Manchester City began their quest for a third successive Carabao Cup triumph with a clinical 3-0 demolition of Championship high-flyers Preston.
Raheem Sterling set up a comfortable night with a fine solo effort before Gabriel Jesus doubled the lead with a crisp strike.
A Ryan Ledson own goal put the holders three up and effectively ended the contest before the interval.
It was a result that was never in doubt, completely vindicating what had seemed a bold call by City boss Pep Guardiola to hand starts to both Eric Garcia, 18, and Taylor Harwood-Bellis, 17, at centre-back. For the latter it was a senior debut.
Here, Mark Critchley assesses the performances of the young trio and the likelihood of breaking into Guardiola’s first team moving forward.
Pep Guardiola told an interesting anecdote about Garcia after Saturday’s win over Watford, when the 18-year-old was named as a substitute. During the build-up to the game, his manager had not been sure what formation the opposition would play. Garcia watched Watford’s warm-up carefully, deduced they would line up with four at the back, then informed his manager. “He’s a clever clever guy,” Guardiola said.
It was no surprise that Garcia comfortably slotted into to a strong Manchester City line-up at Deepdale. He had looked equally at home in the latter stages of the EFL Cup last year, when he played in the quarter-final and both semi-final legs. Bringing the ball out from the back is second nature to him as a product of La Masia, while he can compensate for his unremarkable 5ft 9in frame by canny play in the air.
But as demonstrated by that Watford titbit, his leadership and game intelligence are perhaps his most outstanding qualities. On several occasions against Preston, Garcia was seen ordering players several years his senior to take up this or that position, or offering other instructions to his team-mates. Guardiola could not help but comment on it. “We see it every day in the training sessions.”
Verdict: Without getting too excited, already looks like a potential star in the making. Blending composure, intelligence and authority, Garcia is a fine and promising backup.
Given his meagre number of minutes at the start of this new season, this was Foden’s opportunity to truly stake his claim for a Premier League or Champions League start over the next few weeks. City’s schedule is not too challenging on paper but it is becoming more and more congested.
Foden was lively and adventurous in possession, though maybe did not see as much of the ball as he would have liked. He made the fewest touches of any City player to play the full 90 minutes. When he did receive the ball, he was clearly eager to do something with it. That is no bad thing, of course, and he was unlucky to see one of his three attempts on goal strike the woodwork.
There was enough there to suggest that if Foden were to start against Dinamo Zagreb or Wolves in the weeks to come, he would seize such an opportunity. But he will also know that either a goal or an assist against Preston, on a night when City did not need to shift out of first gear, would have helped to stake his claim.
Verdict: Guardiola says Foden’s only problem is the number of talented players in front of him in City’s midfield. This display may not be enough to push him up that order just yet.
Harwood-Bellis was Garcia’s central defensive partner at Deepdale and a year his junior too. The 17-year-old is one of the talented crop in City’s academy that reached last season’s FA Youth Cup final, losing to Liverpool in a penalty shoot-out. There were tears that night from players who believed that may be the pinnacle of their careers, but Harwood-Bellis was one who has hopes of playing on grander stages.
At 6ft 2in and with a taste for aerial duels, he is a complementary foil for Garcia. But like any player raised through City’s academy in recent years, he is not scared to play with the ball at his feet. That was one of the reasons why he impressed Guardiola on City’s pre-season tour in Asia and why, with Aymeric Laporte and John Stones unavailable, he is in the first-team picture.
All of those attributes were on display at Deepable, on what was his first senior City appearance. It was not a perfect debut, but any errors he made were quickly corrected. One recovery after being easily spun by Preston’s Tom Barkhuizen was particularly impressive, while his ability to keep the ball under pressure helped Gabriel Jesus double City’s lead.
Verdict: Altogether, an impressive bow. Clearly behind Nicolas Otamendi, Fernandinho, Garcia and maybe even Rodri, but a young talent to watch all the same.