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Three Players to Watch: EFL Cup Fourth Round vs. Manchester City

At lease Fulham can focus on something else for one night...

Manchester City v Burnley FC - Premier League Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

October has clearly been a terrible month for Fulham. Thrashings to Arsenal and Bournemouth and a critical defeat to Cardiff makes everyone wonder if Slavisa Jokanovic will ever turn this around. The good news is that the club are still involved in another competition. The bad news is that for them to continue in the Carabao Cup, Fulham will have to go through the best club in all of England.

Now Manchester City have bigger goals than their opponents. They’re looking to repeat as Premier League Champions for the first time in their history and the first time any football club has done that since Manchester United in the late 2000s. City are also looking to make a massive dent in the Champions League as they are now deemed among the favorites to win the competition now that Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich are in their own states of crises.

Still, Pep Guardiola’s team are also the defending Champions in the Carabao Cup and their strength in depth will truly help them through this competition. But as this tournament is progressing, the question will be how much of the reserves will be used from both sides. Fulham could go with more than one Sessegnon on the pitch, as well as Matt O’Riley and many others so that their attention can be squarely focused on Premier League survival. City could do the same thing as they too are not short of some future stars in their academy system.

In a strange way, it wouldn’t be bad for Jokanovic to trot out one more different system one last time before their next big Premier League fixture. Bluntly, this has to be the last chance for him to experiment as the Carabao Cup has been treated more like a test lab than a proven competition in the modern era.

We’ve been there and done that in terms of who Pep Guardiola’s team is run. We all know how little time Fulham will have with the ball at their feet and how much mistakes will be punished when City sniff out a chance to attack it. Add in the element that this Fulham side are coming in with no self-esteem whatsoever and the ingredients of a heavy defeat, regardless of who plays, is in the cards.

On that note, let’s take a look at three players to pay attention to as the two football clubs reunite at the Etihad Stadium.

Phil Foden

If you all thought Ryan Sessegnon is the one future star for England, get a load of this central midfielder that keeps turning heads every chance he gets. At just 18, Foden has accomplished plenty in his short period of time in football. He’s already won the Golden Ball while guiding England to the Under-17 World Cup and has started earning International appearances at Under-21 level. Even in those games, he’s looked quite comfortable at that tier of competition and will surely be a man to watch in this summer’s European Championships. It’s only a matter of time before Foden garners call-ups at senior level.

Like all Manchester City youngsters, the question will be how best will Foden be able to develop since he’s behind so many world class players. It was only just last season where clubmate Jadon Sancho decided it was better for his development to leave English football and ply his trade at Borussia Dortmund. Would it be best for Foden to do the same? Or, like Ruben Loftus-Cheek, would it be better to still battle for a place in the starting XI every week in one of the best clubs in world football while possibly getting more experience while on loan?

Olieksandr Zinchenko

Another youngster that has no business sitting in the stands every week is the 21-year old attacking midfielder who already has 19 caps for his native Ukraine. Since October 2017, Zinchenko has been gradually garnering experience with Manchester City at Premier League level, but that is still only enough to total 623 minutes in nine appearances. This has come after making his professional footballing debut as an 18-year old with Ufa in the Russian Premier League. Zinchenko even has appearances in Euro2016 where he made three substitutions in the group stages. So to say that he has little experience at any level of football is a true exaggeration.

But like Foden, if Zinchenko would want to know sooner rather than later if he can ever get the opportunities to be a player starting for Guardiola week-in week-out for the sake of his development. If not, would it be best for him to move elsewhere very soon?

Kevin De Bruyne

All data from whoscored.com

Lastly, if there is one veteran on this City side that is almost guaranteed to play in tonight’s fixture, it might as well be one of the best players in England’s top flight who is recovering from a knee injury. Even if De Bruyne has played less than 100 minutes of Premier League competition, the 27-year old’s numbers are still near his career totals and he hasn’t looked out of sorts at all during his spells of playing time. Now it is a matter of putting in more shifts for him to De Bruyne to get comfortable playing football again with the hopes that no additional ligaments get hurt during the process. Since his breakout 2014/15 season with Wolfsburg, De Bruyne has never played less than 45 appearances in all competitions at club level; making his injury history a very small one. But as he gets closer to his late-20s, the Belgian star will need to be further monitored in hopes that peak performances stays repeatable while City continue to strive towards their ultimate goals.