CITYWATCH: A View from Spain and Pick of the Players #2

Originally featured on CityWatch

With international football now in the past, brushed underneath the carpet until the next international break in March 2017, Premier League and La Liga clubs this week once again adapted to the demands of challenging domestically and in Europe with the return of the UEFA Champions League and Europa League. Whilst the debate between the Premier and Champions League continues to be a sticking point amongst many City fans as to which one is perhaps the most important or the one that the fans would most like to win, City’s modern-day size and stature means that challenging on two fronts is now part and parcel of football in the 21st century. Despite Tottenham Hotspur falling at the first hurdle, the Champions League story continues for Arsenal, Manchester and Leicester City, as it does for the many competing La Liga clubs that remain in the competition.

Clearly few clubs are privileged to compete in either European competition earning places based on their classification during the previous league campaign or as a reward for cup success but the effect of European Football and playing twice within a matter of days is not only felt by the individual teams competing in the competition but their opponents both pre and post European action. With this in mind, let us cast another view from Spain and another look at how City’s loan players got on during Gameweek 13 in La Liga. Has a week of European Football in anyway impacted on our loan players’ clubs or individual performances? Also look out for my Pick of the Players, selecting a La Liga player each week that could improve City based on the club’s most recent performance.

Players out on loan:

After it was announced earlier this week that Samir Nasri was to miss Sevilla’s crucial UEFA Champions League group game against closest rivals Juventus, a game in which Nasri’s loan club eventually lost 3-1 at home at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, we were sadly denied the opportunity of seeing Nasri come up against fellow Frenchman Eliaquim Mangala last weekend. After an impressive start to the season for Nasri as well as bouncing back from an early hamstring setback for Sevilla to face FC Barcelona a matter of weeks ago, a recurring hamstring problem meant that Sevilla would be without the Frenchman for their home game against Valencia last Saturday. Mangala meanwhile started at the heart of a three-man central defence for Valencia, but couldn’t help his side to a victory as they slumped to another defeat leaving Valencia two points from dropping into the relegation places with 8 defeats out of 13 matches so far this season.

A mere one place beneath Mangala’s Valencia lie Deportivo La Coruña where Colombian youngster Marlos Moreno is currently applying his trade after joining from Manchester City in August. After losing points to two late goals in a 1-1 draw against fellow strugglers Granada and most notably conceding two goals in the final five minutes last week to lose 4-3 against Sevilla, Moreno’s side looked to make amends in their early Saturday kick off against Malaga with Moreno named in the starting XI. After a bright start to the game, Moreno’s side took the lead early on but by the second-half the game had tipped on its head with Malaga taking a commanding 3-1 advantage into the latter stages of the game. As Deportivo fought back to settle proceedings at 3-3 with 8 minutes remaining, Moreno admittedly had little impact on the game as an attacking threat, only managing one shot on goal, albeit on target. His positive passing accuracy at 83% and winning three quarters of dribbles attempted throughout the game do however make for better readings and his stuttering start to life in Europe could be due to playing behind the striker in a wide position, rather than an out and out attacker where you would think he is most comfortable as a forward. A mixed bag for Moreno it would then seem but sadly no fairytale ending for either Deportivo after once again, just like against Sevilla, conceding another late goal and consequently losing the game 4-3.

There were better fortunes for club side of City loanees Manu Garcia and Ruben Sobrino however as Alaves recorded a surprising 2-1 away victory against high-flying Villarreal to continue their impressive league form. Despite the good result, neither Garcia nor Sobrino featured in the game as both continue to struggle to secure regular first-team football out in Spain. Likewise City loanee Bruno Zuculini failed to feature for Rayo Vallecano in their second division away tie against Levante, however due to reasons out of his control as the game was postponed. In much more positive news Pablo Marí continued his run in the Girona first-team, playing a full 90 minutes as his side battled to an important 2-1 away victory against fellow title competitors Huesca. Girona currently sit in second place in the Spanish second division with only goal difference separating them with third-placed Sevilla Atletico and four points between themselves and league favourites Levante.

Ex Blues in La Liga:

Former Manchester City star John Guidetti started in the centre of a three-man attack for Celta Vigo in their home midweek clash against Belgian side Standard Liege. As Vigo continue in their quest for Europa League qualification in what remains a very tight and competitive group, Guidetti played a full 90 minutes but his side failed to make anything from taking an early lead and were soon pegged back to leave their chances of reaching the next stages in the balance. In the league meanwhile former Manchester United and Villarreal forward Giuseppe Rossi was the preferred option for 70 minutes before Guidetti replaced the Italian as a second-half substitute, helping his side see out a 3-1 home victory against Granada. Stefan Savic remained as an unused substitute for Atlético Madrid during both their 2-0 home victory over PSV Eindhoven in the Champions League and 3-1 away victory over Osasuna on Sunday.

Meanwhile Denis Suarez remained on the bench for his second return to the United Kingdom this season as Barcelona comfortably beat Celtic 2-0 during the midweek round of Champions League fixtures, instead coming on as a second-half substitute and picking up a yellow card for his efforts as the Catalan side’s were held to a 1-1 away draw with Real Sociedad. Former City man Florian Lejeune was seemingly at fault for Real Betis’ only goal but his error did not prove to matter as his club side Eibar continued their impressive form, climbing into 7th place, three points adrift off third placed Atlético Madrid. Finally a round-up of former City forwards as Felipe Caicedo came off the bench at half-time to help guide Espanyol to a resounding 3-0 win over 15th placed Leganes. Additionally dropping down into the Spanish second division, Jose Angel Pozo’s Almeria could only draw 0-0 away at Valladolid with Pozo playing a full 90 minutes for the side from Southern Spain.

Pick of the Players: José Giménez

You can paper over the cracks all you like with an ‘innovative’ three-man defence and praising the performances of makeshift centre-backs but if Vincent Kompany’s recent injury setback and Kolarov’s starting position in City’s victory over the weekend has taught us anything is that the club are crying out for another centre-back. No matter how it is dressed up as Guardiola’s tactical innovations, I firmly believe a back-three has been out of necessity more than desire and with Stones and Kompany out of City’s squad for the Burnley victory, I guess the question is how long it will be until such a gaping defensive fragility will be eventually exposed. Although alarm-bells may not yet be ringing as City continue to pick up three points in important games, every title-winning team can rely on a solid central defensive pairing and whilst Stones and Otamendi have performed this season, I do however feel that signing central-defensive cover should be imperative in the near future for a forward-thinking Manchester City.

Although I could sit here and provide a list of the top performing centre-backs in La Liga based on pass accuracy, interceptions and a detailed overview of their positional play, I can’t help but think that City need a leader, a defender in a similar mould to the likes of Vincent Kompany and even Leonardo Bonucci who the club have been extensively linked with during the past six months. Therefore up step Uruguay international and Atlético Madrid centre-back José Giménez. At the age of 21, you could argue that spending big on a player that maybe on paper lacks top-flight experience at such a young age, as well as being a player that is still developing in the early stages of his career could be seen as a potential risk But given the youngsters meteoric rise to stardom during the past two seasons, cementing himself as one of the game’s most exciting prospects in recent years, not only would Giménez be one for the future but in a similar fashion to Stones, could settle into Guardiola’s system both comfortably and very quickly. After playing for both club and country, with just under 50 games under his belt for Atlético since joining from Uruguayan side Danubio back in 2013, Giménez has certainly learned from the best by anchoring the Spanish club’s defence alongside fellow countryman Diego Godin and is widely to share many of the qualities that his defensive partner does too.

ESPNFC report that the Uruguayan defender may have fallen out of favour with boss Diego Simeone after struggling to sustain a place in the Atlético starting XI this season following a hamstring injury. For this reason there could be a greater potential than ever for City to secure his services before other clubs do so with a whole host of clubs including cross-city rivals Manchester United reportedly very interested in the 21 year-old. Recent reports have suggested that Atlético value Giménez anywhere between €40m-€60m, although should interest (which it will likely do so) build in signing Giménez do expect Atlético Madrid to well and truly cash in on the highly talented youngster with a summer move perhaps more likely than a transfer this winter window.

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