It was just over 18 months ago that Vincent Kompany lifted the FA Cup, coming the first captain of any side in England to claim all three domestic trophies in one season. The following day, the Belgian legend announced his intention to return to Anderlecht as player/manager for the following season after spending 11 years in Manchester.
While it was a surprise to City fans, it should have been expected. Kompany had turned 33 a month earlier and, mainly through injury, his appearances were dwindling. His start in the FA Cup final was only his 26th of the season, and Aymeric Laporte was proving to be the rock at the heart of the City defence, a position that Kompany held for so long.
With Laporte, John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi all vying for a place in the back four, along with the emergence of youngster Eric Garcia, City looked to be in a good position which will have influenced manager Pep Guardiola’s decision not to sign another centre-back for the forthcoming season. It would be a decision the Catalan manager would regret.
With three wins from four games, 14 goals scored and 10 points, it looked like City would again take some stopping. But an injury to Laporte in the 4-0 win over Brighton put a stop to that. The very next game at Norwich saw Stones and Otamendi paired together at centre-back and it was nothing short of a disaster.
After 28 minutes, City were 2-0 down. The first goal saw the defence outjumped at a corner, while the second goal saw the City defence split wide open. Although Aguero pulled a goal back, Norwich went 3-1 up when Otamendi was carelessly dispossessed in the penalty area, prompting Guardiola to make changes. Fernandinho stepped in at centre-back, but by the end of December, City had already dropped more points than they had in total the previous two seasons.
In the 2018/19 season, the blues ended as champions, conceding just 23 goals, and dropping just 14 points. The previous season, City also ended as champions, conceding 27 goals, and dropping 10 points. By the end of the 19/20 season, it was clear where the problems lay.
Despite the restrictions Covid-19 brought, the blues set about rectifying the defensive problems, but eyebrows were raised when the blues agreed a fee of £40m with Bournemouth for defender Nathan Ake, but after a 5-2 home defeat to Leicester, in which the City new boy was partnered by Eric Garcia, Guardiola dipped into the transfer market to sign Ruben Dias from Benfica for £62m, while Otamendi made the opposite trip for £13m.
And the transformation in City’s defence has been remarkable. The blues have kept 7 clean sheets from 12 matches, with just 6 goals conceded, and the blues have conceded just 12 goals in 14 matches, the best record in the league to date, whilst also keeping 5 clean sheets in 6 Champions League games, with the only breach coming in the first match when Porto took the lead in October.
The blues defence hasn’t looked this assured since the days Kompany marshalled the back line, and while occasional defensive lapses happen, up to now they have been few and far between. And with the blues attack being disrupted by a combination of injuries, Covid and goalkeepers deciding to have a blinder against us, it seems like excellent timing for the defence to get itself sorted.
Vincent Kompany will forever be a legend at City and for a long while, his presence was severely missed. But with Otamendi out of the picture and John Stones playing like a new signing, it seems that finally, City have indeed moved on from the Belgian hero, and the fans can breathe a little easier when the defence is under pressure.