It seems rather odd that at a time when Manchester City is struggling defensively, Vincent Kompany will insist the team doesn’t need a center-back. The former City captain and center-back, while speaking as part of Sky Sports’ punditry team during the game against Liverpool, insisted that an additional center-back will not solve the problem for the Sky Blues. But that is difficult to agree with based on the evidence on the ground.
Yes, the team is well stocked in both the left-back and right-back positions despite Benjamin Mendy’s fitness concerns. There is now sufficient backup for those positions. Angelino was brought back from PSV Eindhoven last summer while Joao Cancelo was acquired for a huge outlay. But that is not what has led to some of the bad results experienced recently.
Without a doubt, the main problem area for Pep Guardiola and his team has been the central defence. It all started when Vincent Kompany left at the end of the last campaign. Or maybe the decision not to replace the Belgian created the problem. The reason why that is the case is simple. Squad depth is of utmost importance for achieving success in the Premier League, or any competition for that matter.
Having four top-class center-backs has become the minimum requirement for a team’s success in Europe. Despite all the praise lavished on the midfielders and forwards for making things happen, without a solid base the house will come crashing down. Real Madrid paraded Cristiano Ronaldo upfront while Luka Modric and Toni Kroos pulled the strings in midfield. But the likes of Sergio Ramos and Marcelo were as crucial to securing back-to-back European crowns.
Coming back home, Laporte and Kompany played a key role in City’s success in the last two seasons. Right now, Liverpool parades the best defence in the league, if not the whole of Europe. Not necessarily in terms of goals conceded or the number of clean sheets kept. It’s in how influential the back four is to the Reds’ game. Trent-Alexander Arnold currently holds a Guinness world record for the most assists by a defender. His teammate on the other side Andy Robertson comes closely behind.
Virgil van Dijk is the current UEFA Best Player of the Year. Joel Matip won the Premier League Player of the Month award for October 2019. A World Cup finalist with Croatia Dejan Lovren deputises for him in excellent fashion. Then there’s also Joe Gomez who can be brought in to stop a player like Raheem Sterling from running rampage in the final moments of a crucial game. That’s squad depth. It gets a good rap for a good reason.
Flip over to Manchester City and you find Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones. The pair have consistently failed to work together successfully. Laporte and Kompany made their poor output barely noticeable in the last two campaigns. But like Warren Buffet once said, “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.”
Clearly, Kompany’s departure created a vacuum that needed to be filled. Guardiola, perhaps blinded by his overwhelming success in the domestic scene felt he had no problem.
But then Aymeric Laporte’s injury compounded the issue. Yet, the Catalan manager insists he doesn’t need to sign a new center-back. That’s despite the fact that Laporte will likely be out until March next year.
The team is failing further and further behind Liverpool who look like champions already. Fortunately, it’s still a long campaign and there could still be twists along the way. Yet, relying on Fernandinho to do a job he is not well suited for can only take us so far. Yes, the Brazilian will cope and even do well in most matches. But in crucial games against stiff opposition, against teams that can exploit any weakness like Barcelona, Liverpool, Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich in the Champions League, things can quickly unravel.
Signing a top center-half is the need of the hour for Manchester City. Kompany or Guardiola can say what they want to the contrary. But that won’t change the fact that there is a pressing need in the team that must be met. You won’t discover it playing against Aston Villa or Bournemouth. It’s against the big European teams in crucial games that can make or mar a campaign. And those games are still on the way.