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The gaping hole in Manchester City’s defence has been clear for all to see since Vincent Kompany left the club at the end of last season. But the Citizens could finally be on the verge of plugging that gap, if reports linking River Plate’s Lucas Martínez Quarta with a move to the Etihad Stadium prove to be accurate.
In a team packed with top talent, City’s lack of strength at centre-back sticks out like a sore thumb. When Pep Guardiola’s men edged Liverpool to the Premier League title in 2018/19 they did so by conceding a meagre 0.61 goals per 90 minutes. That has risen to a more concerning 0.9 per 90 this season.
It’s fairly obvious why – for a club which has been so impressive in their recruitment over the past few seasons, not replacing Kompany was a significant error of judgement. The resulting lack of depth at the heart of City’s defence saw them exposed when first choice central defender Aymeric Laporte was ruled out for most of the current campaign with a knee injury.
John Stones and Nicolás Otamendi haven’t cut the mustard when called upon this season, forcing Guardiola to repurpose midfielder Fernandinho as a defensive stopgap. That’s not good enough for a club with the Sky Blues’ aspirations and has left them an incredible 25 points behind Liverpool at the point when the Premier League was suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Luckily, if any club have the resources to remedy this situation quickly and effectively it’s Manchester City. Backed by the financial mite of the Abu Dhabi United Group, it would be fair to assume that City’s spending power will be relatively unaffected by the economic impact of COVID-19. As a result, they should be in a good position to strengthen in the transfer market this summer.
There will surely be departures too. It may be that Stones has finally exhausted Guardiola’s patience after another poor campaign, while 32-year-old Nicolás Otamendi looks to have reached the end of his time at the highest level.
A rumoured swap deal would see River Plate’s 23-year-old centre-back Quarta move to Manchester for a fee of around £19million, with Otamendi heading in the opposite direction.
In theory that makes perfect sense – Manchester City are in the market for a more youthful defender, while Otamendi is a River Plate supporter and may be keen to end a successful career with his boyhood team.
Quarta certainly has the pedigree to warrant City’s interest. Comfortable on either side of a centre-back pairing, the Buenos Aires-born star has been a regular in River’s side since 2018. He has already won the Copa Libertadores with Los Millonarios and his performances earned him a first Argentina cap in September last year.
Unsurprisingly, Quarta is exactly what you would expect from a player Guardiola is considering for his side. He is a front-foot defender who primarily focuses on progressing play forwards and passing out from the back.
While surprisingly strong in the air for a centre-back who is only 5ft 11in – winning 75 per cent of aerial duels in his own penalty area in 2019/20, the third most in Argentina’s Primera División – Quarta’s forte is with the ball at his feet.
He loves to spray cross-field passes and isn’t afraid to try and kickstart moves from deep positions. River Plate’s No.28 is inside the league’s top 20 players for long passes per 90 (8.58) and ranks similarly well when it comes to the total number of passes he has played into the final third this season (158).
Quarta is adept at recovery possession and isn’t short of pace but, in truth, his game is dominated by a desire to restart attacking moves at every turn. Only six players in Argentina’s top flight have made more progressive passes per 90 in 2019/20 (13.26) and he is the league’s third most effective player if we look at ball progression per minute on the pitch (5.99).
At 23, Quarta is the perfect age to try his luck in the Premier League – young enough to learn from one of the best coaches in the game, but old enough to handle the rigours of elite football.
While not the kind of big name addition that some City fans would like to see join their ranks, this is a defender who would fit in perfectly with Guardiola’s system.
Reasonably priced and with room to develop, Quarta should be high on Manchester City’s wish list this summer. The Etihad Stadium would be the ideal place for him to continue growing his burgeoning reputation.