However imperious the club may have looked at the start of the 2016/17 season, Pep Guardiola and his Manchester City side have been well and truly brought back down to earth in recent weeks, a striking reminder that a lot of work still needs doing. Although the seeds are slowly being sewn and Guardiola is gradually crafting a team capable of fulfilling his footballing philosophy at the club, you sense the manager is still learning about his players, their abilities and the scale of the job at hand. And whilst last weekend’s defeat against Chelsea may seem somewhat disappointing and a barometer of how much still needs improving at the club, it could reap its own benefits in the long-run and in some way force Guardiola into acting sooner rather than later.
With this in mind I am referring directly to the Manchester City’s defence, most specifically those in the heart of the City defence where there is a real cause for concern at present. With Vincent Kompany once again ruled out through injury, it now seems clearer than ever that the club can no longer rely on the Belgian to be a reliable option at centre-half. All attention therefore turns to a defensive duo of Nicolas Otamendi and 22-year-old John Stones and for one of them to step into the captain’s shoes in the hope of leading Manchester City to defensive stability. Going off the investment made into both individuals, whether it again be a case of City overpaying for potential more so than proven Premier League quality or alternatively a true reflection of their footballing ability, both come with substantial price-tags and consequently an expectation to perform at the highest level for a club determined to leave its impact on world football.
Yet after three proved to be far from the magic number for the club last weekend with three goals conceded, Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho out for at least three games each and ultimately three points lost, maybe now is time for Guardiola to reassess the players he chooses to play in defence or in fact whether three at the back is actually a sustainable way forward for the club in all competitions. For a team competing for the title without a clean-sheet in five consecutive league games, it is therefore understandable why that degree of trust in the club’s defence of late has been somewhat lost by City fans.
Whilst this is far from any attack on an individual centre-back, in an attempt to solve the club’s defensive crisis I suggest five central defenders that could both potentially move to the club in the upcoming transfer window(s) and could may well prove to be a significant improvement than the tools already at Pep Guardiola’s disposal.
1) Virgil Van Dijk (Southampton)
After reports surfaced late last week that Manchester City were among a number of clubs closely following Southampton’s Virgil van Dijk, who has a £25m buyout clause should paper talk be anything to go by, could van Dijk be the answer to City’s many defensive problems? Before signing for Southampton back in 2013 for £13m the Dutch defender started his in the Eredivisie with Groningen before moving to Celtic in 2013, even playing alongside City’s own Belgian centre-back Jason Denayer. And it was in Scotland whereby van Dijk well and truly made a name for himself – named in the PFA Team of the Year for both seasons in the Scottish Premier League as well as helping Celtic to success on all fronts during his time at the club. Now at 25 years of age, whilst van Dijk may not offer the experience which the likes of John Stones or even Tosin Adarabioyo may benefit from in the long term, he does present a number of qualities which City’s defence could benefit from collectively. Whether that be his ability to confidently dribble with the ball, command and lead from the back or simply just offer a greater reliability in defence as a centre-back that excels in impressive concentration levels and ball interception, the Netherlands centre-back has certainly stood out in recent years.
Signing van Dijk could therefore be the safest and most reliable option this winter or maybe even as later as the summer transfer window and with Southampton often keen to sell when an individual players’ stock is at its highest, City may well need to act quickly with a number of potential suitors closely monitoring his progress this season. Adjusting comfortably to life in the Premier League, showing his true qualities in a very short period of time and earning comparisons with some of the best defenders in the league, van Dijk has impressed and could flourish even further under managerial know-how of Pep Guardiola. Consequently, going off his reported buyout clause or perhaps for a fee even greater, signing van Dijk could prove to be money very well spent.
2) Thiago Silva (PSG)
After City’s defeat at Chelsea, the club must definitely now know how it feels to come up against a Brazilian centre-back at the top of their game. I mean, despite whether or not you think the obstruction on Aguero was a clear-cut case of last man and necessary sending off, there is no denying that for the other 80 or so minutes that David Luiz, notably in a three-man defence, perhaps had one of his best performances in a Chelsea shirt yet. Therefore could it be time that City swooped for a proven Brazilian centre-back of their own?
Evidently a potential purchase Thiago Silva may go against the club’s recent recruitment policy in buying younger players for the future but the likes of John Stones, Pablo Maffeo and Angeliño would most definitely benefit from an experienced defender around the club, as well as being able to link up comfortably with fellow Brazilian Fernandinho in the centre of the pitch. With national teammate Marquinhos largely seen as both the future of PSG’s defensive line as well as a future national team captain in the making, 32-year-old Thiago Silva has provided a perfect partner to learn from in both setups. Meanwhile given the rise of 21-year-old Presnel Kimpembe this season, who like Marquinhos, has quickly eased into life in the PSG first-team, Silva’s experience and leadership qualities clearly stand out as useful qualities for younger defenders to learn from.
Incredibly strong in the air in aerial duels, an intelligent passer of the ball and an experienced leader in defence, Silva has a wealth of experience as captain at both at club and international level, captaining Brazil to victory in the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup and fourth place at the 2014 World Cup. Yet despite Brazil’s infamous defeat to the hands of Germany, Silva would arrive at the club as one of the most decorated defenders in the modern-game and would be a perfect mentor to some of the club’s younger players.
As the second-most expensive defender in history behind Rio Ferdinand, Manchester City could be able to purchase the Brazilian at a significantly reduced price with The Guardian reporting that his current contract includes a type of cut-price buyout arrangement, facilitating any future move at a more than affordable transfer fee. However if City are interested in another Silva signing they may have to act quickly with Italian media reporting that Juventus are strongly considering bringing him back to Serie A during the 2017 summer transfer window, if not sooner.
3) Aymeric Laporte (Athletic Club)
After Manchester City missed out on securing the French international and Athletic Club centre-back Aymeric Laporte during the summer transfer window, the highly-rated defender expressed to the media just how grateful he was to the clubs that had shown a significant interest in acquiring his services and marked it as a reflection of how well he had performed and continues to do so as a player. In a clear nod to City’s interest in the defender, Laporte rebuffed City’s advances before extending his stay at the club and signed a new four-year deal, extending his contract and increasing his release clause to £52m until 2018 before reaching a reported £56m for the two following years. Basing his decision to stay on a number of factors including his own career, family, teammates and the fans of a club which has done a great deal in making Laporte the player and the talent he has become in recent seasons, the Frenchman is clearly a wanted man and a defender in demand.
Conversely as we have seen all too often in football, contract extensions and public displays of affection to a club can often be a case of smoke and mirrors and who knows what twist an already protracted transfer saga may take as we head into the January transfer window. With City having significant problems at the heart of defence and Guardiola, if the summer market has been anything to go by, intent on rejuvenating a Manchester City side with the best young talents in the game; Laporte fits the bill more than ever. Ticking all the boxes, who would put it past a persistent Pep to try and poach Laporte once more? Laporte would also arrive at the club with substantial European experience as well as playing experience in another European league. Evidently with Pep Guardiola a keen admirer of his abilities, a move to Manchester could be the best move for Laporte’s career and would help him establish himself as a mainstay in the French international team. He may however again find it hard to leave a club that is so close to his heart but as we know too well, anything is possible in football and I do feel that it would be worth pulling out all the stops once again to make a move happen for one of the best young talents in modern football.
4) Victor Lindelöf (SL Benfica)
At two months younger than John Stones, there could already question marks about signing another young defender in a similar to mould to one of our own already but if Pep Guardiola is looking to overhaul the current Manchester City squad with some of the most talented youngsters in the modern-game then he should look no further than the Portuguese top flight, specifically at SL Benfica’s 22-year-old centre-back Victor Lindelöf. After spending the majority of his younger years playing for numerous clubs in Sweden, Lindelöf made his professional debut there before his talents were quickly noticed by SL Benfica and it was not long before he was plying his trade in the Portuguese Primeira Liga. After signing in 2011 and initially starting his life at Benfica as part of their B team, Lindelöf made his first-team debut in 2013 and two seasons later asserted himself in the first-team as well as progressing through the Swedish national-team youth ranks right up to the senior team.
Extending his contract in June 2015 until 2020, Lindelöf has gone from strength to strength in the past two seasons and in the process alerted some of Europe’s biggest teams to his potential, sending the transfer rumour mill into overdrive. With Manchester United and Chelsea two of several clubs reportedly rumoured to be monitoring his progress closely with a view of signing him next summer, The Sun have reported that although the defender does indeed have a break clause in his contract set at £25m, this does not apply until summer 2017 and it may take anything up to double that break-clause to make any deal happen. Whether it may be that bit premature for Lindelöf to consider a move to pastures new after only recently securing regular first-team football for SL Benfica, remains to be seen.
Lindelöf does however certainly boast the highly desired qualities of a centre-back that seem so few and far between – keen to play short-passes and confidently dribble with the ball as well as going about his defensive duties in a calm and composed manner, he is also a defender that reluctantly dives into tackles. Therefore should he continue developing at the speed and manner in which he has been doing so of late, a move elsewhere could very much be on the cards. And whilst it may be seen as a significant risk in signing yet another young defender alongside an already very young John Stones, who knows what the future may hold, should City miss out on Lindelöf. It could be a risk that is well worth taking and a price worth paying for long-term defensive stability for many years to come.
5) José Giménez (Atlético Madrid)
If there are any clubs that need a blueprint in how to properly defend you need look no further than Madrid, Spain – more specifically Diego Simeone’s Atlético Madrid as they continue to dispel the myth that the Spanish top flight is merely a two-way battle between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. In their title-winning 2013/14 season Simeone’s men only conceded 26 goals throughout the season, 29 a season later and a quite remarkable 18 goals during the 2015/16 season – still only good enough for another third-placed La Liga finish. Likewise in the club’s last 20 UEFA Champions League home games, Atlético have only conceded 5 goals, a run which dates back to the 2013/14 season – somewhat staggering by all accounts. From these astonishing statistics alone you would be right to think that any of Simeone’s back line would be a welcome addition to the club but if we are talking centrally, I personally feel that José Giménez would be a superb addition.
As documented in a recent View from Spain here on City Watch, Giménez has been a stand-out performer for Atlético Madrid in recent years after making his way into Simeone’s plans following a move from Uruguay several seasons ago. Clearly being offered first-team opportunities, he has been a blessing for both club and country as part of a defensive duo with Diego Godin that has continuously proved so hard to break down. Despite being only 21 years of age Giménez would arrive at the club with enough experience from playing in Spain and in European competitions to function effectively alongside John Stones and the two could form a solid City central pairing for many years in Guardiola’s image. Guardiola could be the right man and Manchester City could provide the right platform to help Giménez follow in Godin’s footsteps and become one of the greatest centre-backs in modern football and if a deal can be reached then the club must do so.
In spite of his potential and meteoric rise to become one of the most talented young defenders in world football, ESPNFC have reported in recent weeks that the Uruguayan has struggled to force his way back into Simeone’s plans after suffering a hamstring injury, alerting some of the biggest clubs in Europe that the promising centre-back could perhaps be unsettled heading into the January transfer window. And whilst any transfer is probably unlikely in January, there could now be greater potential than ever before for City to swoop for Giménez with reports suggesting it may only take as little as €40m to secure his services
Or one of our own… Tosin Adarabioyo
Alternatively there is always the option to promote one from within and give a chance to one of the club’s younger players rather than spending what many may deem as unnecessary cash – at least without trialling some of the talented youngsters coming through the City Football Academy. Therefore of all the youngsters to feature for the club during Guardiola’s relatively short time so far at the club you could say that arguably after his inclusion in Manchester City’s pre-season, Tosin Adarabioyo remains the best placed to step up and partner John Stones or Nicolas Otamendi in the heart of the city defence.
Pep Guardiola described Adarabioyo during City’s pre-season a player that is poised for a big future and after playing time in the summer it did seem that he would most certainly have a part to play this season under Pep. However given limited playing time thus far and with Vincent Kompany on his return from injury and even Aleksandar Kolarov stepping into the centre of defence when needed, it could again be a case of perseverance for both Adarabioyo and for Manchester City fans and maybe, like John Stones, Tosin’s personal development would benefit significantly from the arrival of another centre-back to work alongside in order for him to reach his full potential.
He started in City’s Champions League tie against Celtic and with other potential opportunities during a busy Christmas fixture list as well as an FA Cup tie against West Ham United, we could see Tosin feature that bit more often in the near future. But it may be somewhat premature to thrust him into the limelight, into a defence scrutinised game by game, and all in all it could mean that next season offers a more realistic opportunity or regular first-team playing time, perhaps even as part of a defensive three with John Stones and one of the aforementioned five – only time will tell!