Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola praised the club’s academy after teenager Rico Lewis grabbed the headlines in Wednesday’s come-from-behind 3-1 Champions League win over Sevilla.
Right-back Lewis marked his first senior start 19 days shy of his 18th birthday by grabbing the equaliser to cancel out Rafa Mir’s first-half header before goals from Julian Alvarez and Riyad Mahrez completed the turnaround.
The Bury-born Lewis, who has been with the club since the age of eight, was one of four academy graduates to feature for City on the night – with Phil Foden and Cole Palmer also in the starting 11 and Josh Wilson-Esbrand coming on as a second-half substitute.
“Sometimes you think you have to buy but when we can give a backup to Kyle (Walker) or Joao (Cancelo) from the academy this is a dream come true for all of us,” Guardiola said.
“It is good for the economy and we can rely on these guys. The academy is so important.
“They are working amazing with (academy director) Jason Wilcox. Since Jadon Sancho, Phil Foden, James McAtee, Cole Palmer, there have been many, many talented players.
“The guys who want to stay here and fight for a position have a chance. If they are not patient or they listen to their agent they can leave, it’s no problem.
“We saw the reception from our crowd. The people are pleased to have people from the academy playing with us. In cases of Phil, Cole, Rico and Josh, they have quality and they can help us.”
Lewis’ goal was set-up by a smart pass from Alvarez, who also teed up Mahrez’s strike after getting the second himself.
It was a fine night for the summer arrival from River Plate, asked to lead the line in the absence of the injured Erling Haaland.
The 22-year-old struggled to impose himself in Saturday’s 1-0 win over Leicester, but found more freedom in the second half of Wednesday’s game after a change of system at the break.
“I’m happy for the personal side and also for the group and the job we did, it was a good game,” the Argentina international said through a translator. “It’s good for my confidence.
“The first half was a bit difficult but I think we controlled always the game on our way, being patient and waiting for the chances. The second half was much better and we managed to do it.”
Wednesday’s match was a dead rubber at the end of the Group G campaign – City were already assured of top spot before kick-off and Sevilla knew the Europa League was their destination.
Rico Lewis, the youngest player in @ChampionsLeague history to score on his first start in the competition! 🤩👏
— Manchester City (@ManCity) November 2, 2022
But with this the first of four home games before the World Cup break – Premier League games against Fulham and Brentford come either side of the Carabao Cup fixture against Chelsea – Alvarez said it was important City kept building momentum.
“I think we did well,” he added. “We are happy with the performance in the group stage.
“Every game is important for us and carrying on winning is good for the confidence of the players. Especially today for example with players who usually play less minutes.
“So I think it is important for all of us to keep on winning.”
Later on Thursday, City released a statement condemning alleged racist abuse directed towards Lewis from visiting fans.
A club statement read: “Manchester City strongly condemns the racist abuse that Rico Lewis was subject to from Sevilla supporters at yesterday’s match.
“We understand that two arrests have been made and are continuing to work with Sevilla and GMP (Greater Manchester Police) to investigate this matter.
“We will not tolerate discrimination of any kind at our stadium and will be offering our full support to Rico following these vile incidents.”
ℹ️ Official Statement: Manchester City vs Sevilla FC.
— Sevilla FC (@SevillaFC_ENG) November 3, 2022
Sevilla said two supporters had been identified, and the club were awaiting further information which could see them take internal action.
A statement read: “Sevilla FC strongly condemn the behaviour of two fans in the away section of Manchester City’s stadium, who were identified and accused of allegedly behaving in a racist manner towards Manchester City player Rico Lewis.
“Sevilla FC are awaiting official confirmation of these facts, of which they have been made aware by Manchester City, and if these are proven, the two fans will be removed from the list of members.
“Sevilla FC would like to point out that there have never been any racist or xenophobic episodes at the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan stadium and that its fans have always been committed to the fight against racism.”