Preston vs Manchester City: Five things we learned as Raheem Sterling leads serious City through

The Independent Sports 1 month ago

-- Sparkling Sterling makes up for lost time --

One of the more remarkable aspects of Saturday's 8-0 evisceration of Watford was that Manchester City did it without Raheem Sterling playing a single minute. 

Though arguably in the scoring form of career, he was left to watch from the bench and with a trip to Goodison Park to come on Saturday, few thought he would feature here.

But against all expectation, Sterling was named in the starting line-up and began as if desperate to make up for lost time. He had already tested Preston North End goalkeeper Conor Ripley three times before his sparkling breakthrough, which began just inside Preston's half, included two defence-busting feints and ended with a composed finish.

Only a slight deflection took the shine off what was a fine individual goal, by a player who is in simply irresistible form. And why not start Sterling on a night like this, when his quality can put a tricky cup tie to bed quickly and do so in brilliant fashion?

-- Centre-half partnership a teenage dream --

There was much attention on the centre-back pairing. Of course there was. If City should suffer another couple of injuries in the position, Eric Garcia and Taylor-Harwood Bellis will be Guardiola's first-choice partnership. 

There were signs, though, that any transition into the first-team would be smooth. Garcia has already proved himself at this level. The 18-year-old impressed in this very competition last year, appearing now and again on the road to the final. Once again, he did not look out of place, even picking up an assist for Sterling's goal.

Harwood-Bellis is more of an unknown quantity. A year younger than Garcia, he only came to prominence during City's pre-season tour and this was his senior debut, but he acquitted himself well. 

Even in those moments where his inexperience was exposed, such as when Tom Barkhuizen turned him after a quarter-of-an-hour, he recovered to win the ball back. This was only second-tier opposition, granted, but there is no reason to believe that these youngsters cannot be called upon if needed.

-- Guardiola will take this competition seriously again -- 

Despite expectations that this would be an opportunity to see more of City's youth products, Guardiola has always shown more respect to this competition than most of his contemporaries and named a strong line-up once again.

Is it really so surprising from a man who has made a point of including the Community Shield in City's 'four-midable' domestic trophy haul? Guardiola believes winning is infectious, that success breeds success, and that there is never a good time to go out of a cup competition.

Is that a wise policy? The true test is always when the fixtures pile up around February. If this is to be the year City win the Champions League, perhaps fresher legs are required. But from this line-up, expect Guardiola to take the domestic cups seriously once again.

-- Unfortunate Foden cannot cap performance with a goal --

The other adolescent in City's starting XI was a familiar face compared to Garcia and Harwood-Bellis, even if he remains somewhat rarely-spotted. Phil Foden had played a total of 11 minutes this season before starting here. It was his chance to stake a claim for more regular appearances.

Despite only recovering from a stomach bug in the last few days, he was bright and purposeful in possession, comfortable with the quick interplay that City's midfield demands. There was even one rasping effort which crashed back off the crossbar, on a night when his adventure and industry deserved a goal or at least an assist.

It was not to be, however, and Foden may have walked back down the tunnel at full time disappointed. The youngster believes he is ready to start more games. He knows that by scoring or setting-up team-mates, he will greatly help his case. But even without that end product, there was enough here to suggest he is ready.

-- Mendy is back on the mend --

The gradual recuperation of Benjamin Mendy continues. The left-back replaced Angelino and was given half an hour to feel his way back into first-team football, having been given 45 minutes against Watford on Saturday.

There was some rustiness in his substitute appearance. One over-hit pass inside the penalty area nearly knocked poor Foden off his feet, for example. With that, the pressure City had spent some time building dissipated.

But there were also reminders of the player that City have on his way back, if he can stay fit and focused. His crossing, in particular, caused Preston problems, and the dynamism he offers down the left flank is at times frightening.

Much of City's build-up play comes on that side, and the loss of left-sided centre-half Aymeric Laporte led some to suggest Guardiola may need recalibrate his team. But if Mendy can return to form, they will have lost very little potency down the left

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