A tale of two halves.

That seems the ideal description when weighing up the contrasting fortunes of City’s Elite Development Squad at the midway point of the 2023/24 campaign.

On the domestic front, there is no doubting that it has proved a tough and challenging first few months of the season for Brian Barry-Murphy’s youthful squad.

Premier League 2 champions for the past three seasons, City’s Under-21s went into the Christmas and New Year break in the unfamiliar position of occupying last place in the table.

There are several mitigating factors - not least a lengthy injury list plus the fact that the departure of several leading figures from last season’s title-winning squad saw Barry-Murphy’s new-look group go even younger than ever before at the start of the campaign.

Though a challenge so far domestically, Barry-Murphy’s charges went from strength to strength in our UEFA Youth League group campaign, topping the table to secure our passage straight through to February’s last 16 knockouts for a second successive year.

Here we look at some of the key talking points and moments to savour from the campaign so far…

New format

This season saw the introduction of a new style format in PL2.

Having previously comprised a two-division format with relegation and promotion in both divisions, the new Premier League 2 campaign instead comprises of just one division made up of 26 clubs with Category One Academies.

The teams were divided into five pots based on their performances over the past three seasons.

There will be 20 Matchweeks in total, with each team playing 20 regular-season matches throughout the campaign.

Teams will play each club in their own seeding pot once, as well as three to five teams in all other pots either home or away.

After the regular season of 20 Match-weeks has completed, the top 16 teams will qualify for a single elimination play-off.

Teams will be drawn against each other based on their league positions and these will be one-off elimination matches with the higher-seeded team at home.

After a testing first 10 games, the young Blues know there is much work to do over the second course of the campaign.

But given we are just four points off 15th placed Nottingham Forest there is every confidence to believe City can soon start climbing the table once action resumes In the New Year.

And should our Under-21s secure a top-16 place, few sides would relish taking us on once the knockout stages of the new-look format kick In.

First footing

The enduring impact of City’s Academy continued with the seamless transition of Oscar Bobb from City’s EDS Into our first team squad over the summer to great effect.

And over the course of the first half of the campaign, several current members of our Under-21 cohort have also received an priceless taste of first team action.

After being named on the bench for September’s Carabao Cup trip to Newcastle United and Champions League group assignment away at Young Boys of Switzerland the following month, EDS skipper Micah Hamilton was afforded his full first team debut in December’s Champions League group finale away at Red Star Belgrade.

It’s fair to say the winger enjoyed a dream debut. Hamilton it was who opened the scoring early in the first half as his efforts helped inspire City to a thrilling 3-2 win in the Serbian capital.

Later that evening Hamilton’s Under-21 colleague Mahamadou Susoho was summoned from the bench to make his own senior City bow.

And first team manager Pep Guardiola also revealed that defender Max Alleyne would also have been blooded too but for a late Red Star fightback which changed the complexion of the game.

All three can now also call themselves world champions having travelled out to Saudi Arabia last week where they were part of City’s matchday squad in our successful FIFA Club World Cup campaign.

With several other youngsters, including Jacob Wright, Joel Ndala and Juston Oboavwoduo, also gaining experience in Jeddah, it’s further evidence the pathway between the Academy continues to go from strength to strength.

Euro vision

For the second season in a row, City made a fine fist of things in our UEFA Youth League campaign.

Pitted in the same group as Red Star Belgrade, Young Boys of Switzerland and RB Leipzig, the City Under-19s made a perfect start by recording an emphatic 5-2 home win over Red Star back in early September.

That set the template for an unbeaten six match campaign which featured battling come from behind draws away at an impressive Leipzig (1-1) and Red Star (2-2).

They were bookended by fine home wins over Leipzig and Young Boys with Barry-Murphy’s also cantering to a 4-0 win in Switzerland while that 3-0 success at home to the Swiss side saw 15-year-old Reigan Heskey on the scoresheet on his debut display, as we finished top of group by three points.

Now the squad await February’s last-16 with a burning desire unifying the group to go much further than last season’s agonising last 16 loss away to Hajduk Split.

Goals, goals, goals

In the testing environment of PL2 City have rarely failed to entertain even if their efforts haven’t always garnered the results our performances merited.

After suffering tough back-to-back losses at home to Spurs and then away at Fulham in our opening two matches, the City youngsters then showed their mettle by fighting out a spellbinding 4-4 draw at home to an experienced Aston Villa In late August.

The EDS further illustrated our potential with an emphatic 4-0 win away at Newcastle and then shared the spoils again in a roller-coaster 3-3 draw at fourth-placed Arsenal in early November.

Having raced into a 2-0 lead, City then fell 3-2 behind only to demonstrate our collective grit and character by claiming a deserved late leveller through Jacob Wright.

Comeback trail

Every side of course has its share of injury travails, but City have arguably been harder hit than most over the first course of the campaign.

Creative midfielder force Nico O’Reilly has been sidelined since the summer after undergoing ankle surgery though he hopes to be back in action by February.

Meanwhile the likes of Tai Sodje, Isaiah Dada-Mascoll and Will Dickson, to name but a few, have also endured lengthy spells out through injury.

There’s no reason to doubt that when Barry-Murphy is  finally able to call upon such talents, City will be all the stronger for their return.

Learning curve

City’s youngsters also took on board further vital lessons across the course of our EFL Trophy campaign.

Barry-Murphy’s troops kicked off proceedings with a dramatic penalty shoot-out win away at Grimsby Town after the sides had fought out a 2-2 draw at Blundell Park with City having been reduced to 10 men.

The City youngsters then put up a tenacious performance away at impressive League One side Barnsley before eventually going down 3-1.

And though our campaign ended with a tough 3-0 loss away at Bradford City, once again the learnings and experience gained across the course of the three matches will only stand the City youngsters in good stead looking to the long term.