Now, or never? Pep Guardiola will soon have tough calls on Manchester City youth to make

Richard Jolly writes when he arrives at Manchester City, Pep Guardiola will find no shortage of talent past its expiration date, coupled with a slew of youths not quite ripe for the Premier League.

David Faupala celebrates with Kelechi Iheanacho after scoring for Manchester City against Chelsea on Sunday. John Sibley / Action Images / Reuters / February 21, 2016
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When Guardiola takes charge at the Etihad Stadium in the summer he will face some tough decisions on just how many of the club’s youth talent he promotes

It was men against boys. Chelsea's battle-hardened professionals scored five goals. Manchester City, who fielded eight teenagers, mustered one. So far, so logical.

Except that City’s two worst players were their two oldest, Martin Demichelis and Willy Caballero.

Some of the juniors acquitted themselves well: the 19-year-old David Faupala, who scored a debut goal; his prodigious strike partner Kelechi Iheanacho; the assured 18-year-old centre-back Tosin Adarabioyo, who can evoke Vincent Kompany.

So Sunday afternoon produced paradoxical conclusions: the heaviest defeat since 2008 also offered ample evidence of promise.

Many of City’s youngsters offer encouragement but they cannot all be thrown in at the same time. Certainly few at the Etihad Stadium are under any illusions that all are ready yet.

So it creates a delicate balancing act for a club with high ambitions. City’s transfer activity will be instructive. It is imperative there is a route into the side for at least some of their academy players.

It is also essential that, with the imminent arrival of an Uefa Champions League-winning manager, an opportunity for continental progress and domestic dominance is not passed up by looking too far into the future.

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One of Pep Guardiola’s many merits is that he is prepared to trust younger players whereas Manuel Pellegrini, Sunday’s team selection notwithstanding, is naturally more cautious.

The ageing nature of City’s first-team squad means that, besides adding pivotal players in key positions, regeneration is also required.

Iheanacho represents the easiest case. He should displace the erratic Wilfried Bony as Sergio Aguero’s deputy, as many fans thought he ought to have done some time ago.

It is easy to envisage the Ivorian leaving in the summer with Guardiola’s fondness for false nines suggesting he would not try to sign another target man.

Yet others are more problematic. It is safe to assume that Guardiola will attempt to recruit another attacking midfielder of some variety.

That may signal the departure of the one-dimensional Jesus Navas or the forgotten man Samir Nasri, but does not necessarily indicate a move up the pecking order for Aleix Garcia, Bersant Celina or Brandon Barker.

There is a more immediate requirement for a central midfielder to bolster the starting 11, even if there could still be scope for Manu Garcia to feature as a squad player.

But the biggest decisions about the teenagers come in defence. Some of the brightest hopes surround one who did not feature at Stamford Bridge.

Patrick Vieira declared Angelino was the best youngster he worked with as City’s Elite Development Squad manager.

All four of City's senior full-backs are over 30 and neither of the left-backs, Gael Clichy and Aleksandar Kolarov, ranks among the Premier League's best in his position.

Guardiola is accustomed to working with the altogether more accomplished David Alaba at Bayern Munich.

To import an automatic choice at the peak of his powers now may be to condemn Angelino to years as a back-up.

To do nothing may leave City with a weakness that has been exposed before in the hope a comparatively small 19-year-old represents the long-term solution.

Then there is the dilemma in the middle of the defence. The declining Demichelis will go in the summer but the Belgium international Jason Denayer, who is due to return from a loan spell at Galatasaray, is his logical heir as the fourth-choice centre-back.

If the hope was that Eliaquim Mangala was supposed to bridge the gap between the generations, his struggles could mean a replacement is required.

Yet, assuming that signing proved a success, it may leave Adarabioyo and the precocious 17-year-old Cameron Humphreys-Grant fifth and sixth in line, with scarcely a glimpse of the first team, and liable to either be loaned out or to see progress stunted.

There are few easy answers in decisions where the present and the future clash.

Sunday’s team selection may have been a one-off or a sign of things to come.

Guardiola will inherit a group whose best days should come for his successors.

He promises to be an enlightened educator, but the crucial element is how much of that teaching comes in the form of the practical experience that is first-team football.

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