The Manchester City academy is quickly earning the title of one of the best academies in Europe.
Phil Foden and Cole Palmer are currently jostling for first-team minutes, while players like Kasper Schmeichel, Kelechi Iheanacho, and Joey Barton have all played in the academy at one point or another.
The prestigious club may have another youth talent on their hands with wing-back Rico Lewis.
RICO LEWIS’s career path
Rico Lewis has been playing for City since 2020, having started several games for the U18s that year.
He was dominant for the u18s in the 2021-22 season, stepping up to the u21s for six games. Lewis would get his first team opportunity on Manchester City’s 2022 summer preseason tour.
He played a small amount of minutes in matches against América and Bayern, and 45 minutes against Barca.
2022/2023 season progress
Impressive performances saw him break into the senior side at the start of the season, playing eight minutes against Bournemouth in August.
There were hints Pep Guardiola and the City staff had plans for Lewis, as he played 15 minutes in City’s 6-0 destroying of Forest and frequently trained with the senior team.
Although he saw larger nibbles of playtime from the bench against Copenhagen and Southampton, his next major step was in November when he started against Sevilla in the Champions League.
Lewis was phenomenal throughout the game. The teenager shut down the right flank while providing ample offense and even scoring a goal.
After Sevilla lost possession just outside the box, Julian Alvarez played Lewis in, and the Englishman’s perfect finish netted him his first senior goal.
The minutes have been piling up for Lewis.
Starts against Chelsea and Liverpool in the Carabao Cup, Premier League minutes against Leeds and Everton, and a big game in the FA Cup against Arsenal has made Lewis one of the most in-demand youngsters at the moment.
With a slate of big fixtures coming up (Spurs, Aston Villa, Arsenal, Forest), Lewis is likely to experience more game time. The departure of João Cancelo has seen pundits suggest Lewis could be the perfect Cancelo replacement
Fluidity and flexibility
Lewis fits the typical Pep archetype perfectly.
He’s a right-back by trade, but his natural agility and strength along with positioning knowledge means that he can join the midfield. Pep even went so far to nickname him Phillipp Lahm, who he frequently used while he was at Bayern.
He’s solid while in possession.
He completes 92% of his passes and rarely dribbles with the ball, and has created eight shots through his passes. It’s not only indicative of Pep’s possession-heavy offense, but also of his playmaking abilities.
The teen can be seen making impressive first touches, launching precise long balls, and carving up youth defenses with his incisive dribbling.
Of course, Lewis’ creativity has been slowed by the strength of Premier League defenders and Pep’s tactical ideals, but there are traces of his artistry when he plays.
On defense, Lewis is tenacious and battle hardened despite standing at 5’6. His defensive identity is evident from kick-off; physical, handsy, and unafraid to get stuck in.
We’ve seen him hunt and shut down players from Mohamed Salah to Christian Pulisic, thanks to his explosive pace and fearlessness.
The right-back dilemma
With Lewis’ new-found quality comes a different problem; how will veteran wing-back Kyle Walker get minutes?
Despite being England’s first-choice right-back, Walker was left on the bench for important matches against Tottenham in the Premier League and Arsenal in the FA Cup.
Some of Walker’s recent omissions relate to Pep’s new tactical tweaks.
City has lined up in a 3-2-4-1, with three center-backs and two midfielders. Lewis’ Lahm-like skills enable him to play as a midfielder, meaning he can easily slot in to the lineup.
However, Walker has played over 95% of his matches as a right-back. He has little to no experience playing in the midfield or as a center-back.
Regardless of the motives or statistics behind Pep’s decision to sit the 32-year-old defender, Walker is still annoyed with his lack of playing time.
His contract expires in 2024, so although he’ll stay with City for a few months or so, a transfer in the summer is likely.
Photo credit: IMAGO / Action Plus
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