Manchester City spent almost 140 million pounds under the orders of Pep Guardiola to bring in three new full-backs: Kyle Walker, Benjamin Mendy and Danilo Luiz. Walker came from Tottenham Hotspur, Mendy was signed from AS Monaco, and Danilo left Real Madrid to join Pep’s team.
The amount of money spent is eye-catching, and the fear of many City fans is that it won’t be enough to solve the biggest problem in the squad last season. It’s safe to say one of the reasons City couldn’t compete for trophies was the lack of quality full-backs.
As legendary as he is, Pablo Zabaleta just couldn’t do it anymore. Bacary Sagna was solid for a while, but fell off a cliff in 2016-17. Same with Gaël Clichy, who constantly irritated fans with his constant defensive mistakes and clearly was not good enough to be a player on a team that wants to win the Premier League and Champions League.
Pep said goodbye to all three of the aging full-backs and brought in young players to fill a position of clear need. But do they have enough quality to actually improve the full-back position?
The short answer is: Y-E-S. Yes. Not only that, they might be just the key in City winning the Premier League. Seriously.
Full-backs are, after midfielders, the most important pieces of a Pep Guardiola team. Pep has used many full-backs with different skill sets at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, but they all provided Pep with tactical options and technical ability to change games.
With Dani Alves and Éric Abidal, Pep’s Barça dominated midfield while still having two powerful, quick outlets on the wings. With David Alaba and Philipp Lahm playing as midfielders in possession, Guardiola unlocked the door that allowed him to completely dominate German football.
But then he came to City and didn’t find anything in his full-backs that allowed him to dominate English football. It was the complete opposite: the full-backs were a major liability for City, and the team conceded an insane number of goals from crosses or counter-attacks where the full-backs were easily beat by the opponents.
That problem seems to be solved on both flanks with the new players. Let’s look at each of them and what they provide to Pep’s side:
The former Spurs star is undoubtedly the best right-back in the Premier League, and his wide range of skills provides Pep with everything he needs from a full-back: Walker’s frightening pace combined with really high stamina allows him to get up and down the pitch countless times during matches. Kyle is also a very good defender who can keep up with the fastest wingers in the world and has the positional intelligence to cover spaces for other defenders and anticipate passes to recover the ball.
Whether he plays in a back four or a back five, Walker will provide constant attacking support and still come back quickly to maintain defensive shape when City don’t have the ball. The final product is also there with Walker: he’s able to provide assists with accurate cross and even score goals if the opportunities are there.
Simply put: there is no right-back in the Premier League who’s better than Walker, and his nearly immaculate injury record gives City fans the confidence that he’ll be on the pitch many times.
Walker is pretty good offensively, but the real excitement will come with Mendy. The French international is already one of the top attacking full-backs in Europe, and that aspect of his game will only improve under Guardiola. Mendy was already fantastic while at Monaco, making multiple overlaps and providing some of the most accurate crosses we’ve seen in quite a while. He provided 8 direct assists last season and created many more scoring opportunities with his crosses.
Mendy is a physical specimen, a beast who uses his pace and powerful frame to beat defenders one-on-one and arrive at the box with ease. He will love to make runs in behind Premier League defenses and get a through ball from David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne, and he’ll have Sergio Agüero and Gabriel Jesus ready to score his crosses.
The defensive part of Mendy’s game needs a bit of work, which is why we’ll most likely see him playing ahead of a back three in most of his appearances. He did play in a classic 4-4-2 at Monaco, though, so he has shown he can defend in a back four with a little more work in that certain aspect of his game.
His attacking talents are natural, however, and it’ll be hard not to fall in love with his runs instantly. Once he recovers from a small muscle injury and makes his debut (probably in September), we’ll be treated to one of the most exciting left-backs the Premier League has even seen. Seriously.
Danilo had a tough time at Real Madrid, with the fans turning on him after a few bad mistakes in home matches. The Brazilian only played away matches in his final season at the Santiago Bernabéu, and he won’t be missed in Madrid that much. But it’s not the Danilo from Madrid that Guardiola wanted: it’s the Danilo from FC Porto who was one of the top young full-backs in Europe during his time in Portugal.
In the few preseason matches with City, Danilo seemed to regain the form from Porto days. Danilo is naturally a right-back, but he played on the left in two of the three appearances he’s made so far as a City player, and he looked very good on the left. Danilo will initially be a backup, but the versatility he’s shown in preseason gives Pep the option to play him in both flanks when Walker and Mendy need some rest.
Danilo even played in central midfield at Porto, and given Guardiola loves to have players who want to try themselves in multiple position, we can be sure that Danilo will play a lot of games despite being signed only as an understudy to Kyle Walker in the eyes of fans and media.
To sum up: Manchester City signed three really good full-backs, and all three will play many matches. They’re an incredible upgrade on the aging, mediocre full-backs of old, and they could be key in City not only competing for the title, but winning it.
City’s full-backs will fly, fans will love them, and they could unlock the door for Pep’s dominance in England.