If it wasn’t already apparent, Wednesday night’s result in the Champions League first knockout round against Monaco was a clear sign that, for all the attacking prowess at his disposal, Pep Guardiola’s focus this summer should be to rejuvenate his backline.
Lining up a somewhat shaky John Stones alongside two 31-year-olds (Gaël Clichy and Aleksandr Kolarov) and Bacary Sagna (34) saw the Citizens concede three goals against the Ligue 1 leaders, knocking them out of the competition in the process.
Take the French right-back, for example.
For all his experience, his wildly mistimed attempt to win the ball off Thomas Lemar in Monaco’s half led to the Ligue 1 side’s second goal, forcing John Stones and David Silva to cover for him while he casually jogged back, only to then fail to block Benjamin Mendy’s cross after Mbappé, Lemar and the galavanting full-back had turned the covering pair inside out.
With the other option in that role being a 32-year-old Pablo Zabaleta, it’s clear that, as Sagna is likely leaving in the summer on a free, a new right-back is essential.
An obvious option in any article here would be Paris Saint-Germain’s Serge Aurier, yet the Ivorian’s inability to set foot on English soil due to his ongoing legal issues in France suggests a move to the United Kingdom is off the cards, for this summer at least.
Frankly, there should only be one person in Pep Guardiola’s mind for the role: Fabinho.
Originally bought as a right-back, the Brazilian has developed into one of Ligue 1’s best midfielders over the past couple of years, which is something the Spaniard will appreciate a lot.
The former Barcelona manager shifted Philip Lahm, a full-back, into midfield when he took over at Bayern Munich, and let’s not forget the failed experiment to try and force the likes of Sagna and Clichy to do the same, with Fernandinho dropping back into defence, early in the season.
With Fabinho, Guardiola has the perfect man to fill both roles depending on how he wants to set up.
Having played so much in midfield recently, you could be fooled into thinking the former Real Madrid youngster wasn’t interested in returning into defence, yet that isn’t the case.
In an interview with L’Equipe back in October 2016, relayed by Planète ASM, the player said: “The coach makes me play in the middle and the team has played well. We’ve found our balance that way. He told me he sees me more as a midfielder than a full-back, and in fact, I like playing in the middle. It’s a difficult situation, because I like that role, but I would prefer to play right-back.”
Furthermore, Fabinho actually wants to play for Guardiola, as revealed by his father, who told Canal+ back in February that they had a ‘small weakness’ for Manchester City after revealing they had already held talks with the Premier League side.
Moving over to left-back, there are two options that spring to mind, but for very different reasons: Benjamin Mendy and Faouzi Ghoulam.
While many Manchester City fans might not have been all too familiar with the French 22-year-old left-back prior to the club’s last two games in the Champions League, they definitely know what he is capable of now.
The former Marseille defender has been galavanting up and down that left-hand side in France for a good five years now, ever since he became a regular for Ligue 2 side Le Havre during the 2011-12 season at the age of 17, and he’s only getting better.
In a side set up to attack, Mendy can be absolutely lethal with his boundless energy and desire to go forward whenever he sees space in front of him, with his 10 assists this season only going to show how important he has been for Leonardo Jardim’s side following his £11m move in the summer
With Kolarov clearly preferred as a centre-back by Guardiola, shelling out a good £20-25m on the young defender wouldn’t be the worst of moves to prepare the post-Clichy era at the Etihad.
Contrastingly, the former Arsenal defender is yet to pick up an assist this campaign, and while Manchester City’s full-backs might not be given as much freedom has Monaco’s, having someone capable of picking Agüero or an on-rushing David Silva when overlapping can only help.
Defensively, Mendy does have his faults, but with age and a willingness to learn on his side, as well as a slightly more restricted system, he would be less likely to have to recover from forward positions as much as he has done at Monaco.
As for Faouzi Ghoulam, his inclusion is solely based on the amount of links to Manchester City that have appeared this season, most recently in Le Buteur, who claim Pep Guardiola hasn’t given up hope on signing the Algeria international despite the player having a preference for Real Madrid.
Having allegedly rejected a contract renewal offer at Napoli, Ghoulam is keen to try his hand elsewhere, preferably at a club capable of paying him more than what the Serie A side are willing to give him.
Le Buteur explain Jorge Mendes is now the one in charge of the Algerian defender’s transfer matters, and with Nicolas Otamendi and Eliaquim Mangala already on the books at Manchester City, the Premier League side are no strangers to the Portuguese super-agent.
The 26-year-old has been a key-member of Maurizio Sarri’s side this season, and with seven assists to his name in all competitions, he would prove an interesting alternative to Benjamin Mendy were the Frenchman unavailable.
It looks like it could be a busy summer transfer window at Manchester City, and we certainly expect all three of these players to be linked more and more with moves to the Etihad at some stage over the coming months.
And if you were to ask us which one of the three we’d put money on happening, our bet would be Fabinho.