If someone wrote this article five months ago, everyone would start laughing. “DELPH? SERIOUSLY?! DELPH?!”, you probably would have said. But after five months of Fabian Delph having a spectacular season and turning into a very good full-back thanks to his work ethic and the genius of Pep Guardiola, it’s very important to wonder what the Blues will do without him.
Guardiola confirmed on Friday’s press conference prior to the match against Newcastle that the Englishman will be out “for a while”. He didn’t give an exact timeline, but he made it clear it won’t be for a game or two. Delph suffered a knee injury in the loss to Liverpool last week, and although the problem doesn’t look as serious as it did when Pep first talked about it, Fabian will still need some time to recover.
Losing Delph wouldn’t be a problem if Benjamin Mendy was available, but the reason why Delph is the starting left-back in the first place is because of Mendy’s long-term knee injury. Without a real left-back available in the squad at the moment, what will Pep do to replace Delph until he comes back?
Here are a few options:
1 - SIGN SOMEONE, FOR GOODNESS’ SAKE!!!
Pep Guardiola mentioned AGAIN in his press conference that he won’t sign anyone in January unless they’re “nice, nice guys”. Which is fair because the current squad has a great chemistry and anyone who comes in and disrupts that, even unintentionally, might hurt a big part of what makes this team so great: the unselfishness and squad cohesion.
But are you sure that there are no nice left-backs in the market, Pep? I mean, NOT EVEN ONE? You don’t need to sign a big name like David Alaba from Bayern Munich or Alex Sandro from Juventus because Mendy and Delph will be back before the end of the season, but you need some sort of cover.
Young names like Ryan Sessegnon from Fulham or Marc Cucurella from Barcelona are very good options, but they’re too young to have an immediate effect. Ryan Bertrand from Southampton sounds like the perfect player since he’s English and can play both left-back and center-back, but it’s hard to see Saints letting him go after selling Virgil Van Dijk to Liverpool. Plus, he’d be incredibly expensive.
Here are three very realistic names that have been linked with City in the past and perfectly fit what City need, which is a young left-back who can help the team now and still develop into a great player in the future: Kieran Tierney from Celtic FC (who can also play at center-back), Philipp Max from Augsburg (maybe the best full-back in the Bundesliga this season) and Aarón Martín from Espanyol (City were close to signing him in the summer but decided not to at the last minute).
Let’s see if City go for any of them. There are 12 days left in the window, and the clock is ticking.
2 - TRUST DANILO AND ZINCHENKO
This is my least favorite route, to be honest, but it might be the one Pep decides to go. Danilo Luiz and Oleksandr Zinchenko have done very well in limited minutes this season, and both have played left-back in multiple games. Danilo is the safe option because he’s older and is very good defensively, but Zinchenko just offers a lot more going forward and could have a few great games if he’s given an extended run. There’s just a lot of hoping involved in this scenario, so I don’t really like it. But if Pep made Delph work...
3 - CHANGE THE SYSTEM
Guardiola used the 3-5-2 formation a lot at the beginning of the season, and while he stopped doing that and went back to a 4-3-3 system he clearly wanted the players to feel comfortable enough with three at the back if he needed to come back to that later in the season. This might be the time to do that.
City continue to be linked to Jonny Evans and it looks like that deal will really happen, and if he comes the Blues might be able to play him alongside John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi in a back three, while still having Eliaquim Mangala, Tosin Adarabioyo and Vincent Kompany (when he’s healthy) to provide cover in the position. That would give Pep more confidence to use Zinchenko at the left wing-back role and would even open the door to using Leroy Sané in the position.
Sané didn’t quite work as a wing-back because it requires him to defend a lot more than he’s used to, but having a defender who is very comfortable moving out wide like Evans would give Leroy more confidence to go forward without having to worry all the time about coming back.
Having a back three would also allow Pep to play Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Agüero together again once the Brazilian returns from injury, and the two have done very well in the 3-5-2 system early in the season. Raheem Sterling would probably lose his place in the side, but he’d always be the first option off the bench and that’s not a bad thing.
Losing Delph really is a bad thing at the moment, but City have shown time and time again this season they’re more than capable of dealing with long-term injuries. Pep will no doubt find solutions and the Blues will remain a strong contender in England and Europe.