As Manchester City prepares for a busy summer transfer window to strengthen the team heading into the new season, one of the most important positions to address is the left-back. Pep Guardiola has been roundly criticised for spending so much money on his defence since arriving at the Etihad Stadium, yet the biggest weakness in the team has remained the left-back.
Benjamin Mendy has been rather unfortunate to endure several injuries since joining from Monaco. But with or without him the show must go on. Contrary to what many City haters will have you believe, no, the club does not have an unlimited pool of cash laying around to buy new players and replace non-performing or injured ones as frequently as Paul Pogba changes his hairstyle.
Guardiola has had to improvise and Oleksandr Zinchenko has been on the receiving end. The Ukrainian had high hopes of developing into one of the best players in his position after moving to the club in 2016. He was a midfielder through and through and impressed enough playing in the position for City to bet on his future.
Circumstances have dictated that he be used as a spare tire in a totally different position or even the main one. It’s a credit to his versatility though that a demanding manager like Pep will be satisfied with his performance in the position to trust him for the better part of three years.
Despite that being a position he wasn’t familiar with, the 24-year-old has proved dependable. That does not mean he will be happy to remain there, especially when he plays a totally different role for his country. Playing in different positions for either side has a way of affecting a player’s performance negatively. It calls for constant readjustment to play a different role.
For all City faithful who had become used to seeing the player man the full-back position even in the most important games, watching him at the Euros has provided a breath of fresh air. The midfielder has shown why fishes thrive best in water as he has demonstrated authority in the middle of the park for his country’s team.
He held down the midfield position against the Netherlands in their first game of the tournament proving crucial both in the defensive and offensive phases of the game. His industry was instrumental in helping his side come from two goals down to draw level before conceding late in the second half to succumb to a 3-2 defeat.
He shone brightly in the second group game as the Zbirna ran out 2-1 victors over North Macedonia. A 1-0 loss to Austria in the final group game leaves the team waiting to know if it can qualify for the next round as one of the best third-placed teams. (The team currently sits third on that table with four teams set to go through).
However, irrespective of whether or not the team scales through, Zinchenko has demonstrated his readiness to take his place in the City midfield. Although Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundugan were the top performers last season, the Ukrainian can join the party next term. He will definitely be a more profitable asset for the club playing in his preferred position.
Guardiola will do well to secure a specialist left-back this summer as that will greatly benefit the team. Losing severally to Chelsea last season may have come as a surprise to many. But a closer look will leave some clues as to why. The London side has an incredibly loaded squad with three top-class left-backs.
Ben Chilwell, Marcos Alonso and Emerson Palmieri are all internationals playing for Chelsea in the same position at the same time. Alonso scored the winning goal in one of those victories over City while Chilwell rested. The Englishman then came on to cage Riyad Mahrez in the Champions League final...
The rest is history.
The bottom line is that the team’s overall strength will increase with Zinchenko playing in a position he is more suited for. These are the little things that can make a huge difference in the biggest of occasions.