky’s rebound was the second effort in the contest to be cleared off the line.
For all City’s usual possession-based dominance, they were open to the counter. But with so many quality players in this line-up, it wasn’t long before one produced a moment of magic to calm things down. Unsurprisingly, it was Palmer to break the deadlock as he took one touch to control and make space for a lovely curled effort into the bottom corner from 18 yards.
It was a fine finish made better by the effortlessly-simple first touch that not many under-23 players will be able to produce under pressure.
Palmer had arguably outgrown under-23 football last season, and his role as a first-team player this season proves that. It’s a credit to Palmer that he has volunteered to play for the EDS whenever he can this season – even on the same day as his Premier League debut. They wouldn’t refuse his services next year, although it’s hard to see how contests like this will continue to benefit him when he is clearly a cut above his opponents.
Just like Tommy Doyle and Taylor Harwood-Bellis over the last year, the time comes when a young player needs to step up. The same was evident of Phil Foden, with City choosing to develop him in the first team rather than out on loan. Any scouts watching Palmer at the Etihad will hope that he is available in the summer, as he casually set up Rico Lewis for City’s second on the half-hour mark in another reminder of his quality.
As everyone looked left, Palmer flicked a lovely ball into the overlapping path of Lewis inside the area, for the full-back to rifle a shot into the roof of the net from a tight angle. And when Palmer stepped up and stroked a sumptuous free-kick into the top corner shortly after, the crowd were in disbelief. It was his third goal in 90 minutes since returning from injury, as well as his two assists.
Palmer was running the show, yet barely breaking out of a jog, as he moved around the Etihad with the strut of a player who knows just how good he is. This might turn out to be his final game as an U23 player, but on this showing, it definitely won’t be his last outing at this stadium.
Brian Barry-Murphy said after the title was sealed at Leeds that while the U23 season ends tonight, the campaign is not over for these young players, who will be needed to support the first team in their quest for the Premier League and Champions League. McAtee was replaced at half-time, as was Luke Mbete, perhaps with Saturday’s Premier League clash in mind, while CJ Egan-Riley got a second-half run-out as he is currently one of only two fit right-backs at the club.
The first team will always be the priority at this club, even with the academy winning trophies, so the senior coaches will have been happy to see a number of players show their form at this crucial stage of the season. It’s unlikely that Kayky will get any more first-team appearances in his debut campaign at the club, but he is another who will be knocking on the door of the first team next season like Palmer.
When he played a smart one-two with substitute Oscar Bobb to finish from a tight angle, City had four and Kayky had his first goal at the Etihad. It’s been a slow and steady start to life in England for the Brazilian, but he’s ended the season well and is another who looks like U23 football will only prove to be beneficial to a certain degree.
McAtee and Lavia were both quietly impressive in their respective roles, and they will hope to have more opportunities next season. Whether that is in the under-23 league or elsewhere is a discussion to be had upstairs in the summer, but there will certainly be plenty of interest. The likes of Bobb, Edozie, Lewis and Tomas Galvez will be looking to step up further in this age group next season and become the next players to be considered genuine first-team options if others depart.
Delap is another who is bound to attract interest for loans. His season has been disrupted by injury, so he could have been forgiven for hoping this youth campaign had a few more weeks left. Still, in the last three games he has not stopped running, with a late goal at Leeds to seal the title and two well-taken finishes in this second half.
First, he tapped in Kayky’s good cross after shaping to shoot, and then he swept home from Bobb’s pass after the winger had easily beaten his man. With Julian Alvarez and possibly another striker coming in this summer, Delap’s path to the first team may be limited. He’s clearly not let those injuries stop his goalscoring talents, so will another season scoring hatfuls for the academy really help?
Whatever happens to the make-up of the squad, Barry-Murphy noted this season how everyone had a mutual respect for one another even if only a small percentage of the group would have first-team futures at the club. It was telling that a number of past and present EDS players were supporting their friends in the stands, as a reminder that these back-to-back titles have been real squad efforts.
Darko Gyabi may look to be one to take advantage of some players moving onwards or upwards, so he did his chances no harm by twisting and turning to fire in a seventh after only 74 minutes. Bobb nearly made it eight late on, although he will settle for his 11th and 12th assists of a fine breakthrough season at this level and should be a key player for the EDS next season whatever happens to his teammates.
This occasion will be about celebrating the title win after another successful season, and when the senior team are finished with their campaign, attention will turn to next season for this immensely talented group. For some, that future should continue at a much higher level than under-23 football.