Pep Guardiola is slowly translating his ideals to Man City, but as his first season in charge reaches its final stages, there remain some obvious problem areas that the manager must work on going forward. Two of those areas are on either side of his defensive line.
The full-back positions have been occupied by a rotated group of players, all of whom are over the age of 30 and most of whom do not seem to fit Guardiola’s stylistic demands. Aleksandr Kolarov is perhaps the exception, though the 31-year-old has often been utilised as a central defender.
On the left, 31-year-old Gael Clichy has competed with Kolarov and, on occasion, 31-year-old natural midfielder Fernandinho, while on the right the 34-year-old Bacary Sagna and 32-year-old Pablo Zabaleta have been alternated.
Full-Back Options for Man City
It’s time for a fresh new slate in the full-back positions, and here Football Whispers looks at five players Manchester City should look to sign with this in mind.
Monaco have been one of the most enthralling teams to watch in European football this season. Leonardo Jardim’s side have scored goals at a phenomenal rate, and their full-backs, Djibril Sidibe and Benjamin Mendy, have been central to such incisive attacking play. Both players have earned call-ups to the France national team as a result, though if Manchester City are on the hunt for full-backs in the summer they would be wise not to focus on Mendy and Sidibe, but on their team-mate, Fabinho.
The 23-year-old Brazilian has spent the last two seasons in the centre of midfield, where he has thrived. The more central role has enabled him to make full use of his powerful tackling, diligent passing and combination play, while his surging forward runs have led to him scoring nine goals this term.
However, Fabinho started his Monaco career as a right-back, and the qualities he has taken with him into central midfield would allow him to fit in perfectly at Manchester City, especially given Guardiola’s proclivity for having his full-backs move infield and support the midfield.
THEO HERNANDEZ: ATLETICO MADRID
Manchester City have been persistently linked with moves for Atletico Madrid’s Hernandez brothers, Lucas and Theo, in recent months. The former is the more established of the pair, having made his mark on Atletico’s first team as a central defender over the last two years. However, the latter arguably has an even greater upside.
Both players are promising, though at the age of 19 Theo is the younger of the brothers by two years. And, on the basis of his form while on loan at Alaves this season, he is already carving out his own career path. A bull of a left-back, the Frenchman is physically imposing and extremely fast, attacks the left flank with purpose and defends with vigour.
Guardiola has adapted his managerial philosophy, as he always does, to suit his new surroundings. As such, he has placed great emphasis on swift counter-attacks in the attacking transition phase, making use of pacey wide men in Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane in the process. With his athleticism and intent, Theo Hernandez could fit right in.
SEAD KOLASINAC: SCHALKE
Schalke have endured a poor 2016-17 campaign spent well away from the Bundesliga’s European qualification places, but that hasn’t stopped Sead Kolasinac from attracting the attention of some of the continent’s biggest clubs. The Bosnian has been his team’s most consistent and reliable performer this season, prompting some to suggest he is the finest left-back in German football today.
Considering this opinion, along with the fact the player’s contract with Schalke expires in the summer, it is not in the least bit surprising to learn that clubs are reportedly stumbling over each other in a bid to secure his signature. At 23, he still has plenty of potential left to fulfil, yet he undoubtedly has the capacity to operate at a higher level already.
Manchester City have been linked with a move for Kolasinac, who, along with his physical strength, aggressive defending and sound technical ability, possesses the versatility to also slot in at centre-back if and when necessary.
DALEY SINKGRAVEN: AJAX
Rarely in modern football do players get second chances at top clubs, such is the spending power of the most prestigious. Thus, when Daley Sinkgraven failed to live up to expectations in his first two years at Ajax, it would have been understandable if the 21-year-old had steeled himself for a temporary, or permanent, move away. But just as his favoured positions were taken by other players, the youngster has found a new lease of life in a new role.
This season, Sinkgraven has performed well at left-back for the Dutch giants. Previously thought of as an attack-minded central midfielder or left winger, he has adjusted well to a more withdrawn role, where there is less emphasis on penetrative runs. In his new berth, the former Heerenveen man has had a light shone on his effective distribution, creativity and energy.
Guardiola adores technically gifted players within his back line. And, when it comes to technique, few do it better than Ajax. With almost three full seasons of experience with the Eredivisie title challengers, and having shown his class at left-back, Sinkgraven could be the perfect option for Manchester City’s left-sided ‘inverted full-back’ role.
KIERAN TIERNEY: CELTIC
— Stephen Robinson⚽? (@StevieBhoy1985) March 31, 2017
Over the recent international break, Kieran Tierney excelled in a new position. Naturally, the 19-year-old is a left-back, but he put in a superb individual display at right-back as Scotland defeated Slovenia in a crucial 2018 World Cup qualifier at Hampden.
Tierney has predominantly been linked with Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United of late, but the Red Devils’ city rivals will almost certainly have run the rule over the flexible Celtic full-back, whose dribbling skill, accurate and intelligent crossing, and wholehearted approach would no doubt be appreciated by Guardiola.
On top of his technical and tactical abilities, Tierney’s latest move would be relevant. His ability to play at right-back makes him a two-for-one prospect, a player able to occupy both flanks. This would present some exciting attacking possibilities for Guardiola, as he could use the player out wide on the left to stretch the opposition or have him drive infield from the right and commit defenders.