Manchester City may have to wait a little longer for one of their talented academy graduates to make the first-team grade but Pep Guardiola’s strong side, spearheaded by three vibrant youngsters sourced from elsewhere, did what they had to do at Crystal Palace.
As against Arsenal in the Premier League last month it was Raheem Sterling, 22, and Leroy Sane, 21, who did the damage for City in a competitive FA Cup fourth-round clash at Selhurst Park.
On a day when Liverpool’s second-string side crashed out at the hands of Wolves, Guardiola named a strong team to ensure he would not come unstuck as Jurgen Klopp did.
With Sergio Aguero not fully fit, the coach let Gabriel Jesus, the extremely promising 19-year-old signed this month, off the leash with Sane and Sterling either side of him.
Jesus worked hard and showed flashes of his talent in an almost clichéd introduction to life in English football, battling for aerial balls and riding mistimed challenges in - for much of the second half - biblical hail.
And indeed it was Jesus who laid on City’s opener when he turned sharply in midfield and played a slide-rule pass to Sterling, who did not have to worry about his options. There was just one: shoot. The England international has struggled to make his mind up in front of goal at times this season but such was the quality of the pass, all he needed to do was roll the ball past the onrushing Wayne Hennessey.
Jesus soon went close to his first City goal but his shot was well saved by Hennessey after Sterling had attempted to return the favour by flicking the ball into his new team-mate’s path.
Palace rarely posed a threat to the City goal but the game was only made safe in the 71st minute when David Silva, a member of City’s older guard, picked up the ball in his own half, advanced into Palace territory and picked out Sane, who had made the run Jesus could not. The Germany winger, like Sterling in the first half, needed only to keep his head to beat Hennessey.
There was another chance for Jesus to get in on the act late on but after rounding Hennessey and eyeing up his first goal in English football, he slipped on the soaked turf.
He was disappointed to let the opportunity slide but the strength, pace and technique he had shown to get into that position in the first place was first class, and he will have plenty of time to demonstrate more of the same.
Jesus, Sterling and Sane are three of City’s biggest investments and will lead the attack for years to come.
It will be argued that is exactly how it should be, given their transfer fees; they did cost around £130 million between them, after all.
But their talents suggest City have at least put their eggs in the right baskets, even if it does mean other youngsters will have to wait their turn.
Guardiola said on Friday that he expects four or five members of the club’s Under-18 squad to contribute to the first team in the future. Brahim Diaz, the 17-year-old who made his first team debut in the EFL Cup in September, Phil Foden, the 16-year-old who was on the bench in the Champions League, and Jadon Sancho, another hugely promising 16-year-old, are the stars of a devastating youth team and all surely have bright futures in the game.
There was no danger of them being involved today given they had only put on their most recent recital on Thursday night, and because Guardiola was determined to pick as strong a team possible.
But what does that say for the lads who are one or two years older than Brahim, Sancho and Foden who could not get a look in here?
Tosin Adarabioyo and Aleix Garcia were promoted to Guardiola’s senior squad at the start of the season but have struggled for opportunities and the former could even leave the club in the coming days, should Everton or Celtic take advantage of his expiring contract and the fact his agents are said to want a six-figure sum from City just to keep him.
With Vincent Kompany making a return to the line-up – a solid one at that – Adarabioyo, the 19-year-old Manchester lad, still has John Stones ahead of him in the pecking order, even if the expensive international cannot get into the team either.
Garcia, too, is understood to have harboured doubts about his own future at the club, not least as he saw Pablo Maffeo and Angelino, another two first-team youngsters, sent on loan to Girona at Christmas after failing to break into Guardiola’s plans.
Yaya Toure, who was behind Garcia in the pecking order at the start of the season, wrapped this tie up with a sumptuous free-kick in the final moments to offer a reminder, along with Silva and Kompany, that there are more obstacles to academy graduates than just the other, more expensive and probably more talented, youngsters.
And what of Kelechi Iheanacho, who scored an FA Cup hat-trick at this stage last year but has not been named in the last two matchday squads – since Jesus’ arrival – and was not kept out today by any physical issue?
It would be unfair to criticise Guardiola for not using academy graduates on a day when Klopp will face the opposite charge, and especially as the Catalan did turn to three forwards with the majority of their careers ahead of them. Most importantly, his team delivered a convincing victory.
There will, however, be one or two young players on the books wondering whether their chance will ever come.
More positively, Sane, Sterling and Jesus offered City fans a glimpse of the future and for them, it certainly looks bright.