Left backs. They’re a contentious subject. City have been linked with an overabundance of them, yet window after window we neglect to buy one. We’ve previously looked at Alex Grimaldo and Sead Kolašinac, whose links recently have gone cold. On 24 February, Mundo Deportivo reported that City, by season’s end, would try for Hector Bellerin, Juan Bernat, Joao Cancelo, José Luis Gaya and Virgil Van Dijk to bolster our defence, and Juan Bernat will be the subject of our focus today. Mundo Deportivo’s report is the latest in a long line of linkages between City and Bernat, including from publications like SPORTBILD, The Times and AS. The links have gone cold recently, but I don’t doubt that Pep has him on his radar, having picked him up for Bayern in 2014.
And frankly, I bet you all just enjoy fantasising about the prospect of a new left back next year, maybe two… I do!
Born on the Balearic Coast in 1993, Juan Bernat joined his local outfit in the shape of La Liga outfit, and Eliaquim Mangala’s current haunt, Valencia. It was 2011 when he curiously made his breakthrough into both the Valencia CF Mestalla and the Valencia first team, making 24 appearances for Mestalla and 7 for Valencia, though he never played the full 90 for the first team in 2011/12. Next season, though, Bernat spent most of his time with the first team, even though he spent a great deal of time on the bench, making 12 appearances in total. I must mention that during this period, he was played as a right and left winger. And no, I wasn’t lying to you earlier when I said he’s a left back.
2013/14 was Juan Bernat’s breakthrough season. Despite having made 19 appearances in 2 seasons, Bernat would make 26 starts in that season, yet now playing almost exclusively at left back, replacing former Valencia left back and Football Manager hero Andrés Guardado. This is the season people began to draw comparisons with Jordi Alba. He would also be ever present in Valencia’s Europa League run, starting 11 out of 14 games until Valencia were knocked out in the semi-finals by eventual winners Sevilla. This is what made Pep go out and buy Bernat for a rumoured £8.5m.
Despite this low transfer fee, Bernat was very well utilised by Pep. Alaba suffered two major injuries over the course of 2014/15, and therefore the new boy from Spain stepped in and stepped up. He won the Bundesliga and spent his time playing mostly in left back, but also in his old position of left midfield. He played throughout Bayern’s Champions League campaign, making waves in Europe, though Bayern would lose out to eventual winners Barcelona. In addition to his Bundesliga win, Bernat was called up to the Spanish national team and made his debut on the 12 October 2014, coming on as a substitute against Luxembourg and scoring the 4th goal in the 4-0 win. He’s made 7 appearances at the time of writing for his national team.
This could’ve continued through the 2015/16 season, but unfortunately for Bernat, he suffered a serious injury which ruled him out for a few months in the festive period of the season, but upon his return was restored to his position at left back. Pep had moved Alaba to a more central position by this point, which didn’t particularly harm Bernat’s chances of being played. But, with Pep moving on to City, Bernat has fallen out of favour somewhat- and is unsatisfied with this role alongside former Pep favourites Douglas Costa and Joshua Kimmich. Bernat has only started 7 league games this season, sitting on the bench for 11 games. This is when the links began to surface about his possible move to City, with AS saying ‘negotiations were already in place’ and others corroborating that.
I feel like because of his underuse this season, and the fact he was used by Pep last season, there’s legitimate cause to use his stats from last season in comparison to our full-backs this season, because of the Pep link? Well, it’s my scout report anyway. If you don’t think this is very good reasoning please message me and I’ll give you stats you prefer. (They’re just off Squawka I’m not some kind of amazing human computer). In any case! All taken from league games, Bernat from 15/16 and Clichy/Zabaleta from 16/17.
Bernat completed 90% of his passes last season, this season Clichy has completed 83% and Zabaleta 82%. Wonder why Pep likes him…?
Bernat made 56.25 successful passes per 90, so far this season Clichy makes 51.36, both dwarfing Zabaleta’s 39.69. Still not sure why Pep likes him?
Bernat won 46.53% of his duels last season, compared to Zabaleta’s 52.63% and Clichy’s 45.93% this season. Remember when Pep scoffed at tackles? What a man. Anyway, this aspect of Bernat’s game might need to be improved if we were to take him seriously.
Bernat is rapid. Like, properly fast. Do you remember what a fast full back looks like? I’ve almost forgotten. Like Henrichs, this is really great in Pep’s system and would be useful in City’s side, a side which now has two great, pacey wingers in need of complimenting. But as the stats show, he’s also technically sound, being able to play the ‘simple game’ of tiki-taka. This comes with a certain amount of calmness on the ball, and I don’t think it would be wise to bet against Bernat perhaps moving more centrally someday as his pace burns out. As I have mentioned, Bernat has drawn some comparisons to former Valencia player, Jordi Alba, and has a quality (other than pace) that any Barça player is renowned for: immunity to pressing. Bernat deals with pressure with particular grace, and the ability to either dribble ones way out of trouble or pass their way out is a very nice one, especially when our left backs have the ability to do neither. Pep’s defenders have been accused of not being able to defend (except the GOAT John Stones), but I think Juan Bernat can defend, to a degree. Hopefully if we sign him, he’ll improve this aspect of his game (I make it sound so simple), as I have no qualms about his attacking abilities.
Despite the fact he started his career as a left winger, and has dedicated his time fairly between left back and left midfield, I’m fairly sure we all know where Bernat would spend most of his time, with City hopefully actually buying the winger we need, instead of just spread players out like we’ve been forced to be doing. Imagine, a new season dawns… and I never have to see Clichy’s name at left back again. I actually quite like Gael, but to succeed we need to improve there. I think City have had a lot of problems in circulating the ball from the back. In Pep’s #philosophy, the whole team needs to be confident with the ball at their feet. Currently, that’s just not the case. At least three of our current starting 11 don’t look confident with the ball. We need young, ball-playing players to fulfill the #philosophy. I’d argue that out of all the left backs we’ve looked at, Bernat probably fits Pep the best, especially as we’ve seen that Pep favoured him at Bayern.
My rating: 8.5 out of 10. As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, City need players that don’t treat the ball as an explosive device. Sometimes you look at Otamendi, Clichy, Navas, Sagna, Zabaleta, and so on, who just don’t look like they’re happy in possession. Some are better than others, but Bernat, as a ball-playing full back, is better possession-wise than all of our current full backs. He’s young, too. I have questions over his defensive ability, especially given the mess that is Alberto Moreno (though I deeply resent ‘Spanish x LB is similar to Spanish y LB’ comparisons, mostly because they’re lazily based on nationality and position). But, if Pep thinks that Bernat is good enough, then he probably is. He did manage the kid for two years. He’s rumoured to cost £20m and I don’t think that would be so outrageous.