Man City already have the answer to Pep Guardiola’s biggest positional headache
As Manchester City look to prioritise other areas during the summer transfer market, their plans at left-back remains something of a question mark for the season ahead.
But after making the position into his own during a rather impressive 2020-21 campaign, might Pep Guardiola and the City hierarchy be minded to stick with Oleksandr Zinchenko next season to allow them to focus their transfer efforts on strengthening attacking positions?
Since the arrival of Benjamin Mendy during the 2017 summer transfer window, the Blues have struggled at left-back with the Frenchman suffering a series of long-term injuries that have prevented him from really kickstarting his City career. It became apparent early last season that Guardiola and the management team couldn’t count on Mendy to be fit and firing at all times.
When looking at potential alternatives, Guardiola decided to utilise his squad and over the season the role was shared fairly equally between Zinchenko and Portuguese full-back Joao Cancelo, who often shifted over to left-back from his preferred and more natural position at right-back.
Towards the crunch part of the season heading into the latter stages, Guardiola favourited Ukraine international Zinchenko to cover that role. Getting the nod in the high-profile quarter and semi-finals of the Champions League and starting in the final against Chelsea, he really impressed in that left-back role.
With rumours having died down about City signing a new left-back, it would appear that they are content on heading into the new campaign with Zinchenko as their first choice.
To get into a Guardiola team you must possess great ability on the ball. The very foundation of City’s success under the Catalan is their possession-based football and build-up play from the back.
As Zinchenko is a midfielder by trade, his passing and dribbling capabilities put him in good stead to do a stern job at full-back – rarely giving the ball away he is an ideal fit for a Guardiola style full-back.
When City signed Mendy in 2017, they were getting a powerful, explosive full-back who loved to attack. In contrast, Zinchenko is quite the opposite; over the past season or so, City have adopted a more reserved approach when focusing on their full-backs, one that has suited them especially in the Champions League leaving them less exposed on the break.
City have recently appeared more suited to this kind of restrained approach, opposed to the gung-ho style football we saw early on in the Guardiola era?
Despite that, Zinchenko is still contributing in attack, producing nearly twice as many chances for teammates per 90 minutes (0.9) as Mendy (0.5) and over twice as many as Kyle Walker (0.4) — though all of them pale in comparison to Cancelo (1.8), giving Zinchenko a benchmark to live up to.
If Guardiola decided to adopt back to those attacking tactics just mentioned, one player who would potentially fit the system is Sporting left-back Nuno Mendes.
The Portuguese defender has been reportedly on Guardiola’s radar during this summer’s transfer window.
Mendes, 18, impressed a host of European’s elite clubs this season after featuring 35 times last term to help Sporting win their first Portuguese league title since 2002.
Having made the Portugal squad for their Euro 2020 campaign, at such a young age he has lots of potential and would be an ideal signing for Guardiola.
His underlying statistics during the 2020/21 Primeira Liga campaign were also excellent, averaging 1.7 tackles, 2.1 interceptions and 1.1 key passes per game. Comparatively, Zinchenko averaged 1.3 tackles, 1.2 interceptions and 0.8 key passes per match in the 20/21 Premier League season.
These are decisions City will have to make this summer, though they will likely concentrate their transfer efforts elsewhere.