The only unfamiliar aspect of the Manchester City forward line Pep Guardiola selected to face Fulham in the fourth round of the FA Cup was Jack Grealish’s newly shorn hairline.
Fresh from the barber’s chair – keeping up with Phil Foden really is tough nowadays – Grealish will line up alongside his England teammate and Riyad Mahrez in the attacking trident.
It is perhaps the front three most emblematic of Guardiola’s City at this stage of their development. None of Raheem Sterling’s relentless runs in behind, nor Gabriel Jesus’ lingering resemblance to a traditional striker.
Grealish, Mahrez and Foden are all men who like to exist between the lines, in the pockets, pulling the likes of former City youngster Tosin Adarabioyo and Fulham captain Tim Ream into areas they don’t want to be.
The freescoring Championship leaders are unlikely to park the bus, but if Guardiola’s preferred plan of attack does not bear fruit he has – finally – a noticeable point of difference among the substitutes.
It is almost 18 months since Liam Delap’s surprise Premier League debut against Leicester City. Last season’s top scorer with the title-winning EDS side has been ravaged by injury this time around.
Delap has one goal in four appearances for the second string in 2021/22 and has not featured competitively since October.
Nevertheless, there will be a clamor for his involvement at the earliest opportunity. Fans should not expect too much, too soon, but Delap’s return feels timely.
Around the time he first got City supporters excited, Julian Alvarez was not a known quantity in Manchester and Erling Haaland was half a season into his Borussia Dortmund career.
Alvarez will add extra competition to the Blues’ forward line next term and, if you believe some of the speculation around Haaland this week, competition for places up front could be particularly fierce come August.
Just like you, we can’t get enough of Manchester City! That’s why we’ve decided to supplement our expansive City coverage on the Manchester Evening News with a more fan-oriented platform catered specifically to City fans – City Is Ours.
Writers and presenters who share your passion for the blue side of Manchester will be producing written, visual and audio content to reflect the mood in the stands as well as the press box.
So this might mark the start of a priceless opportunity for Delap. He is the 12th graduate from his generation of the academy to make a matchday squad this season, suggesting Guardiola will not hesitate to use him if required.
Still only 18, if he shows he is back up to speed, he will represent a valuable alternative for the battles to come at home and abroad.
Just like when his father Rory used to furiously rub the ball on his shirt at the Stoke more than a decade ago, it might be time for lift-off.