Rating the £315m Pep Guardiola has spent on his Manchester City defence
Pep Guardiola has almost completely revamped Manchester City‘s squad since taking charge in 2016 – and he’s paid particular attention to the defence.
City finished fourth under Manuel Pellegrini in the season prior to Guardiola’s arrival, 2015-16, and all but four members of that squad have since left, with only Fernandinho, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero remaining.
In addition to two goalkeepers in the shape of Claudio Bravo and Ederson, Guardiola has invested heavily on defenders in his four years at the Etihad Stadium – and here we’ve ranked them all, from worst to best.
Pedro Porro (£10.8m)
Call us old fashioned, but we like it when football clubs buy footballers to play football…for them. So when City paid nearly £11million to sign Porro from ‘sister club’ Girona only to loan him out to Real Valladolid four days later, we did a bit of sick in our mouths.
It’s not just City who do this kind of thing, but f*cking hell.
Philippe Sandler (£2.25m)
Signed as a 21-year-old from PEC Zwolle in 2018, Sandler might not have expected to immediately break into City’s first team, but he might also have expected to make more than one League Cup start and one FA Cup substitute appearance in his first year in Manchester.
He was loaned out to Vincent Kompany’s Anderlecht at the start of the 2019-20 season but missed most of the season with a knee injury which ultimately required surgery.
2012: City sign 16-year-old Angelino from Deportivo.
2018: City sell Angelino to PSV Eindhoven for £5million without him making a single Premier League appearance.
2019: City sign Angelino from PSV for £5.3million (or £10.5million if you believe PSV) after one season in the Netherlands.
2020: City loan Angelino to RB Leipzig with a view to a permanent €30million transfer after four starts in the Premier League.
Modern football’s weird, innit?
Joao Cancelo (£60m)
When your club spends a world-record fee on a right-back, you’re probably expecting him to a) play every week and b) be pretty bloody good.
But Cancelo has failed to establish himself as a regular in the team, making just 13 starts in the Premier League in 2019-20, and there has been plenty of speculation suggesting he could be moved on after just a year at the club.
However, Guardiola has suggested he merely needed time to acclimatise to the Premier League so he could yet climb this list. “He understands us better than the beginning,” Guardiola said. “Sometimes you need time. We are delighted with his last two months.”
Danilo was basically just a cheaper version of Cancelo, making the decision to swap players with Juve and drop a load of cash on top all the more strange.
Danilo was decent at right-back and scored that absolute worldy at Burnley, but he didn’t look particularly comfortable when used at left-back, which perhaps explains why Guardiola felt the need to bring in the more adaptable Cancelo instead.
Benjamin Mendy (£52m)
Pretty much anyone who saw Mendy play for Monaco was excited when City signed him in 2017, with Txiki Begiristain describing him as “undoubtedly one of the world’s best full-backs”.
However, Mendy had barely got going in a City shirt when he ruptured his ACL and three years on he’s still only played 53 times for the club.
He’s popular with everybody and, at 26, still has time to get back to the sensational form he showed at Monaco – but 2020-21 feels like a big season for him.
John Stones (£50m)
Stones arrived at City in 2016 as a sometimes classy defender with a propensity for silly mistakes and looks likely to leave in 2020 as a sometimes classy defender with a propensity for silly mistakes.
There have been times when Stones has looked every inch the world-class defender Guardiola clearly thought he could mould him into, but ultimately those periods have never become the norm.
Oleksandr Zinchenko (£1.7m)
Given the figures involved with some of the other players on this list, it’s probably fair to say most people wouldn’t have expected to see too much of Zinchenko in a City shirt when he signed from Russian club Ufa in 2016.
Indeed, he was loaned out to PSV that summer and split his time between their first team and the reserves in the Netherlands’ second tier, suggesting he probably wasn’t ready to play for one of the best clubs in the world any time soon.
But the aforementioned injury to Mendy opened up a door for Zinchenko in 2017-18, and the bad Kevin De Bruyne lookalike turned out to be one of the surprising successes of the season.
He has continued to play on a semi-regular basis ever since and was handed an improved contract in 2019 to keep him at the club until 2024.
Kyle Walker (£47.4m)
City have spent £86.5million on players to challenge Walker at right-back, but Cancelo has so far followed in the footsteps of Danilo of failing to seriously threaten to become first choice.
It perhaps says something about Walker that Guardiola felt the need to sign Cancelo, but if anyone’s going be sold, even despite his lockdown misdemeanours, it won’t be Walker.
Ultimately just a very good player, Walker also wins bonus points for going in goal for the last 10 minutes against Atalanta in November 2019.
Let’s not forget the time when Kyle Walker kept a clean sheet against Atalanta from playing as a Goalkeeper, scored a goal and gave an assist in the same week. My Right Back! pic.twitter.com/dkkmAX4ckL
— 𝘐𝘦𝘴𝘵𝘺𝘯 🏴 (@iestynmcfc) May 15, 2020
Aymeric Laporte (£58.8m)
By far and away the biggest success on the list, Laporte won the Premier League in each of his first two seasons with City and there is a strong feeling that the title race would have been much more interesting in 2019-20 had it not been for Laporte’s injury.
Guardiola described him as “the best left central defender in the world” upon his return to the fold in January and you won’t find us disagreeing with that assessment.
Assuming Laporte stays fit, and with Nathan Ake on the way, expect a very different City in 2020-21.