Originally featured on CityWatch
As the nights draw in, the winter Premier League ball appears and the fixtures begin to pile up it isn’t long before the attention changes from what is happening on the pitch to that off the pitch, more specifically the winter transfer window. With half the season played heading into the New Year, clubs throughout the Premier League should surely know their strongest squad, their weaknesses and both the areas and positions in which they need to improve. Whether or not that means such a move therefore happens in January with a player joining that completely ticks all the boxes remains to be seen. Do not be surprised however if you happen to see managers such as Pep Guardiola attempting to beat the summer rush and inflated prices with attempts at least, to improve Manchester City’s playing squad.
Despite being terrific performers when at their best, undeniably there are question marks surrounding the long-term fitness and future of right-backs Pablo Zabaleta and Bacary Sagna. Whilst it is unlikely Pep will move for two defenders straight away, the right side of defence is evidently a cause for future concern.
With this in mind, we take a look at three players who the club could realistically sign in either transfer window during 2017.
1) Mario Gaspar (Villarreal)
Fresh from his 2016 Puskas Award nomination for his scorpion-kick goal scored during Spain’s November 2015 friendly against England, Mario Gaspar could be the answer to Manchester City’s defensive problems. In a fine run of form both for club side Villarreal, Mario Gaspar’s high calibre performances have certainly not gone unnoticed this season with some of the biggest clubs across Europe, including Manchester City, heavily rumoured to be tracking the 26 year-old Spanish defender. Gaspar, having spent his entire footballing career at Villarreal making his way up through the youth ranks before progressing through his senior career into the first-team in 2009, may well be at an age where he is playing at the peak of his abilities, especially after breaking into the Spanish national team late last year.
Yet in order to fully cement his position as a potential future right-back for a Spanish national team undergoing serious redevelopment following Euro 2016, as well as the personal challenge of testing himself at the very highest level elsewhere in Europe, it seems plausible that Villarreal may well find themselves tempted to sell Gaspar whilst his stock is at its highest. Not only could it be in the best interests of the player but the club too should a big money offer from the likes of Manchester City come their way. Contracted until 2019, whilst it is difficult to put a price on an individual in the current climate, reports would suggest that Gaspar is valued at around £15-20m and at such a price, could prove to be an absolute steal.
2) João Cancelo (Valencia)
Described by former Valencia boss Gary Neville as incredible and a player with great speed and energy, João Cancelo is another name continually linked with a whole host of Champions League competing clubs. After beginning his career at SL Benfica, progressing through the various youth ranks and consequently making his competitive debut in January 2014, Cancelo joined Valencia on loan during the 2014/15 season and after impressing was later signed permanently by the Spanish club on a five year deal for a reported fee of €15m. WhoScored.com describe the 22 year-old not only as a player keen on dribbling and regularly playing long balls and crosses into the box but one who excels in his defensive contribution too.
Further factors which may attract Manchester City are his work-rate and energy levels, traits which Neville and more recent Valencia managers have all used to their advantage, often using Cancelo as a right wing back with a license to attack as well as playing as a traditional full-back. Able to stretch the game and create space for other players through a mixture of quick yet calculated bursts forwards, Cancelo has repeatedly showed he can be as much of a threat going forward as he is a defender. Should City wish to make a move for the Portuguese international however they will have to act quickly, with several outlets suggesting the youngster has been named as FC Barcelona’s number one summer transfer target with Chelsea also reportedly very interested in signing Cancelo too.
3) Fabinho (AS Monaco)
Brazilian international Fabinho meanwhile is another realistic option that could ultimately solve Manchester City’s long-term defensive uncertainties. The right-back, who can also play comfortably as a defensive midfielder has featured regularly for AS Monaco in the past two seasons and like both Gaspar and Cancelo has certainly impressed. Fellow Premier League title competitors Tottenham Hotspur will certainly know all about the 23 year-old after the Brazilian not only set up Monaco’s first goal in their UEFA Champions League match but later went on to win the Man of the Match award that evening. Likewise Manchester United appear to be hot on Fabinho’s trail with rumours frequently linking him to Jose Mourinho’s side throughout the summer and could yet make a move this winter to sign Fabinho as soon possible.
Unlike both Gaspar and Cancelo, what Fabinho does have is an abundance of UEFA Champions League experience, making 23 appearances in the competition alongside a further five in the Europa League. Fabinho also stated recently to Globo Esporte that he was aware of English interest during the summer transfer window but having failed to receive a single concrete offer, the best solution was to stay put at AS Monaco. After building on an impressive 2015/16 season, Fabinho has continued to impress thus far and with a move to Manchester already heavily rumoured, the Monaco man could be a perfect future purchase for Pep Guardiola and it could yet prove to be a battle between the red and blue half of the city to secure his signature.
Or keep with one of our own? Pablo Maffeo
For a forward-thinking Manchester City however, I suppose the question is whether the club should continue to spend and purchase established right-backs that seemingly tick all of the boxes? Or alternatively should Guardiola be looking directly to youth players for a natural successor to the likes of Pablo Zabaleta and Bacary Sagna? With this in mind, whilst fans remain divided about the best, most efficient and successful way forward for the club, as City’s youth development programme begins to bear fruit perhaps Pablo Maffeo is the most obvious choice to follow in the footsteps of his predecessors.
Whilst clearly it is still early days for the 19 year-old right-back, Maffeo’s performance in his competitive debut during City’s 1-0 Champions League play-off victory over Steaua Bucuresti alongside an impressive showing in the club’s 1-0 EFL Cup defeat to Manchester United, would suggest that the future is most certainly bright for Maffeo. I do personally believe however that Maffeo would strongly benefit from being allowed to develop naturally, perhaps alongside a new signing, before later being able to provide genuine competition for a starting position in the near future.
Let us know your thoughts on the matter and which player that YOU would like to see take over future right-back duties!