Roberts shines brightest but Sane has bigger chance of Man City future
With not too much riding on Manchester City's final Champions League group game against Celtic, there was an interesting sub-plot played out on one of the wings at the Etihad Stadium that is worthy of attention.
Patrick Roberts, for whom City paid an initial £8 million last year, went head-to-head with Leroy Sane, a £37m signing from Schalke in August, and it was the young Englishman who had the more eye-catching night.
Roberts was sent out on loan to Celtic in January after making little headway under Manuel Pellegrini in the first half of his first season with City. The Scots insisted on a deal that lasted at least 18 months, meaning the youngster would - in theory - get plenty of game time north of the border, but that he has missed out on an awful lot at his parent club.
He would, for example, not get a summer working with Pep Guardiola, as many youngsters in his age group did.
Several members of the City squad on Tuesday, including Pablo Maffeo, Tosin Adarabioyo and Angelino, went on pre-season to China with Guardiola and the rest of the senior squad and, unlike Bersant Celina and Manu Garcia, have been kept around for the full season.
Sane, who lit up the Bundesliga last season and also attracted interest from arch talent snafflers Bayern Munich, was also one of few youthful City summer signings to stay at the club for Guardiola's first campaign.
Marlos Moreno and Oleksandar Zinchenko, for example, were signed and then loaned out, perhaps never to play for the club.
But so far this season Sane has shown only brief glimpses of his blistering speed and dazzling footwork, and this game presented a huge opportunity for him to work his way into Guardiola's plans for the busy Christmas period.
Against Chelsea at the weekend he started quietly, improved in the middle third of the match and was then withdrawn. Against Celtic he played the full match but was more frustrating than thrilling.
He saw much more of the ball than Roberts, but crucially it was the Celtic winger who made a decisive contribution.
After just four minutes, Roberts danced in from the right touchline - away from the attentions of Sane - cut onto his left foot and fired in the opening goal of the night.
The fact he celebrated his goal - not against his former employers but his current ones - showed just how much he enjoyed it, and perhaps that he saw this game as a chance to prove a point.
A few months ago his former City youth team-mate Celina, who is on loan at Twente, bemoaned the fact that his own chances of making it at City had been dealt a huge blow by the arrival of Sane and others this summer. It would be no huge surprise if Roberts felt similarly.
Roberts threatened to repeat his trick shortly after hitting the opener but Sane produced a good tackle on the by-line to divert the danger. Indeed, much of Sane's first-half efforts were focused on stopping his would-be team-mate.
There was a promising moment in the first half when Sane played a nice ball in behind the visiting defence, but once again it was Roberts who looked more threatening and he could have won a penalty after being dragged back by Gael Clichy in the area.
Roberts had a quieter second half but, while Sane saw more of the ball, he did not do a lot with it, and actually had Guardiola jigging around on the touchline in disappointment.
Guardiola first shook his head at one misplaced pass, then almost bent over backwards in increased frustration and by the end, after another over-hit ball, rubbed his head in dismay, as if to wonder why the prodigious winger was having such a poor night.
Just as in the rest of Sane's performances this season, there was evidence of his ability to run past players at speed and put in dangerous crosses, but too often even his best efforts produced very little.
Guardiola has said the Germany international needs to play with a bit more confidence, to realise he has the ability to play for the club. That, clearly, is an ongoing process, and perhaps the most generous assessment of his performance on Tuesday is that it will be character building.
Roberts, for this game at least, hinted he would relish the opportunity to prove himself as a Manchester City player.
But Guardiola knows there is more to it than that.
Speaking after the match, the Catalan did not seem overly enthused when talking about Roberts. "He scored a good goal," was his curt response when asked about the youngster's performance.
Asked about his chances at City in the future, he replied: "We are going to talk about it at the end of the season." Pressed further, he elaborated: "We know his quality, but the decision is not based on one game, it is based on a season. We are going to decide, he has a good quality as a winger, very good in the one-against-one, he works defensively, so he has potential. I am so happy about his performance."
You get the impression, though, that the revelation earlier this season that Roberts is Celtic's worst performer in training, according to one of his current team-mates at least, would have been noticed by one of Guardiola's technical staff.
What is most likely to happen over the coming months and years is that it will be Sane who will be one of the stars as Guardiola takes City forward, and not Roberts. But on this night at the Etihad it was the forgotten man who looked a safer bet.