Ranking and Grading Manchester City's Defenders on Form This Season
Some have suggested Pep Guardiola takes easy jobs, only interested in assuming control of squads ready-made for success. His decision to take the Manchester City on July 1 when his contract at Bayern Munich expires explodes that myth, though.
It’s nonsense anyway. Guardiola took over a Barcelona side that had finished the previous campaign 18 points behind champions Real Madrid. It was an embarrassment for the Catalan people; the team was ageing and lacking cohesion. He cleared the decks, promoted youth and set about creating the most innovative and brilliant club side of the last 20 years, perhaps even longer.
At City, he faces arguably a tougher task. Manuel Pellegrini’s squad look to have run out of ideas and energy. There are holes across the squad, and it needs a significant overhaul.
The most pressing issue is perhaps the defence, an area City have struggled in for much of the season. Since buying Vincent Kompany for £6 million in 2008, they have spent big to try and find a long-term partner. As it stands, their recruitment has been questionable at best.
With the Belgian now injury-prone to the point of being unreliable, there’s a case for an entire new back four being brought in. That, of course, is unrealistic, but it shows the dire state of their defensive options at present.
Here, we take a look at each of their defenders and rank them based on the quality of their performances. Their consistency, the number of times they have played and the quality of their performances have all been factored into the rankings.
Feel free to use the comment section below to disagree.
8. Martin Demichelis
Premier League appearances: 18
How sad it has been for City fans to see Martin Demichelis' rapid decline. He was offered a one-year contract at the end of last season and deservedly so. He had been superb for 18 months, and with City aware of Kompany’s injury problems, it made sense to keep the Argentinian for another season.
No one could have foreseen his collapse. The Premier League is unforgiving and no place for ageing stars. Demichelis, never the quickest, has looked sluggish for much of the season and been beaten too easily for pace whenever he has played.
The 35-year-old has been a great signing for City, but he will leave this summer when his contract expires, with a move back to his homeland likely.
His performance in the recent Manchester derby summed up his current state. Marcus Rashford beat him too easily for the only goal of the game, and his passing thereafter was poor.
Time has caught up with him.
7. Eliaquim Mangala
Premier League appearances: 15
Eliaquim Mangala is yet to fill anyone with confidence that he can repay the vast transfer fee City parted with to sign him from FC Porto in the summer of 2014.
He’s been nothing short of a disaster so far, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he was allowed to leave this summer, with City likely to make a heavy loss if they did find a buyer.
Physically, Mangala has everything needed to be a top-drawer centre-back. However, he struggles to read the game and switches off too easily. It’s caused him all sorts of problems in English football.
Perhaps the chance to work under Guardiola, a more tactically astute manager than Pellegrini, is what the 25-year-old needs. However, it seems unlikely he will be given too many more chances.
The fact he wasn’t in the 18-man squad for the recent trip to Norwich City says a lot.
This season started well for him. He played the first five games alongside Kompany and looked excellent. A year of Premier League experience and a full pre-season appeared to have helped him settle.
However, it's been too similar to last season since then, with errors, switch-offs and poor positional play ruining his form.
6. Pablo Zabaleta
Premier League appearances: Seven
It's been an injury-affected season for Pablo Zabaleta. The man who once appeared indestructible has suffered two damaging knee injuries and is struggling for form.
It's been his most difficult campaign as a City player. The man who had been firmly City's No. 1 right-back for three years—perhaps even the best in Europe—has been adversely affected by his lay-offs. He looks short of sharpness and confidence.
Is it just bad luck that he can return from, or is it the start of a deeper decline? He's a fans' favourite, and a man who embodies all the changes and improvements made at City since the takeover in 2008.
If the 31-year-old gets another season to prove he is still a top-class right-back, he'll have to take it.
5. Aleksandar Kolarov
Premier League appearances: 23
Aleksandar Kolarov's form has been a concern, and, at 30, his time as a City player may be at an end.
Guardiola likes a side that passes and moves at pace, and presses with high intensity. It's far from uncertain he will see Kolarov as a player who can excel in that setup.
This season has seen his defensive frailties exposed too often. Positionally he lacks intelligence, and his lack of pace means he struggles to get himself out of difficult situations.
The attacking side of his game, which has previously been his saving grace, hasn't been functioning as well either. It's left him in a difficult situation, usurped by Gael Clichy.
4. Gael Clichy
Premier League appearances: 10
Much of Clichy's early season was ruined by injury—but he's now back fit and very much in form.
Unlike Kolarov, Clichy is comfortable on the ball and can join in with the team's passing style. He's better defensively than the Serbian and has more pace. He's an all-round better player.
Now that the 30-year-old is playing regularly again, his supremacy is being realised. He isn't a world-class option and there are limitations to his game, but when he's in form, he's a very decent option for City.
With his home-grown status, he is likely to be part of the Guardiola era at the club.
3. Vincent Kompany
Premier League appearances: 13
When he has played, he’s been superb, but Kompany simply hasn’t been on the pitch often enough to have the kind of impact City need from their captain and leader.
He has suffered 13 calf injuries since the start of the 2011-12 season. It’s an unbelievable record that has destabilised City and leaves them in need of a top-quality defender to come in and play regularly.
When the Belgium international has played this season, he’s excelled—the best defender at the club and the leader of the team. He remains quick, strong and athletic. His presence brings an air of calm and stability to a back four that has a tendency to be chaotic.
When he isn't there—and that has been the case too often—City can look all over the place at the back.
The 29-year-old is unlikely to be sold, despite the growing concerns about his calf issues. He has a special relationship with the club; he’s been the figurehead at City for eight years. He’s likely to be offered a role when he finally finishes playing.
They’ll give him more time to prove he can get fit and stay fit. This season, though, has been close to a write-off.
2. Nicolas Otamendi
Premier League appearances: 23
City signed Nicolas Otamendi from Valencia in the summer for £32 million. As yet, it’s unclear whether he will prove value for money.
It’s rare to see a player veer so frantically from exceptional to poor. At his best, he’s a sharp, proactive and dominant defender who smothers forwards and allows them no time on the ball. Too often, though, he gets caught out by over-committing and making it easy for players to go past him.
The 28-year-old has the makings of a very good defender. A season under his belt in the Premier League will do him good, and perhaps City will see a much-improved defender next season.
At the moment, you’d have to say City need better to achieve their ambitions. However, compared to those around him, he's been one of the club's better performing defenders.
1. Bacary Sagna
Premier League appearances: 25
Few would have predicted it 12 months ago, but Bacary Sagna has undoubtedly been City’s most consistent defender this season.
His debut season saw him used sparingly. Just 12 league appearances, interspersed by long periods of inactivity, saw him struggle to develop any rhythm. When he played, he often looked short of sharpness. He would then return to the bench, and the cycle repeated.
Clearly, a consistent run helps a player—and Sagna is no different. The 33-year-old excelled this season, given an opportunity because of Zabaleta's injury problems.
Defensively he's solid, even if he lacks Zabaleta's quality going forward.
He's been City's Mr. Reliable and deserves all the accolades he's been given.