Major Premier League rule change could now threaten Man City’s academy dominance next season

Major Premier League rule change could now threaten Man City’s academy dominance next season

The Premier League trophy has been held by Manchester City for the past three years, as have the two other Premier League trophies available at the academy level.

In the senior domestic scene, Manchester City has been dominant, winning five out of the last six Premier League titles. Their influence extends to the under-21 and under-18 levels as well, where they have also secured the titles for Premier League 2 and the under-18 Premier League national competitions for the past three years.

This remarkable achievement, referred to as the “triple treble” by chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak, reflects City’s comprehensive approach to all levels of the game. Their academy system consistently produces talented players, including Phil Foden, Rico Lewis, and Cole Palmer, who have made their mark in the first team. Additionally, players who didn’t quite meet the requirements for the first team have generated significant transfer fees for the club.

However, next season brings a significant change to the Premier League 2 format, as approved by Premier League clubs. This alteration poses a severe threat to Manchester City’s chances of retaining their title once again.

At present, the Premier League 2 consists of two separate divisions and follows a straightforward league system. Every team competes against each other both at home and away, and the team that finishes at the top of the league at the end of the season is declared the champion.

However, starting from the upcoming season, the divisions will be merged, and a more intricate “Swiss” system will be implemented for fixtures. This new system aims to provide a fresh challenge to players. The previous setup, which involved promotion and relegation, was considered to detract too much from player development, despite offering young players an accurate representation of the divisions they would play in throughout their careers.

The shareholders voted in favor of this new model during their Annual General Meeting last month. Consequently, it will be implemented starting from the next season, resembling the controversial format that will be used in the Champions League from 2024/25.

Instead of having a top division consisting of 14 teams and a bottom division with 11 teams, there will now be a single division comprising 25 teams. These clubs will be seeded into five groups of five teams each. Each team will face all the clubs in their respective group and four or five teams from the other groups.

Once all these matches have been completed, the combined table will determine the positions for the playoffs. The top 16 teams will qualify for a final knockout format. Therefore, it is possible for a team like City to finish at the top of the league table but then lose in the playoffs to a team that finished as low as 16th.

The seedings for the upcoming tournament will be determined based on the performance of teams in the PL2 over the past three years. Considering Manchester City’s consistent success as the winners of the top league during those seasons, it would be surprising to see them placed in a lower seeding group. City maintains a strong belief in their ability to win the division, regardless of the number of games played. However, relying on a knockout tournament to decide the end-of-season titles could jeopardize their chances of defending their championship.

In the under-18 Premier League, titles are awarded to the winners of the Northern and Southern divisions. These division winners then face each other in a one-off final to determine the National Champion. Manchester City has emerged victorious in this final for the past three seasons. Speaking before their recent National Final win against West Ham, the under-18 head coach, Ben Wilkinson, highlighted the risks involved in one-off knockout games.

He said: “In any league the best team wins the league, the manager [Pep Guardiola] says it a lot. To come top after 24, 38 games, indicates you’re the best team. I always think in one-off games you can win or lose depending on many small details as we found out at Arsenal [in the FA Youth Cup semi-final].

“But it goes back to the point that we’re in a development environment, and while we’re in that development we want to expose the players to as many of those high-pressure moments where you have to perform. From that POV it gives us another really valuable learning experience to see where the boys are at.”

On one side, the integration of a league format and a knockout competition in the new Premier League 2 system offers City coaches the desired exposure for their young players in preparation for first-team football. However, as indicated by Wilkinson, City experienced elimination from three cup competitions last season, ranging from under-18 to under-19, due to a player being sent off. Their performance in those competitions was determined by very narrow margins.

Under the new system, all it takes is a single poor game or an unfavorable decision in an early playoff match to prematurely end a season, depriving players of the opportunity to defend their titles. Additionally, the reduced league schedule will result in more games being decided by one-off knockout matches, which adds a new aspect to player development.

Considering City’s recent struggles in the FA Youth Cup, EFL Trophy, and UEFA Youth League, it can be argued that increased exposure to knockout games will contribute to building the necessary experience to succeed in those competitions in the future.

City remains committed to approaching every competition with the goal of winning it, and the new Premier League 2 format will be no exception. Having mastered the formula for success in the previous format, coaches and players now face the challenge of adapting to the new format, even if it means their title defense relies more on chance than they would prefer.

Major Premier League rule change could now threaten Man City’s academy dominance next season

Major Premier League rule change could now threaten Man City’s academy dominance next season

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