One of the main attractions of the international window was France, as the World Cup holders added another major piece of silverware to their ever increasing collection. Apart from the expected star performers in the team like Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann, Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappe, there was a breakout star that caught the eye - Theo Hernandez.
The AC Milan left-back was the surprise package that propelled the French national team to another landmark achievement. His performances in the Nations League semifinal and final were simply outstanding. The 24-year-old scored the winning goal at the death to complete a comeback 3-2 win against Belgium and send Les Bleus to the final.
That ensured he kept his elder brother out of the lineup altogether for the final as he manned the left-back position previously occupied by the older Hernandez, Lucas.
He proved his manager’s decision right as he then capped off an outstanding tournament showing by providing the assist for the winning goal against Spain. That sealed another comeback win as the Frenchmen came from a goal down to defeat Luis Enrique’s Spanish side that featured three City players in the starting XI.
Although Hernandez made just his third appearance for France in the final, he has been churning out top performances for AC Milan. The defender moved to Italy from Real Madrid in 2019 and has been a hit since. He even has more goals per game than many strikers.
A particular one that comes to mind is a certain Wilfried Guemiand Bony who moved to the Etihad Stadium from Swansea City in 2015. With six goals in 36 outings for the club, he averaged a goal in every six games. Turns out Hernandez has a better return at Milan with 14 scored in 73 appearances.
A cursory look at the “big six” teams in England reveals just why they are usually in contention for continental football. They all have a collection of top players that tip the scales in their favour when going head-to-head with the other teams in the English game.
Out of the “big six” sides it’s only Manchester City that lacks a natural left-back. One that is a key part of the squad and contributes significantly to the team’s success.
Arsenal have Kieran Tierney and Sead Kolasinac, Tottenham have Sergio Reguilon and Ben Davies, Liverpool have Andy Robertson and a capable backup in Konstantinos Tsimikas, Manchester United have Luke Shaw and adequate cover in Brazil international Alex Teles, Chelsea have in-form Marcus Alonso with equally good Ben Chilwell giving him a run for his money while giving Thomas Tuchel much joy.
That leaves Manchester City as the odd one out. In fact, nothing short of Pep Guardiola’s ingenuity in utilising the players has kept the team ahead of the pack in three out of the last four seasons. Benjamin Mendy was unreliable and so the manager turned to midfielders and more recently right-back Joao Cancelo for the position.
With the Frenchman now out of the team altogether, City couldn’t be in more need of a natural left-back. It’s good that Cancelo and Oleksandr Zinchenko have done quite well in the position.
But think what will happen if a top-class natural fit like Hernandez is brought in to occupy the position. He delivers not just goals but assists as well. All while excelling at his primary duty on the pitch, which is to defend.
His addition will literally take the team a notch higher. And that will be a welcome development because the level of competition in the Premier League makes it necessary to consistently improve the team. It’s better to stay ahead of the opposition than play catch-up.