The 19-year-old, who had demonstrated his supreme talent during his time in City’s EDS team and on the senior side’s preseason tour of Australia, had only played 42 minutes of first-team football across his six appearances.
Short cameos are useful in making an academy graduate feel part of the squad, but for a player of Iheanacho’s potential, it perhaps hasn’t been enough to cultivate his talent properly.
All that changed against Alan Pardew’s side, as City registered a 5-1 victory to move into the quarter-finals of the competition they last won in 2014.
Iheanacho played the full 90 minutes, scoring once and assisting two more, and at no stage looked overawed or out of place. This is a star in the making.
For a player of such limited experience to produce a display as composed and confident as this was remarkable. His touch and vision is superb—there’s a wonderfully creative streak running through everything he does.
It is perhaps his confidence, though, that is his most potent weapon. Iheanacho is prepared to try things other young players wouldn’t dare.
Much more than a penalty-box striker, Iheanacho looks to drop deep and link play, displaying some neat touches and moments of brilliance in possession. He’ll try to take players on to create space, or play balls with the outside of his boot that release others. His is a mature, well-rounded game already.
He had made a bright start to the game before Wilfried Bony’s powerful header gave City the lead, but it was his creation of the second goal that really demonstrated his ability.
Having laid the ball off around 25 yards from goal, he made a run into the area and was found brilliantly by Pablo Zabaleta. He took three quick touches with his left foot, before squaring the ball brilliantly to the back post for Kevin De Bruyne to tap home.
A teenager, eager to impress, showing such composure and presence of mind is surely a sign of huge talent.
His goal was even more impressive. This time, De Bruyne returned the favour, playing an outside-of-the-boot ball in to the feet of Iheanacho, who took a beautiful first touch to bring the ball under his spell before finishing emphatically, low to Wayne Hennessey’s right. There wasn’t a flicker of doubt, just ice-cold composure once again.
Iheanacho looked completely comfortable against a side who have been excellent for much of the Premier League season and sit seventh in the table, and it became increasingly clear as the game progressed that he is determined this won’t be one off.
“I didn’t have any doubts,” Pellegrini told reporters after the game. “I see how he works every day.
“His personality is also a one of the important things. He can play a lot of games in the Premier League. I am sure he will improve a lot.”
With City’s £150 million academy opened in December and providing a serious statement of their intent, it’s clear the club see developing top-quality young talent as a hugely important part of their future. Iheanacho, it seems, could be the first one to make a sustained impact on the first team.
“It was a very important for him to make a very good performance,” Pellegrini said. “He is a very good player. He is not just a striker because he assists two goals. He must continue working. He has a lot of things to improve but I am very happy for him.”
There were a number of other impressive displays alongside Iheanacho, but none better than Fernando, whose quiet renaissance continues.
He struggled for form last season, but his groin problem has finally been alleviated, and he’s playing superbly—making tackles and interceptions all over the pitch. He is also showing speed-of-thought when in possession, as with City’s fifth goal, scored by 17-year-old Manu Garcia.
Zabaleta’s injury was the one negative for Pellegrini. The City right-back went in for a challenge in the first half and damaged his medial knee ligaments—a recurrence of the problem that kept him out for two months at the start of the season.
“Pablo had the same injury he had one month ago. The same ligament, the same knee. We cannot know [the full extent of the problem] until tomorrow,” Pellegrini said.
City will now face Hull City at the Etihad on December 1 in the quarter-final, with a place at Wembley already in sight. Their League Cup win in 2014, Pellegrini’s first piece of major silverware as a manager in Europe, provided them with a platform for success, with City then going on to win the title in May.
The Chilean will be hoping for a repeat, and his 19-year-old Nigerianstar, who is sure to be the centre of attention when the competition resumes, looks ready for more first-team involvement in the coming weeks.
Source : b/r bleacher report