After two sluggish performances in South Africa ended in defeat, Manchester City’s preseason preparations improved in Hong Kong, with 1-0 wins over South China and Sunderland ensuring Manuel Pellegrini’s men took the Barclays Asia Trophy back to Manchester.
However, one major disappointment was the ankle injury sustained by City’s outstanding 20-year-old defender, Matija Nastasic, who will now be assessed by a doctor in Manchester on Monday.
According to BBC Sport, Pellegrini says that he has no idea what the extent of the injury is. Early reports suggest the Serbian could be out for three weeks, though, which would rule him out for the start of City’s Premier League season at home to Newcastle August 19.
The question now is: Will City sign another defender?
Reports throughout the summer have suggested Pellegrini is keen to add to his complement of centre-backs (the Chilean wants two top-class players for every position), and this report from Richard Tanner in the Express has Real Madrid’s Pepe as one of the most strongly linked names.
Kolo Toure is now at Liverpool, and Joleon Lescott’s future is still uncertain, so this injury to Nastasic could tip the balance and see Pellegrini look to bolster his defensive options.
Toure made 18 appearances in all competitions for City last season, providing solid cover whenever Vincent Kompany was injured or suspended. With his contract up on July 1, City decided to release the Ivorian, who had a bumper deal handed to him during the generous days of Mark Hughes’ reign. At 32, it was felt his best days were behind him, and Liverpool landed his services on a free transfer.
Although there is little doubt it was in the club’s best interests to release Toure given the player’s age and City’s desire to reduce their wage bill, it’s also clear he needs replacing. Eighteen games is a significant void to fill, and if City want to fight on all fronts this season, options are going to be vital.
City’s other cover at centre-back comes in the form of Lescott, the 30-year-old England international who was a key component in City’s title win in 2012 before losing his place last season to Nastasic.
The situation with Lescott brings a myriad difficulties: The club want the player to stay, and Lescott would happily remain a City player if given assurances about his place in the team; however, the club cannot give him the guarantees he needs, and Lescott knows the importance of playing regularly in a World Cup year. He has a great chance of being an important player for England in Brazil next summer, but only if he is playing regularly for his club. That desire for international recognition could see him seek first-team football elsewhere.
These factors suggest City need further defensive options. It’s clear Pellegrini likes Pepe, a player with significant Champions League experience but one who would cost in the region of £20 million. That amount of money being spent on a 30-year-old is seemingly at odds with the way City want to approach the transfer market, but City would get a superb defender with probably three seasons left at the top. He’s proved during his time at Madrid that he is an excellent defender, even if he does have disciplinary issues.
Pepe’s teammate, Raphael Varane, would be an ideal choice, but Madrid would be foolish to let him leave given his age and potential.
Dortmund duo Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic are others who would surely be on City’s radar, but both would demand first-team football, and with Nastasic and Kompany seen as a long-term pairing, that doesn’t suit City’s plans. The Pepe deal looks like City’s best option given the market.
It certainly would not be a surprise if Pellegrini took City’s spending beyond the £100 million mark by signing a centre-back soon, with Pepe the most likely candidate.
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here @TypicalCity