With Sunderland’s dispatching of Manchester United in the Semi-Finals, it’s easy to forget that there was actually a story of similar magnitude occurring just miles across the city at the Etihad Stadium. Manchester City’s 9-0 aggregate demolition of West Ham – who although in bad form at the time, are far from being a poor side – may well go down as the finest performances of the season.
Although the tie was effectively over after the Citizens rammed six past the travelling side in the first clash, their 3-0 win at Upton Park was, arguably, even more impressive given that it was spearheaded by Marcos Lopes. Fans outside of City’s loyal following could have been forgiven for having no idea who the midfielder was when they saw the team-sheet, but by the end of the 90 minutes it was common knowledge that he is a talent.
After playing a role in all of the goals on the night in East London, the 18-year-old – who only officially became an adult just days after Christmas – was named man of the match for his display, prompting talk of him being ‘the next big thing’.
City have not been famed for their youth development in recent years. After being a club that traditionally gave young players a chance, the now Middle Eastern-backed side have adopted a changed philosophy in which the world’s best talent is parachuted down onto the turf to compete at the top end of English football. The Portuguese passer has been nurtured at the club’s much-hyped academy set-up for a period of time, where his abundant talents have been nurtured.
The silky playmaker – who is not dissimilar to David Silva – was snapped up from Benfica’s production line of talent in 2011, where he was being tipped to be a future star. With Financial Fair Play looming, it could be a sign of the times that City turned to a more cost effective method of securing a top creative player, or maybe the club were buying him for now.
His performance against West Ham certainly proved that he has the talent to compete at the moment, and has led to quiet calls for his inclusion in the Capital One Cup Final. There is no doubt that Lopes has earned these whispers, after all his display is up there as one of the very best in this year’s tournament, but will he really be trusted on the biggest stage?
The odds are slim, but Manuel Pellegrini may see Wembley as the ideal stage to give his teenage ace a few minutes of playing time. In a team where David Silva, Samir Nasri, Jesus Navas and Yaya Toure strut their stuff every week, Lopes was always going to be kicking into the wind this season for game time, but he has shown on one of his only opportunities that the potential is there.
“It’s not just his quality on the ball, it’s his desire off the ball as well. You can see how hard he works. We’ve known about him for a while, and is nicknamed ‘Figo’ and ‘Ronaldo’ around the club. He’s got a very bright future.”
Those are the words of Joleon Lescott, a man who knows a thing or two about playing against some of the very best players in the world having won the Premier League and represented his nation at top tournaments. Luis Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo have proven they can do it on the biggest stage, and it really would be a welcome tonic to see Lopes given such a chance early in his promising career.
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