Not a few eyebrows were raised when Rico Lewis was spotted in the Manchester City line-up to face Leeds on Wednesday night. Although Pep Guardiola had thrown the youngster into the fray in a few of City’s previous games, he has never has started a Premier League match before.
That the City Academy graduate is hugely talented is not in doubt. But when you have the likes of Joao Cancelo and Kyle Walker seated on the bench, it becomes a bit surprising why the youngster should be starting an important league game.
City started the Premier League encounter against Leeds United eight points behind Arsenal on the league table. With Mikel Arteta’s side looking more and more like the real deal, there's hardly any margin for error. Guardiola will, therefore, be expected to start his best legs against a Leeds side capable of an upset, especially when playing before their home crowd.
But ever the genius that he is, the Catalan boss chose to confound many by playing the youngster in place of experienced and reliable hands. Lewis mostly tucked into the midfield as City operated with three centre-backs covering the width of the defence line. He was up to the task at hand, executing his manager’s tactics to perfection as he was one of the best players on the pitch for most of the game.
When City was out of possession, he will usually fall back into his right-back position providing the much-needed cover in defence. That helped in ensuring that City’s goal was not threatened for much of the game. In fact, at halftime, attempts on goal between the two teams stood at 16 to 1 in City's favour. That’s the biggest gap in any Premier League match season.
The 18-year-old received a warm embrace from his manager when he was substituted in the 68th minute as if to say he had finally proved ready for the big time.
For a manager that has coached some of the best talents in the game over the years, trusting Lewis to perform in such an important game shows just how much he believes in the young talent.
That makes much sense now as Lewis was left behind in the first team even when several other young stars were sent out on loan or sold outright back in the summer. It does appear the young Englishman has taken his opportunity with both hands and proved his manager right.
Although City still have a couple of well-experienced right-backs in the team, it won’t be surprising to see Lewis force his way into the team in the coming months and years.