Oleksandr Zinchenko used his performance for Manchester City against Watford to make a statement. Short of game time as he rarely gets to feature in the team, the midfielder-turned left back uses every opportunity he gets to show the manager just why she should play more.
After setting up Gabriel Jesus for the opening goal against Watford, Zinchenko showed just how much he can be relied upon with a superb last-ditch tackle to deny Emmanuel Dennis who had just Ederson to beat with City leading 1-0 at the time.
An equaliser could have changed the complexion of the game. But the Sky Blues went on to score a second shortly after to calm the nerves of many a City fan.
In two crucial contributions on either side of the pitch, the 25-year-old had made a clear statement; he can be relied upon in difficult moments to help the team out.
What has stood out the most about Zinchenko’s career at City has been his willingness to step up and fill a void when needed. Signed as a midfielder back in 2016, the Ukrainian has found it difficult to feature in the middle of the pitch due to a fierce competition for places.
He bided his time and waited for his opportunity but it did not come in the way he expected as Pep Guardiola has consistently had enough options in midfield. But with the lack of a reliable natural left-back in the team due to the frequent injuries suffered by Benjamin Mendy, the manager turned to Fabian Delph and Zinchenko to help fill the void.
The two midfielders featured interchangeably as City won several trophies in a two-year span. But just when Zinchenko could have hoped for more game time following the departure of Delph to Everton, Joao Cancelo stepped in.
The Portuguese right back had been waiting for his own chance as well in the team and when Guardiola handed him gametime, he performed so well that it was difficult to replace him. That led to fewer appearances for Zinchenko.
He has started just seven Premier League games this season as competition for places remains fierce.
However, given the state of things happening back in his homeland with the Russian war on Ukraine, it’s understandable that the manager has chosen to leave him on the bench on several occasions.
That has not stopped the player from giving his all whenever is called upon.
City defenders are currently struggling for match fitness as a result of injuries. The likes of Kyle Walker, John Stones and Nathan Ake are all doubts to face Real Madrid on Tuesday. This has also coincided with the absence of the reliable Joao Cancelo due to suspension.
The situation is now set up nicely for Zinchenko to step in. The Ukrainian showed against Watford that he is ready for the call of duty.
At such a crucial time in the season when any slip-up can hand Liverpool the title and failure to get past Real Madrid will mean another failed attempt to bring home the Champions League trophy, Zinchenko could be a life saver.
Commenting on his importance to the team especially at such a crucial time in the campaign, Guardiola said: “In the position, in the pockets, as an attacking player, that’s his position. But when we bought Oleks for £2million from Ukraine, he was a No. 10, a Phil Foden. But we don’t have a left back for many years. Fabian Delph adapted well and Oleks as well. Here he adapted — he’s a reliable player, you have to understand they are human beings.
“What’s happening in his country, you cannot forget it. I know him, he didn’t need to play like that [against Watford] for us to know exactly who he is. For me or the team it’s not necessary. When he’ s focussed, he handles the pressure, otherwise he would not have played in the final of the Champions League. I rely a lot on him but there are periods, where other players are better, more confident and he plays less.
“But who knows who will help us win the Premier League or reach the final of the Champions League. Everyone thinks they know – but sometimes it can be one who you don’t expect. That’s why everyone has to be ready and the glory will belong to them.”
There’s no doubt that the manager believes in his quality and professional attitude. That has been responsible for his continuous stay at the club and the decision to use him in City’s most important game in Europe so far, which was the Champions League final.
It does seem the stars have perfectly aligned for Zinchenko to show just how important he is at Man City. Helping City have a great end to the season will be amazing. His attitude and performance so far suggests he is up for the challenge.