As an aftermath of the Champions League meeting between Manchester City and Olympique Lyonnais, manager Pep Guardiola has lavished praise on Lyon midfielder Houssem Aouar and the team for putting up a great performance to hold City to a 2-2 draw. Although the result was enough to book a place in the next round of the competition, the draw meant that City surrendered four points to the French side in the group after losing the first leg 2-1 at the Etihad Stadium.
Several players stood out in the two-legged encounter including three-goal hero Maxwell Cornet, who became the first player to score three goals against Man City in the competition since Lionel Messi in the 2016/17 campaign. Others were former Manchester United forward Memphis Depay, young Frenchman Houssem Aouar and midfield partner Tanguy Ndombele.
They have been numerous reports of Guardiola’s interest in Ndombele as he searches for the long-term replacement to Fernandinho in City’s defensive midfield. Some even claim that a bid for the midfielder was rejected in the summer. He was therefore, expected to have another close look at the player as his side clashed with Les Gones.
But it was 20-year-old Aouar who stole the show for the Catalan manager. The young talent dictated play in the midfield making 62 passes and five tackles. It was not an odd performance as the young midfielder has been one of the stand out players for his club this season and has drawn interest from several top European sides including City’s title rivals Chelsea and Liverpool.
Guardiola’s attention has been on Ajax duo Frenkie De Jong and Matthijs De Ligt with Ndombele serving as an alternative. But his praise for Aouar, who has been likened to Barcelona great Xavi, suggests he could be interested in the young Frenchman. He was reported to have waited in the tunnel to speak with the player after the match.
Speaking to the press later Guardiola said: “Houssem Aouar is a very good player, he is incredible.
“We talk a lot about Ndombele but Aouar is also excellent. He’s always very calm with the ball at his feet, with an excellent technical quality.”
The City boss has a history of commending opposition players that have impressed him. But having an extended conversation with such a player at the tunnel after meeting him on the pitch is not one of his habits. The choice of words is also important to observe as he describes him as “incredible”.
Assistant coach Mikel Arteta also had nice things to say about the player. And that is not surprising as Aouar, who is currently a French Under-21 international, has been in sublime form this term. He has scored nine times in 19 appearances in all competitions for the Ligue 1 side, including three in five Champions League appearances.
It remains to be seen whether this praise-singing could lead to a concrete transfer interest in future. But all the signs are already present. City’s primary need at the moment remains the defensive midfield position, but that is not to say the team cannot do with additional quality elsewhere.
Injuries are always a part of the game and having extra quality to always call upon is a good thing. Guardiola also mentioned the fact that his team missed some absentees in the press conference. The likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva and Benjamin Mendy were all sidelined for the game.
The signing of an extra winger in Riyad Mahrez has added quality upfront. Adding an exceptional central midfielder can only make the team better. So could he be laying the groundwork for a potential move next year? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.