It came as a surprise in the summer transfer window that the one area of his squad Pep Guardiola decided not to tinker with was both full back positions.
All of City’s current options are the wrong side of 30, and with youth being injected into all other parts of the starting XI, the deficiencies of all the current incumbents have raised their heads again. Sagna is solid, if unspectacular and the oldest of the group, injuries have taken their toll on Zabaleta, Kolarov is prone to the familiar unwillingness to do any actual defending, and Clichy can’t seem to ever get any real run of form together.
So, in expectation of a foray into the market in either January or next summer, here are some options Pep and the money men could have in their crosshairs…
Pep’s pick – Héctor Bellerín, 21, Arsenal
It’s no great secret that City and Guardiola covet the Arsenal speedster. Bellerín came through La Masia, before moving to North London in the search of first team football. Following a brief loan at Watford, the youngster has since broken into Arsenal’s first team, nailing down a starting jersey to the point that the more senior Mathieu Debuchy moved back to France on a temporary basis. Lightning pace and an asset at both ends of the pitch, it’s no wonder the Gunners are waving a new contract at the Spaniard in the hope of securing him, while City and Barcelona wait in the wings. They could be more willing to strike a deal with Barcelona, rather than see another of their talents move north to the Etihad. Money could eventually talk, with City’s chequebook much less inhibited than the Catalan’s (see Nolito). Sergi Roberto’s blossoming might also see Barca’s interest diminish.
The Youngster – Pablo Maffeo, 19, Manchester City
More likely a back-up option to whoever Pep brings in as a starter, unless something drastic happens in the next couple of months. Both Zabaleta and Sagna currently being out injured presents the young Spaniard with an opportunity to stake his case, should Guardiola throw him into the mix. Impressed during the ill-fated pre-season, after returning from a loan spell at Girona where he made 13 appearances, a lack of experience to this point will probably mean he’s kept around the club while they work out if he can make the grade. The versatility of being able to slot in at centre-back could though make Maffeo an attractive option should Pep continue with his three man defensive line-ups.
Back to Bayern – Joshua Kimmich, 21, Bayern Munich
The heir to Phillip Lahm’s spot in the German national team, Kimmich was employed in central midfield during Pep’s final year in Munich, racking up 36 appearances. Under Ancelotti he’s found himself on the scoresheet more, as he’s continued to play further up the pitch. A lack of pace might mean his long term future won’t be in defence, although that didn’t particularly hinder Zabaleta in his prime. Clearly a youngster Pep fancies, whose versatility would be seen as a major plus but the stumbling block might be Bayern’s reluctance to countenance a deal for one of their brightest prospects, given they have no real financial need to sell, and would be loathe to see another German star defect to the Premier League.
Spanish option – Hugo Mallo, 25, Celta Vigo
Captain and mainstay of the Celta Vigo side that’s been steadily plugging away in La Liga, Hugo Mallo has spent his entire career at the club, joining their youth ranks in 1999, before moving up to the first team. Solid, if unspectacular when going forward, and combative in the Zabaleta mould injuries curtailed him slightly, but looks close to fulfilling the promise of his early career. Prising him away from the team he’s spent so long with could prove difficult, but if Celta miss out on the Champions League this season he could be tempted into a new challenge. Would probably cost much less than some on the radar, and would likely garner less competition for his signature.
The Wildcard – Cédric Soares, 25, Southampton
Cédric Soares came in under the radar among one of the Saints’ many summer rebuilds from Sporting Lisbon to fill the gap left by Nathaniel Clyne’s move to Liverpool. Since then he’s quietly made a solid reputation as a top modern full-back, with bags of energy, threat in attacking areas and dependable at the back. His career highlight will be holding down a starting berth in the Portugal side that went on to win this summer’s European Championship. An outsider, but knows the Premiership well by now, and has kept a consistent level of performance, with no doubt a glowing report card from Pep’s friend, Ronald Koeman from his time on the south coast – and history tells us every Saints player has a price tag they’ll do business at.
Pep’s pick – Alex Grimaldo, 21, Benfica
As the summer transfer window drew to a close, many of the papers were convinced Pep himself had been to Portugal to run the rule over the former Barca academy product. City firmly denied any scouting had taken place, but they will no doubt have Grimaldo on their radar. His stock has risen sharply since leaving Spain in the search of first team action, with bags of pace and a dangerous delivery mark him out as an archetypal Pep full back. Keep an eye on this one, you’ve not heard the last of the links.
The Youngster – Angelino, 19, Manchester City
Plenty of City fans expected Angelino to break through when he returned from his loan spell at New York last January, with Kolarov and Clichy both struggling for consistency. Manuel Pellegrini’s reluctance to back youth though saw him returning to life with the EDS. He made a decent impression at City’s sister club, playing 14 times, a little naivety and inexperience showing through at times, but still with plenty of promise. One of the stars of Pep’s first pre-season, much like Maffeo on the right, he feels like he might get another season or two to prove himself as cover for somebody else brought in.
Back to Bayern – David Alaba, 24, Bayern Munich
Pep’s such a fan of the Austrian that he once called him Bayern’s “God”. A ringing endorsement then. Able to play in any number of positions, fast, smart, strong going back and forward and ridiculously young for such an experienced payer, he even looks to be putting his injury troubles behind him. The big stumbling block would be just how unwilling Bayern would be to let him leave. Even if the player pushed for a transfer, it would take an astronomical fee to secure him. Bayern know you don’t win the big trophies by selling your best and brightest, but still, we can dream…
Spanish option – José Luis Gayà, 21, Valencia
The easiest comparison is to think of Gayà as a left-sided Héctor Bellerín. Sprinter’s pace, great reading of defensive situations and deadly in attacking areas, there will be a scramble for his signature if he decides he’s had enough of being the bright spark in an underwhelming Valencia side. City have built strong links with the club, and given their previous financial troubles, a reasonable deal could be done – maybe even in January given that Gayà isn’t cup-tied in Europe. My personal pick for our new starting left-back having followed Valencia alongside City, a fully rounded wide defender and one who could develop into one of the game’s best.
The Wildcard – Andrew Robertson, 22, Hull City
Since moving to the Tigers from Dundee for a modest fee, the young Scot has quietly got on with his business in a very poor Hull side. Great at driving forward, his year in the Championship helped him to grow playing senior football, he knows the league, is homegrown and his current contract expires at the end of the season. City could strike a bargain in the winter if they so wished – while the chequebook at the Etihad usually tends to have no limits, there’s always room for a bit of smart business, especially for a player who could grow into a solid squad player under Pep.
Written by Josh Stead
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