It became clear about mid-way into the second half of Manchester City's comprehensive 3-0 League Cup semifinal second leg win that the performance of the Blues' latest youth prospect wasn't any old ordinary performance at all. Naturally, a caveat needs to be added here, because man of the match Marcos Lopes has only made four appearances for the club, but the signs are certainly encouraging.
There's a strange comparison that can be made between the young Portuguese midfielder and another City academy graduate that broke into the first team in the late 90s. Shaun Wright-Phillips began making senior appearances for the Blues in 1999, when manager Joe Royle spotted his potential -- he'd go on to play over 150 games for the club over two spells, earn 36 England caps, and win two FA Cups, a Premier League title and a League Cup.
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The side that Wright-Phillips made his debut in -- during a 1-0 League Cup win over Burnley at Turf Moor -- was clearly less talent-filled than the current City team. But that doesn't make comparisons between the youth product of 1999 and that of 2014 (well, 2013, but he's only really coming to the fore now) invalid.
The City side that won promotion at the end of the 1999-2000 season was still fairly similar to the one that had just about escaped the third tier via the playoffs. They were performing well above themselves -- in that old maxim of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts -- and the injection of Wright-Phillips offered an exciting new angle to the team. He was pacey, he was tricky, he frightened defenders, and he was dangerous in attack for the Blues.
Fast forward to Wednesday's match at Upton Park and Marcos Lopes -- in a high quality City team -- was pacey, he was tricky, he frightened defenders, and he was dangerous in attack for the Blues. Considering the difference between the 1999 squad and the 2014 squad, it really bodes well for the future of the 18-year-old.
The Brazilian-born number 64 assisted the first two of three goals. The opening strike -- Alvaro Negredo's bizarrely free header inside six yards (seriously, didn't one defender think it might be a good idea to mark him given his recent form?) -- came from a deft chip into the middle, weighted and angled perfectly from Lopes' left boot. Meanwhile, the second -- a delightful Sergio Aguero dink over Jussi Jaaskelainen -- was caused by that self same academy product taking it upon himself to beat a few defenders with a jinking run before sliding in one of the best strikers in the world to shoot.
One would think it'd be easy to be over-awed playing with teammates like he was, but in truth Lopes looked like he'd been a part of that first XI for years. He'd actually only played 90 minutes in total before getting a start against West Ham.
There were big things being written about him when he opened his goalscoring account two minutes into his debut. He was named on the bench by former manager Roberto Mancini for Watford's FA Cup third round visit to the Etihad in January 2013, and he left it to replace David Silva with just two minutes of time remaining.
In that two minutes, he raced onto a loose ball inside the box and slotted home, after Mario Balotelli's original shot had been parried by the goalkeeper. In doing so, he became City's youngest ever goalscorer -- replacing the little-known Ian Thompstone (who played just the once in a Blue shirt).
In Lopes' first start for the Blues -- earlier in this season's League Cup run, in a home tie with Wigan -- he played like he had been a member of the team for years, showing no signs of fear or intimidation from either the opposition or with the calibre of player he was playing with. Not only did he hit the crossbar and come close on a number of occasions, but he impressed the fans enough for them to give him a standing ovation when he was replaced by Jesus Navas in the second half.
Exactly the same could be said of his 90 minutes on Wednesday, as he showed he wasn't afraid to go sliding in when necessary or to challenge -- and win, mark you -- a ball in the air with a midfielder twice his size and body width. Lopes may only be a slight fella, but he's a bit like Silva in that regard in that he's much stronger than he looks.
With Samir Nasri facing a lengthy spell on the sidelines, the creativity burden behind the strikers will fall squarely at the feet of Silva and his fellow Spaniard Navas. But with the run of fixtures the Blues have coming up, Lopes has shown that he's more than capable of lending a hand when he's needed.
In fact, there will probably be a good number of fans who would be disappointed if the Portuguese youngster doesn't get some more Premier League minutes in the coming weeks, much in the same way that Wright-Phillips did back in the late 90s.