Pep Guardiola believes Manchester City's future looks bright after several academy players impressed in Tuesday night's 6-1 Carabao Cup win over Wycombe.
Guardiola handed six teenagers their debuts on the night, while 19-year-old Cole Palmer added the final flourish with a fine goal late on against a tiring Wycombe backline.
City started with four 18-year-olds – CJ Egan-Riley, Finley Burns, Luke Mbete, and Josh Wilson-Esbrand – in defence, while Romeo Lavia, 17, played the defensive midfield role. Jason McAtee, also 18, came off the bench to make his debut in the second half.
None of them looked out of place as they got their first taste of senior football, leaving Guardiola to heap praise on the academy staff after the match.
"I was convinced they would play and in these kind of games they are incredibly focused," he said.
"It is a dream for them to play in our stadium with our people. We told them, 'Make mistakes, do whatever you want, be yourself, do what you have to do and you will be supported by all the professional players and all of us, nothing wrong is going to happen today'. They did really well...
"I know from the players coming up through the academy they have something special. They love the club and feel grateful for the education, the families are grateful for how many hours the club invests in them. They have something special.
"Cole Palmer is an incredibly exceptional player. I think we can count on them and hopefully in the future with me or without me they can become regular players for the Man City first team."
Guardiola has tended to field strong sides in the Carabao Cup – and been rewarded by lifting the trophy in the last four seasons – but was forced into making changes on Tuesday night.
There was a clear imbalance to the squad, with all the debuts coming in defensive roles – while there were valuable run-outs for Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden in a powerful attacking line-up that also included Raheem Sterling, Riyad Mahrez and Ferran Torres.
Guardiola admitted he would have preferred to have had a little more experience at the back to help guide the youngsters, but circumstances dictated otherwise.
Aymeric Laporte and John Stones remain sidelined, Nathan Ake was granted compassionate leave following the death of his father, while Ruben Dias and Joao Cancelo were in need of a rest ahead of Saturday's Premier League showdown against Chelsea.
"Normally the best way to introduce these guys is one or two – surrounded by the first team. This is the best," Guardiola said.
"But the circumstance is what it is. We have no central defenders, Nathan is at a funeral, Ayme and John are better but not able, Kyle and Ferna not ready to play mentally.
"Joao should rest as he played all the minutes. That's why you have the academy. Use it, why should we not do it. After winning it four times in a row, this is the best time to do it."