Champions League draw gives Man City’s academy a useful boost – Joe Bray

But that is exactly what happened to Manchester City under-21s, who not only lost their most important players from last season, but saw influential under-18 captain Nico O&aposReilly suffer a long-term injury before the campaign even started.

Add in a completely new league format, and City&aposs academy coaches are not expecting another title this season after three in a row. What they are looking for is to provide their new generation of youngsters the best opportunities to progress without a traditional league structure to attack.

The new-look Premier League 2 has been criticised for its complicated schedule, with the top 16 teams of a 26-team league going into a one-off play-off competition at the end of the season to determine a winner. Along with the UEFA Youth League and EFL Trophy, City are hoping to improve their shaky record in knockout ties.

In recent years, the academy has done well enough in the respective group stages of the cup competitions but struggled when it has come to the knockout ties. Defeat in the Youth League at Hajduk Split was a disappointing result for the under-19s last season after doing so well to navigate a group containing Borussia Dortmund. The year before, they didn&apost even get out of the group.

In the FA Youth Cup, City crashed out at the semi-final in agonising fashion in the 119th minute at Arsenal, having had a player sent off seven minutes in. The year before, the holders were beaten away at Brighton. In the EFL Trophy, they have fallen short in the group stage for two years in a row.

In both of the previous seasons, the squad have had high hopes and expectations of attacking the three cup competitions, but have been left to rue off-days or red cards that have killed the dreams of making history in the academy – City have never won the EFL Trophy or Youth League.

This season would look to be the most difficult year to break those ducks, especially with all the high-profile exits of the likes of Carlos Borges, Shea Charles, Dire Mebude and Oscar Bobb. The new squad is inexperienced and took one point from their opening three games. A 5-0 loss to Tottenham, 2-1 defeat at Fulham and 4-4 draw against Aston Villa summed up the instability that comes with such transition.

That Villa game showed City&aposs character, though, coming from behind to take a point and get on the board. A trip to League Two side Grimsby followed in the EFL Trophy, where City raced into a 2-0 lead. They would have taken the win but for a red card that allowed the Mariners to draw level late on. But again, that character showed as Brian Barry-Murphy&aposs side took the bonus point from the resulting penalty shoot-out.

Back to league action, and City put four past Newcastle away from home to truly get their season up and running.

With Grimsby losing their second of three Trophy games against favourites Barnsley, City are in a good position to qualify – especially if they can get a result against Bradford. In the Youth League, the senior team have done the youngsters a favour courtesy of their favourable Champions League group.

With the Youth League mirroring the Champions League, City will face RB Leipzig, Red Star Belgrade and Young Boys. Even with a much younger squad, they will expect to qualify for the knockout stages over six games. The trickiest of the trio, Leipzig, were beaten 5-1 and 1-0 in the 2021/22 group stage.

Speaking to MEN Sport recently, Barry-Murphy highlighted the importance of improving in the one-off, pressured games this season – something the Youth League will provide if they can get past the group.

“The consequence of the way the [Premier League 2] format is done is that we&aposll get more exposure for that element of knockout football,” the head coach said.

“Playing a one-off game, possibly away from home, depending on where you finish in the league. Unsderstanding the consequence on not performing on any given day is that you could be knocked out of the competition. It&aposs useful for our players because you don&apost get loads of exposure to it.

“One of the most beneficial things of the European campaign is that feeling of not performing on one or two games and you&aposre out of Europe. Or the EFL Trophy the same and the Youth League we didn&apost get the rub of the green in Croatia and we&aposre out.

“The EFL Trophy will be even harder from my experience. We&aposre really putting our players into the most difficult situations at the moment and it will give us a gauge of where they&aposre at. We can really go back to the drawing board and show them how much improvement we have to do and then do that work.

“Our aim is to go as far as we can and treat it as seriously as possible. Along with the Youth League to give our players to give exposure against seasoned professionals and in Europe the best sides in Europe. It&aposs a priceless competition.”

Knowing there are none of the top academies to face before Christmas – with respect to the group opponents they will face – will give the academy more time to bed in their new Elite Development players this season. If they can get more experience of knockout games in Europe and the EFL Trophy, then that can bode well for the new PL2 format and going one better in the Youth Cup.

Thanks to the Champions League draw, the academy should benefit in three further competitions.

The transfer window has been a hectic one and City have been busy, with high-profile signings and sales aplenty.

City snapped up Croatian pair Mateo Kovacic and Josko Gvardiol from Chelsea and RB Leipzig respectively with the latest addition being Jeremy Doku. Wolves&apos Matheus Nunes then joined the Blues on deadline day. In terms of outgoings, Treble winner Ilkay Gundogan departed for Barcelona, Aymeric Laporte and Riyad Mahrez moved to Saudi Arabia, and Cole Palmer completed a shock move to Chelsea.

Our team of City experts will be on top of all the goings-on at the Etihad across deadline day and beyond, and you can get the latest updates and inside information to your phone by joining our new free WhatsApp community below.