When the obituaries are written of Manchester City’s already ill-fated Premier League title defence of the 2019/20 season they will focus on one thing – their defence. Indeed, much has been made of City’s struggles at the back of late, with Manchester United brutally exposing the defending champions in a 2-1 win that could have been even more damaging.
There is no way back for Pep Guardiola’s side from this point. The City boss himself has already admitted it, with his team now trailing Premier League pace-setters and champions-elect by 14 points. Of course, the Etihad Stadium outfit are still expected to challenge for the Champions League, but reflections are already being made on their domestic campaign.
It’s been suggested that Guardiola could overhaul his squad next summer, for example. Vincent Kompany left the club at the end of the season while David Silva will also depart Man City at the end of the current campaign. But have they learned lessons from past mistakes made in the transfer market?
City’s defensive recruitment in recent years has been dreadful.
This is a club that has spent close to £350 million over the past five years on defenders, not even counting what they have spent on goalkeepers, and yet their fortunes are seemingly dependent on the fitness of one player, Aymeric Laporte.
Man City’s defensive troubles can be traced back to the moment Laporte was stretched off in a Premier League win over Brighton. From then on Guardiola’s side became increasingly vulnerable at the back. Without the Bilbao youth product, City are almost an entirely different team. They don’t appear to have a single player capable of effectively deputising for the Frenchman.
How have Manchester City spent so much on defenders and ended up with just one centre capable of sustaining them as Premier League champions? What about John Stones, long regarded as England’s best ball-playing defender since Rio Ferdinand? Why hasn’t Guardiola been able to harness his talent?
What about Nicolas Otamendi? The Argentine might be considered something of a liability now, but it’s not so long ago that he was one of the best defenders in La Liga wanted by a number of Premier League clubs? Why has Guardiola been so reluctant to use Otamendi even with Laporte on the sidelines?
What about Joao Cancelo, the Portuguese full-back signed for no less than £58.5 million from Juventus in the summer? Cancelo was one of the best full-backs in the game last season and yet Guardiola has yet to get the best out of the 25-year-old, seemingly lacking trust in the former Inter and Valencia man.
Angelino, Benjamin Mandy and Danilo just add to the list of poor defensive additions made by Man City since Guardiola took charge. Kyle Walker made an instant impact at the Etihad Stadium upon arriving from Tottenham in the summer of 2017, but even he has faded as a force down the right side. The 29-year-old’s pace has become his only redeeming quality.
Either Man City have continually bought players not up to the required standard or not suited to Guardiola’s philosophy, or the Catalan is failing to get the best out of them.
Talk has already turned to who City might target once the transfer window opens, but what evidence is there that defensive reinforcements, no matter how expensive, would thrive at the Etihad Stadium?
There is little doubt that this City team is nearing the end of its cycle. There are areas of the squad in need of replenishment with the defence being one of them. But before Man City can improve moving forward they must recognise where they have gone wrong in the past. For all that they have got right in recent years, their defensive transfer strategy is now costing them.