Manchester City look to young guns for defence as they start mission for third League Cup in a row
Lack of senior options at the back mean Guardiola turns to the likes of Cancelo, Garcia, Harwood-Bellis and Angelino at Preston on Tuesday
It could be a defence with a difference. As Manchester City begin their bid to become the first team in three-and-a-half decades to win the League Cup in three successive seasons, it could be with a back four who are all yet to start a Premier League game.
If injuries have created opportunities and signings are looking for first starts, City could field a new-look rearguard of Joao Cancelo, Eric Garcia, Taylor Harwood-Bellis and Angelino at Preston on Tuesday.
The full-backs at least possess different kinds of experience. Cancelo’s CV includes appearances for Portugal, Valencia, Inter Milan and his most recent employers, Juventus.
Angelino figured 43 times for PSV Eindhoven last season before returning to City. But the teenagers Harwood-Bellis, 17, and Garcia, 18, are barely older between them than Fernandinho is on his own.
With Aymeric Laporte and John Stones injured, Vincent Kompany and Eliaquim Mangala gone, Tosin Adarabioyo and Philippe Sandler loaned out, they have to be fast-tracked.
Pep Guardiola is encouraged by the references Harwood-Bellis, who hails from nearby Stockport and whose late grandfather was a City season-ticket holder, has received. “The guys from the academy spoke really well before the pre-season in China so he is aggressive, wins duels and pays attention,” he said.
On Saturday, he noted how observant Garcia is. City were unsure if Watford would line up with four or five defenders.
The substitute Garcia, a Spain Under-21 international, deduced from Watford’s warm-up that it would be four at the back and conveyed the information to his manager. “He is so clever,” said Guardiola. “He is going to play a lot of minutes.”
Then there is Angelino, who made his second City debut as a replacement against the Hornets. The left-back is both a product of the youth system and a new recruit, on City’s books from 2013 to 2018 and loaned out to their sister clubs in New York and Girona and eventually bought back from PSV.
“It's a long time I have been part of this club,” he said. “I came when I was 16 and it was a dream. I had to go away for some time to improve things, to be able to play here. I'm just thankful and grateful to be back here.”
The Spaniard is an example of City’s forward planning. They inserted a clause into the deal when he left for Holland. They preserved a relationship.
“I had the buy-back clause to come back, so I didn't feel that I left,” Angelino said. “I still felt part of the club still. I had my eye on coming back at the end of the season. I achieved that. It's great that it worked out well.
“Sometimes they used to message me wishing me well, to hopefully get the option to come back. This club is amazing. Since the first day I came here, I always said it is like a big family. I am so happy to be back and be part of this.”
As he readily admits, he has plenty of competition for a place. Oleksandr Zinchenko has been the regular this season while Benjamin Mendy was eased back into action with 45 minutes against Watford. “Everyone is really good at what they do,” Angelino added. “That is why it is so hard to get the opportunity. The level is really high. Every full-back we have got is very attacking. I think we all suit Pep's style.” He was self-critical about his efforts in an 8-0 win. “I made a couple of mistakes – that's my worry,” he added. But another opportunity could present itself in a second-string defence at Deepdale.
Updated: September 24, 2019 08:35 AM