This season sees the introduction of the Barclays U21 Premier League. City are one of the founding members.
The fixtures were released last week, with City being drawn in Group C, alongside Chelsea, Crystal Palace, Fulham, Liverpool, Middlesbrough and Wolverhampton Wanderers.
The new league is part of the biggest shake-up in youth football development in a decade and is seen as the bridge between a club’s academy and first team.
It affords City fans the chance to see emerging talents Denis Suarez, Marcos Lopes and Karim Rekik in competitive football on a regular basis.
Home matches are set to take place at Hyde FC’s Ewen Fields, most of them kicking off at 7pm on Friday nights.
Supporters were given an exciting preview of these promising talents in pre-season and now there’s an opportunity to follow their progress more closely as they bid for regular involvement with the first team.
Each team will field at least seven players under the age of 21 with each team limited to three over-age outfield players and one over-age goalkeeper.
With games taking place over the weekend, from Friday to Monday, the idea is that players will be able to be involved with both the EDS and first team over the season, subject to Roberto Mancini and new EDS manager Atillio Lombardo's needs.
“The matches are structured to complement the Premier League game rounds,” said Premier League Director of Youth, Ged Roddy.
“So, as a first team manager there is a great benefit in knowing that you can have your U21 player on the bench for the first team, but if he doesn’t play then there’s still the option for him to have high quality competitive football that weekend in the U21 League.”
City’s Head of Academy Mark Allen will oversee the players’ fluid transitions between the Academy and EDS over the coming season, and he believes that the new system which was brought in as part of the Elite Player’s Performance Plan (EPPP) will only aid the work he’s been carrying out over the past few years.
The club were granted Category One status as part of the EPPP, the top possible band seen as the gold ribbon for youth football academies.
“The new Professional Development League system brought in alongside EPPP enables our players to get even closer to the first team experience which can only be a good thing for their development,” said Allen.
The Premier League have insisted that under the new league system, each club must play a minimum of two games at their main home stadium and the play-offs, semi-finals and final would all also take place at the Etihad Stadium should City qualify.
Here’s how the initial league system will work:
At the end of the first group stage the clubs are split into three new leagues: an Elite Group stage, Qualification Group Tier 1 and Qualification Group Tier 2.
After the clubs have played the second group stage (again home and away) the top sides progress to a knock-out phase. The two teams who finish top of the Qualification Groups will compete in a play-off to reach the first semi-final.
The winner of this tie will play the team that finishes top of the Elite Group Stage. The teams that finish second and third in the Elite Group Stage play in the other semi-final.
Premier League Chief Executive, Richard Scudamore believes that the new system will meet the objective to create more high quality first team footballers across England.
“Each stage of a player’s development is tailored to ensuring they have the best possible chance of progressing and the new Barclays U21 Premier League addresses one of the most critical points – the transition from Academy football to the highest standards in the first team,” he said.
This has all been arranged so that teams will play more evenly matched games to increase competition on a more consistent basis to help players reach their potential.
It means that the EDS will play a minimum of 26 league games this season, in addition to the minimum of six matches in this year’s NextGen Series.
We’ll bring you full coverage of all EDS matches in the new Barclays U21 Premier League and NextGen Series this season, with Twitter updates on matches, previews, match reports and interviews with Atillio Lombardo and his squad as they prepare for an exciting campaign at home and in Europe.