It’s not often one would hear Pep Guardiola confess about how much he has missed a player in his team. But with the return of Benjamin Mendy, the Catalan manager has not been able to hold back this time around.
As Manchester City gets into the thick of action in the second half of the campaign, a half that sees the team still in contention for a trophy on four fronts, the manager needs every help he can get. After a temporary setback in December with three losses which coincided with injury to some key players, there has been an upturn in fortunes recently. Following the return to full fitness of Kevin De Bruyne, Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho, Mendy is the latest addition to the squad.
The Frenchman has returned early from a knee operation that was expected to keep him out of action until February. His addition to the team almost feels like a new signing and the reaction of the manager to the development says it all. Speaking ahead of the return leg against Burton Albion in the Carabao Cup, Guardiola stated concerning Mendy:
”He is in the squad tomorrow [Wednesday], yes, he travels with us, maybe he will be on the bench.
”The results say what we have done, I would say they say we have not missed him much, but I would say I miss him a lot.
Visibly excited, the Catalan continued:
”He is unstoppable, especially in the last third. He’s so clever. He doesn’t cross to just cross, he’s clever.
”I have the feeling he gives us extra. Hopefully in the last part of the season the club can use him.”
In a squad full of excellent players, only two positions have looked irreplaceable. The defensive midfield and left back have two of the best players in the team, but in their absence, there is no like-for-like replacement. Hence, Mendy’s long-term injuries have been a source of headache for the manager.
For a player that is so well suited for the manager’s style of play, it’s not surprising why he is missed so much. He gives a lot to the team at both ends of the pitch. City will need a near perfect run to the end of the season in the Premier League while hoping for a slip-up from Liverpool. Despite having an impressive run in the first half of the campaign, that’s still possible. Hence the importance of Mendy’s return as it will help the Sky Blues do their own part.
Before his injury, the 24-year-old was touted as one of the best players in the league. With five assists in the nine league games he has featured in this term, it's not difficult to see why. That's especially so when he is also excellent at his primary responsibility which is to defend.
Andrew Robertson’s contributions to Liverpool’s performance also drew comparisons to the City left back. In his absence however, the position became more of a weak link for the team resulting in the use of Aymeric Laporte in the position when the lead leaders visited the Etihad Stadium.
Right back Danilo is the latest to fill in putting forth relatively good performances in recent games. But Mendy’s return is cheering news for the club faithful. Not only will he prove vital in the title chase, but in the pursuit of other trophies as well.
Beyond the Premier League, City will need the French international in the other competitions especially the Champions League. As the competition approaches the business end, facing the biggest teams in Europe will require our best best players to be on the pitch. Positionally speaking, Mendy is one of the most important.
With all of De Bruyne, Aguero and Fernandinho now on full throttle, it promises to be a good run to the end of the campaign. Welcome back Mendy!