Premier League

Man City’s Full-Back Splurge Has Paid Off For Pep

 • by Simon Collings
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Manchester City certainly made an impression in the summer, signing Bernardo Silva from Monaco and spending £130million on three full-backs.

For those of a Sunday League persuasion, such an idea will seem like madness. Many of those who have graced the likes of Hackney Marshes or their local park at a weekend will have often found that one of their team-mates is crowbarred in at full-back, simply because there is nowhere else to put them.

But in the modern game, and certainly in Pep Guardiola’s mind, such a notion is bordering on footballing blasphemy. We have already seen during the Spanish manager’s career how important full-backs are to his style of play, so it should have been no surprise to see him invest heavily in this area at Manchester City.

At Barcelona, we witnessed how Guardiola used the full-backs to make significant numerical advantages in the opponent’s half.

In essence, they were almost deployed as extra wingers, overloading the opposition defence and providing the necessary width to stretch the opponent.

With the Barcelona front three often starting their movement and runs from out to in, the likes of Dani Alves overlapping ensured defences could not simply close in tight and compact the space.

Given the number of trophies that followed – and the trajectory of Alves’ career – it is safe to say it worked a treat for Guardiola.

At Bayern Munich, ever the experimentalist, Guardiola changed the dynamic of his full-backs. While those selected were expected to get forward, they also had another role whereby they would tuck in when in possession to create an overload in midfield.

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In essence, David Alaba and Philipp Lahm became auxiliary holding midfielders. Indeed Lahm was so good at the role he was shifted there full-time towards the later part of his career.

The demands on Guardiola’s full-backs at this stage were unparalleled. They had to be athletic, extremely tactically astute and exceedingly confident and composed on the ball – near enough the complete player.

Guardiola placed similar demands on his full-backs at Manchester City last season after taking charge at the Etihad. However, by the end of the campaign, it was clear to see he lacked trust in them.

Come May, Guardiola preferred deploying Jesús Navas or Fernandinho at right-back than the more established Bacary Sagna or Pablo Zabaleta.

It is quite likely Guardiola would have replaced his full-backs last summer, but after signing a string of attacking talent (including Leroy SanéIlkay Gündogan and Gabriel Jesus) he couldn’t bring in new defenders too as that would essentially mean changing 80 per cent of the team in one summer. Guardiola may be talented, but he’s not a miracle worker.

But, in the summer, the problem was emphatically addressed. The signs of upheaval were clear for all to see at the start of the summer as City allowed Gaël Clichy, Sagna and Zabaleta to leave for free.

Such a move, while it may have been necessary, did put City on the back foot. While it was clear the club wanted new full-backs, allowing three of their current ones to leave for free confirmed it. Now selling clubs could demand extortionate fees for players they knew Guardiola simply had to sign.

It is partly why Tottenham were able to command £50million for Kyle Walker and similarly why Monaco banked £52million from the sale of Benjamin Mendy. Real Madrid too were able to extract £26.5million for Danilo, a player who was second fiddle to Dani Carvajal last season.

When the transfer window closed, it was clear that Guardiola had the personnel required to execute his footballing philosophy at the Etihad. 

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In Walker, City have arguably the best right-back in the league whose attacking talents have already proven invaluable. He has already notched five assists is going from strength to strength. 

Like Walker, Mendy had five assists last season, but the rampaging Frenchman had little time to shine in a City shirt as an anterior cruciate ligament injury will keep him out of action until 2018. 

Guardiola has used Fabian Delph at left-back since Mendy’s injury and, although there are still doubts over his defensive positioning, he has impressed when surging forward, even scoring a glorious goal against Crystal Palace.

Guardiola also has the very capable services of Danilo at his disposal. Although the former Real Madrid defender may not be as exciting as Mendy or Delph in the final third, he is an experienced, tested defensive component that can offer security. 

Without a doubt, City’s full-back splurge has already paid dividends and has contributed greatly to the exciting performances produced by Guardiola’s team in recent weeks.

City’s high-pressing, attack-minded full-backs are an important piece of Pep’s puzzle and they are likely to play an important role in the season ahead. 

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