However imperious the club may have looked at the start of the 2016/17 season, Pep Guardiola and his Manchester City side have been well and truly brought back down to earth in recent weeks, a striking reminder that a lot of work still needs doing. Although the seeds are slowly being sewn and Guardiola is gradually crafting a team capable of fulfilling his footballing philosophy at the club, you sense the manager is still learning about his players, their abilities and the scale of the job at hand. And whilst last weekend’s defeat against Chelsea may seem somewhat disappointing and a barometer of how much still needs improving at the club, it could reap its own benefits in the long-run and in some way force Guardiola into acting sooner rather than later.
With this in mind I am referring directly to the Manchester City’s defence, most specifically those in the heart of the City defence where there is a real cause for concern at present. With Vincent Kompany once again ruled out through injury, it now seems clearer than ever that the club can no longer rely on the Belgian to be a reliable option at centre-half. All attention therefore turns to a defensive duo of Nicolas Otamendi and 22-year-old John Stones and for one of them to step into the captain’s shoes in the hope of leading Manchester City to defensive stability. Going off the investment made into both individuals, whether it again be a case of City overpaying for potential more so than proven Premier League quality or alternatively a true reflection of their footballing ability, both come with substantial price-tags and consequently an expectation to perform at the highest level for a club determined to leave its impact on world football.
Yet after three proved to be far from the magic number for the club last weekend with three goals conceded, Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho out for at least three games each and ultimately three points lost, maybe now is time for Guardiola to reassess the players he chooses to play in defence or in fact whether three at the back is actually a sustainable way forward for the club in all competitions. For a team competing for the title without a clean-sheet in five consecutive league games, it is therefore understandable why that degree of trust in the club’s defence of late has been somewhat lost by City fans.
Whilst this is far from any attack on an individual centre-back, in an attempt to solve the club’s defensive crisis I suggest five central defenders that could both potentially move to the club in the upcoming transfer window(s) and could may well prove to be a significant improvement than the tools already at Pep Guardiola’s disposal.
1) Virgil Van Dijk (Southampton)
After reports surfaced late last week that Manchester City were among a number of clubs closely following Southampton’s Virgil van Dijk, who has a £25m buyout clause should paper talk be anything to go by, could van Dijk be the answer to City’s many defensive problems? Before signing for Southampton back in 2013 for £13m the Dutch defender started his in the Eredivisie with Groningen before moving to Celtic in 2013, even playing alongside City’s own Belgian centre-back Jason Denayer. And it was in Scotland whereby van Dijk well and truly made a name for himself – named in the PFA Team of the Year for both seasons in the Scottish Premier League as well as helping Celtic to success on all fronts during his time at the club. Now at 25 years of age, whilst van Dijk may not offer the experience which the likes of John Stones or even Tosin Adarabioyo may benefit from in the long term, he does present a number of qualities which City’s defence could benefit from collectively. Whether that be his ability to confidently dribble with the ball, command and lead from the back or simply just offer a greater reliability in defence as a centre-back that excels in impressive concentration levels and ball interception, the Netherlands centre-back has certainly stood out in recent years.
Signing van Dijk could therefore be the safest and most reliable option this winter or maybe even as later as the summer transfer window and with Southampton often keen to sell when an individual players’ stock is at its highest, City may well need to act quickly with a number of potential suitors closely monitoring his progress this season. Adjusting comfortably to life in the Premier League, showing his true qualities in a very short period of time and earning comparisons with some of the best defenders in the league, van Djik has impressed and could flourish even further under managerial know-how of Pep Guardiola. Consequently, going off his reported buyout clause or perhaps for a fee even greater, signing van Dijk could prove to be money very well spent.