Youth, youth, youth. Last season, City’s average squad age was 28 years, 233 days old, the second highest in the league to West Brom. The signings of Leroy, Gabby Jesus and John Stones have gone a short way to abate this age crisis, but City still have an old squad, and nowhere more so than in defence.
The fact is City have Sagna (34), Zabaleta (32), Clichy and Kolarov (31), and Kompany (30) all over 30 years old, Nico being 29 and our only other first team defender in Stones being a youthful 22. It is a problem that has largely been ignored, yet something seems to be changing. City are being linked with a grandiose plethora of young defenders, and you get the feeling that the fullbacks we’ve seen for literally, many years now, maybe about to hand over the guard.
One such defender is jung Benjamin Henrichs. Though he only turned 20 last month, Henrichs is making waves for Bayer Leverkusen in Germany, and on the 26th of February Sky Sports Deustchland that City had met with Henrichs’ agent in a hotel in his home town, and the rumours have continued ever since, with the latest saying Bayern will refuse to pay the quoted 20m euros. So, would he be a good signing for City? Let’s see.
Henrichs was born in the city of Cologne (or Köln) in mid-west Germany, and has played for Leverkusen, a team based a few miles north of Cologne, for all his professional career. Thus, he has had extensive exposure in the youth teams, and in particular he has made several appearances in the UEFA Youth League. Having been used for years by Leverkusen’s youth teams, he finally got his chance in the first team at the beginning of last season. Curiously, though, Henrichs had been used primarily as an attacking player in his early youth days, playing all across the attacking midfield.
His first appearance for Bayer Leverkusen came in the last 12 minutes of a 3:0 drubbing at the hands of Borussia Dortmund, in September 2015. He’d have to wait until the last day of February 2016 to play his next Bundesliga minutes, just four of them to be precise, a 3:1 defeat away at Mainz. His first start was more successful however, coming in March against Stuttgart. He played the full 90 at right-back and Leverkusen came away with a 2:0 victory. This led to him being involved in almost every Bundesliga game until the end of the season, being employed in both the left and right-back positions.
He’s started in 22 out of 24 of Leverkusen’s league games, this time playing almost exclusively at right-back. In addition to being trusted as Leverkusen’s first choice right-back for the league, he’s started every game in the Champions League group stages for Leverkusen and won man of the match at Wembley as Leverkusen claimed 3 points from Spurs.
Henrichs has ascertained a good level in both competitions, scoring a WhoScored average of 7.09 for his efforts in the Bundesliga this season. Leverkusen have faltered slightly this season, lying in 10th, yet 6th and a Europa League spot is only 4 points away. His heights got higher however, when Henrichs won his first cap and first 90 minutes for the German national team in November 2016, playing in the 8:0 destruction of San Marino. It’s hard to believe that it is only this time last year Henrichs made his first start for Leverkusen, yet now City seem hot in pursuit of the young German.
Unlike with our Fabinho report, Henrichs is a right-back who plays, for the most part, at right-back. So a comparison with our right-backs is a little fairer. Again, taken from league football.
Henrichs creates 0.75 chances per 90 minutes compared to Zabaleta’s 0.6 and Sagna’s 0.56. More productive.
Henrichs wins 2.78 tackles per 90 minutes a stat that Zabaleta matches exactly, but Sagna falls behind with 1.04. Zabaleta is fiercely loved for his combative, never say die attitude (and the occasional crunch tackle.) Could we see that with Henrichs?
Henrichs makes 3.68 interceptions per 90 minutes and this leaves Zabaleta, 2.18, and Sagna, 1.25, trailing in his wake.
These stats are even more impressive when you consider that Henrichs has played 1,000 more minutes than Zabaleta and 600 than Sagna, meaning his performances have been consistently maintained over a longer period of time.
As the stats illustrate, Henrichs is a player who loves a tackle. Despite his youth, he carries himself as a tough tackler, one who’ll go into any duel without fear, the kind of combat you’d see Zabaleta relishing, providing contrary to the ‘they don’t make them like they used to’ shtick. Furthermore, Henrichs as of yet hasn’t had too many injury problems which can often occur in these type of players. Of course, conversely, he’s quick thanks to his youth, incredibly quick one would say, and this helps Leverkusen add width to transitioning attacks in an instant.
This speed can be used both ways, though. Henrichs is often found on the right hand side of the opposition box, which obviously can and will be broken, and thus Henrichs’ speed aids tremendously in those situations, helping recover with ease. Away from his psychical aspects, Henrichs proves to be an intelligent player. Though his passing % is not up to Pep standards (76% this season), Henrichs plays more forward passes than our right-backs and reaps the rewards, and you’d think this would only improve under Pep’s tutelage.
City need fullbacks. I’ve written this several times, I’m sure you’ve thought of it several times. It’ll be on my gravestone at this rate. ‘Son, Brother and fullback craver.’ Henrichs has the ability to not only display the attacking exploits we’ve come to want from our fullbacks, but also the steely grit and determination we see from our current, right-sided, fullbacks. Before his call up to the first team, Henrichs had played in seven (!!!) positions for the various Leverkusen youth sides (LB, RB, DM, CM, LM, RM, AM). I can just imagine Pep popping open the champers when Txiki told him this.
Pep loves his malleable players, especially when they’re young and impressionable. We could stop having to force Fernandinho into left-back, full in the knowledge that Henrichs could play there. Of course we need more than just one player, but as with Fabinho his ability to play in various positions means that we would be a little less stretched in any case, should an injury crisis hit. As we mentioned earlier, City need an injection of youth into our withering defence.
Zabaleta, despite some good performances this year, can’t go on forever, and is playing fewer and fewer minutes as the season goes on. We’ll never forget the glory days, though. Sagna has been a good servant for us too, one could say City currently have on their books the best two Premier League right-backs of the early few years of this decade. But we’re in the new age now, the Pep age. Whilst he can use some older players, it’s hard to envisage our current defenders lasting much longer. Anyway.. a nice little German offensive down the wing?
My rating: 9 out of 10. City need more than competent, young fullbacks. Henrichs has the handy ability to play in both left and right-back. This seems perfect from the start. His youth would mean he could be part of the spine we need to reinvigorate, and he could play for us for the next 15 years, going off what Zabaleta has achieved for us. He’d go down in City history. His ability and attributes mean that he can go right to the top. His pace would go beautifully with Raheem or Leroy in front of him, and I truly believe this is what Pep sees to. A young, versatile fullback with pace and ability.
We’ve seen it with our young players and the young players of Pep’s past (including Kimmich, whom rumours are beginning to surface about), who have gone from raw potential to superstar. Could Henrichs be the next under Pep’s radar? The fact he’s only played one season means some will have reservations about forking out the 20m euros Bayern won’t and that’s why he won’t score higher than a nine. In 10 years time would that amount of money seem overpriced if he fulfils his potential with us? But, only time will tell.