CITYWATCH: The LB’s that Manchester City should target

Originally featured on City Watch

Whilst Chelsea have seemingly executed playing fluently and successfully with only three defenders, City have sporadically toyed with the idea opting for a three-man defence against Everton, Southampton, West Brom and most recently against Borussia Monchengladbach. Although a back line of three has worked with mixed success this season with the likes of Fernando and Fernandinho dropping back to assist with defensive duties, in City’s case it would appear to me that such choices have been a case of necessity rather than one of Pep’s famous tactical innovations.

With Gael Clichy not getting any younger and Aleksandar Kolarov being rotated to a more central defensive position this season, most notably producing ‘one of the best performances at centre-back’ that Pep Guardiola has ever seen during Manchester City’s win over Sunderland, opting for three defenders has, if anything, further highlighted the need to dip into the transfer market for a new left-sided defender. Whether Pep Guardiola will wait until the summer transfer window and persevere with his current options for the rest of the season remains to be seen but if recent paper talk is anything to go by, a new left-back is certainly on the club’s horizon.

We take a look at three players who with good reason could be swapping their current club’s colours for the sky blue of Manchester City in the not so distant future:

1) Alex Sandro (Juventus)

Joining the long list (which seems to grow every transfer window) of players FC Porto players scouted and purchased at a relatively low cost before being sold for substantial profit to a fellow top-flight European competitor, left-back Alex Sandro swapped Portugal for Italy and joined Juventus in August 2015. Purchased originally by FC Porto for €10m before being sold for €26m, expect Alex Sandro’s asking price to be nearer to double of what Juventus spent on the Brazilian defender if he is to move anywhere in the next year. Alex Sandro should be a familiar name to fans of both Manchester clubs having being heavily linked with the former FC Porto man two/three seasons ago. His impressive performances and development over the past 12 months however will undoubtedly leave both clubs kicking themselves wishing that they had moved for him sooner. I mean let us not forget it was Alex Sandro who assisted Mario Mandžukić during Juventus’ 1-0 home win over Manchester City in the Champions League, helping the club secure a spot in the Round of 16.

Regularly deployed as an advanced left-back and left-sided defensive midfielder, Alex Sandro’s acceleration and speed whilst dribbling with the ball not only means that he is able to operate at any position on the left-wing but would certainly fit into Guardiola’s high-intensity style of football. Sandro therefore offers a valuable attacking outlet with his strengths ranging from accurate passing and the ability cross directly from the left-wing thus regularly creating chances. Likewise Sandro’s ability to hold on to the ball will certainly appeal to Guardiola and Sandro could be well be another one of the missing pieces that Guardiola is looking for as he continue to complete his perfect jigsaw.

2) Alex Grimaldo (SL Benfica)

Moving from Aleks Kolarov to Alex Sandro and now to another Alex or Alejandro if you like – former FC Barcelona youth product and current SL Benfica player Alex Grimaldo. After joining Barcelona’s youth system at the age of 13, Guardiola will be well aware of the Spanish left-back having crossed paths with the youngster both as manager of Barcelona’s first team and their B team, with Grimaldo becoming the youngest player ever to appear in a Segunda División game at the age of 15 years and 349 days. A serious knee-injury suffered in February 2013 would eventually mean however that he would find it difficult to establish himself in Barcelona’s first-team. Grimaldo was later sold to SL Benfica last December as his contract neared its expiry, with his sale to Benfica including a clause which entitles his former club to earn a percentage of any future transfer deal.

With this in mind it is clear that FC Barcelona understood Grimaldo’s potential, a potential which quickly began to show upon the arrival of regular first-team football at Benfica and one which has rightly earned its plaudits across European football. As Grimaldo looks to reach the next level of his career both domestically and internationally as he seeks his first call-up for the full Spanish national team and further fulfil his potential, a move to Manchester City you would think would be a wise decision by the 21 year old. Working both under a manager, a philosophy and a style of play that he has known since his days as a talented youngster in Barcelona’s academy, Grimaldo could prove to be a revelation for Manchester City and a success in a Premier League, largely bereft of top quality left-backs.

3) Sead Kolašinac (FC Schalke 04)

Following the transfers of Kevin De Bruyne, Leroy Sané and Ilkay Gundogan from Bundesliga clubs, not forgetting Pep Guardiola’s transition from FC Bayern Munchen to Manchester City, could City be set to raid Germany’s top flight once again? Bundesliga left-back’s David Alaba and Ricardo Rodriguez have been often linked with City in recent seasons and both would undoubtedly be more than welcome additions to the club. Yet taking all matters into account as well as more recent transfer rumours, I strongly think that FC Schalke 04’s Sead Kolašinac is perhaps the more probable Bundesliga option, who unlike the aforementioned duo, is more of a conventional left-back. Whilst he is more than capable of playing on the left-side of midfield and has done on several occasions for both club and country, Kolašinac is as a player that who can provide an excellent and regular defensive contribution and excels at tackling but also a player who regularly plays short passes and isn’t afraid of shooting from distance.

In comparison to Grimaldo and Sandro, for what the 23 year-old may lack in agility and positional flexibility, he most certainly makes up for in his strong physique and decision-making; skills which have made the Schalke defender one of the best full-backs at present. Also with regards to a forward thinking Manchester City side, it could be that signing Kolašinac may help bring the best out of former teammate Leroy Sané too. However with a whole host of English clubs reported to have shown an interest in bringing him to the Premier League, City may have to act quickly in the winter transfer window to secure his services and in some ways, such urgency could be vital; forcing its hand to address what could later prove to be a difficult problem to solve on the left-hand side of the defence.

Or keep with one of our own? Angeliño

For every promising left-back that Manchester City are linked with there will always calls be for more top-flight managers to turn directly to youth products when a space needs filling, rather than recruiting players from further afield. In terms of the likely candidates at the club who could follow in the footsteps of Kolarov and Sagna, you would have to think that José Ángel Esmorís Tasende has the most potential and ability to do so – or Angeliño as you most probably know him by. With first-team opportunities few and far between for the young Spanish left-back, limited only to the early rounds of the EFL Cup and during Manchester City’s UEFA Champions League qualifying 1-0 win over Steaua Bucuresti, to throw Angeliño into the mix right now may be a little premature in his career.

There is no doubting his season-long loan in the MLS will have served the 19 year-old well, providing him with a priceless opportunity to develop both as a footballer and an individual whilst remaining part of the City Football Group, I do still feel however that it is very early on in his career for a first-team starting position. Clearly Angeliño is player for the future and by signing a more established left-back I believe that it would in fact do the opposite to hindering his development, instead helping the youngster fulfil and reach his full potential.

Let us know your thoughts on the matter and which player that YOU would like to see take over future left-back duties!

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