On beIN Sports this weekend Richard Keys suggested Pep Guardiola should talk to Roy Hodgson or Sam Allardyce about defending. I am probably not alone in struggling to imagine how that phone call would sound.
And anyway, there is a better, more traditional solution. City could just buy some good defenders.
The latest to arrive is the Portuguese Ruben Dias. He cost £65million and made an encouraging debut in the draw at Leeds United. Earlier in the summer City also signed Nathan Ake from Bournemouth for £41m. Both have been added to a roster of central defenders already comprising John Stones (£47m) and Aymeric Laporte (£57m).
Ruben Dias (right) took Man City’s spending on defenders under Pep Guardiola beyond £400m
The former Barcelona boss has yet to get it right at the back despite spending major fees
With this kind of outlay, you would imagine City have a better than even chance of getting it right but their record in the defensive department over the last 10 years is so modest that nothing is guaranteed.
As well as those players already mentioned, City have in recent memory bought Joao Cancelo, Kyle Walker, Danilo, Benjamin Mendy, Nicolas Otamendi and Eliaquim Mangala. That group alone — spread between 2014 and 2019 — cost the club in the region of £250m. There have been individual successes — Otamendi and Walker have done reasonably — but viewed as a whole it hardly reflects the most astute period of transfer business.
Predated in City’s modern history by moves for Joleon Lescott, Matija Nastasic, Stefan Savic, Maicon, Wayne Bridge and Jerome Boateng, it forms a pattern City have been stuck in for too long and is as puzzling as it threatens to be damaging. Last season, when City scored more than 100 Premier League goals, it arguably cost them the title.
Nathan Ake arrived for £41m from Bournemouth this summer but does not appear first choice
Signing the right players is not easy, no matter how much money you have. Champions Liverpool get an awful lot right but not everything. Dejan Lovren was bought from Southampton for £20m as a defensive figurehead in 2014 but three and a half years later Liverpool had to pay almost four times that to buy the defender who would eventually win them the Premier League, Virgil van Dijk.
Some players just do not adjust to life at a top club. Others get injured or distracted. But the truth is that at City, a club that seemingly has little problem recruiting the right attacking players, it has happened too often.
Stones is perhaps the saddest example. Gifted and bought from Everton four summers ago, he was expected to blossom under Guardiola but has withered. Every time City have paid big money for a central defender since then — four times to be precise — Stones must have felt another kick to his wasting self-esteem.
Some of the responsibility for this lies with Guardiola. If he is credited with the reinvention of a player like Sergio Aguero then so he must be blamed when a good player travels backwards.
Equally, City’s recruitment operation, ultimately headed by football director Txiki Begiristain, is culpable.
In attacking positions City seem to get recruitment right, such as star man Kevin De Bruyne
In the off season of 2017 for example, the same summer City paid Tottenham £45m for Walker, the club spent £26.5m on another right back, the Brazilian Danilo from Real Madrid. After two mediocre seasons, he was sold to Juventus in part exchange for another full back Joao Cancelo. That deal was worth about £60m. And so it adds up.
If Guardiola’s team shakes off an uncertain start to the season and wins another league title then this issue slips away. City are wealthy enough to withstand more transfer missteps than most.
But if City don’t reel Liverpool in we know which way the finger will point and it will not be at Aguero, Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne or Gabriel Jesus.
United’s expensive Plan B
Manchester United are finally ready to make an impression in the summer transfer market with the marquee signing of 33-year-old Edinson Cavani.
United’s football under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has found some kind of identity through youthful pace and power on the counter attack.
With that in mind, the most generous thing we can say about Cavani’s impending arrival is that it feels like an expensive Plan B.
Edinson Cavani is incoming for Manchester United but he feels like an expensive Plan B
Vardy’s lesson for Sturridge
When Daniel Sturridge was making his England debut as a Chelsea player in November 2011, Jamie Vardy was playing for Halifax.
Nine years on and Vardy is being courted gently by Gareth Southgate ahead of a possible second crack at international football while Sturridge does not currently have a club to play for.
Both men are approaching the final years of their career but it seems that only one of them can claim to have got the very best out of themselves.
I hope Sturridge finds a club before the transfer window closes this evening. He is too talented to simply disappear.
Jamie Vardy is being courted by Gareth Southgate for a return to the international set-up
Sloppy Reds? Roy has a point
Roy Keane’s exchange with Jurgen Klopp after Liverpool’s win over Arsenal was great TV. It’s not often Keane appears lost for words but he was once Klopp took issue with the Sky pundit’s suggestion that his team had been ‘sloppy’ during victory.
However, buried beneath all the chuckling and mocking of Keane was one salient point. The former Manchester United captain was right.
Liverpool played very well against Arsenal, just as they had in beating Chelsea the week before. Still, though, Arsenal created three one-on-one chances in a game in which they hardly had the ball.
Against Leeds on opening day, meanwhile, Liverpool conceded three goals at home. So when Keane suggests there may be issues with some of Liverpool’s defending why would anyone laugh?
Klopp’s team now face Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Everton in a fortnight on the back of Sunday night’s shambles at Aston Villa. They have some way to go to settle this argument in their favour.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp was left stunned at recent comments by pundit Roy Keane
Ultimately, Keane was right to suggest that Liverpool were sloppy defending against Arsenal