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Manchester City building for long-term success with academy focus

Manchester City were beaten by Chelsea in last season's FA Youth Cup final

As Manchester City and Chelsea prepare to face each other in Saturday's Premier League clash live on Sky Sports, there is already a battle of sorts taking place at youth level.

The young blues from London have been the dominant force in recent years - winning the FA Youth Cup in five out of the last seven seasons, as well as the UEFA Youth League in 2015 and 2016.

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But City's U18s took the national Premier League title in the summer - their first since opening the state-of-the-art City Football Academy in the shadow of the Etihad Stadium in 2014.

Young striker Kelechi Iheanacho is leading by example in Pep Guardiola's team, and City hope there are many more academy graduates to come.

Youth is at the heart of City's long-term plan for success, and the CFA was built to supply a production of talent to the first team. Academy director Mark Allen is the man overseeing it all.

The City Football Academy opened its doors in December 2014
Image: The City Football Academy opened its doors in December 2014

"We're lucky enough to have a fantastic facility," he tells Sky Sports News HQ. "It's probably the envy of many, however what goes into that is hard work and great people. At the end of it, that's hopefully what will help some of these boys get through."

While City's senior side vie for superiority in a six-team Premier League title race, the competition is fierce at youth level, too. The U18s title triumph was a welcome success, but at the CFA style is every bit as important as winning.

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"It's nice to get accolades along the way, that's all part of development, but the ultimate barometer will be the amount of players who play first-team football," says Allen. "Hopefully it's for us. If not, for others, and in time they go on to have long professional careers."

There's no shortage of experience on hand to try to make that happen. Former Republic of Ireland international Lee Carsley, who made over 300 Premier League appearances for Derby, Blackburn, Coventry, Everton and Birmingham, is responsible for the U18s.

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And Guardiola's influence is well-known. Ever since the CFA opened its doors two years ago, all of the age groups have been encouraged to adopt his playing philosophy.

"We've had a system in place prior to Pep in terms of way we wanted to play, but I think Pep was the the icing on the cake, in many respects," says Allen.

Pep Guardiola manager of Manchester City looks on during a training session on the eve of their UEFA Champions League clash with Celtic
Image: Pep Guardiola takes a keen interest in Manchester City's youth team

"He values that and loves the way we're developing the players and the style of play that we've got. It's very complementary to what he does at first-team level."

City's senior side will be aiming to boost their Premier League title prospects when Chelsea visit the Etihad Stadium on Saturday, but long-term success is the priority. At the CFA, the building blocks are already in place.

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