The young fullback has taken on challenges of defending Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi and has shown quite well for himself.

By 90Min
October 30, 2017

"If I have to follow Cristiano across the pitch, then I will do so," said Pablo Maffeo before Girona's much-anticipated La Liga clash with Real Madrid on Sunday. "I will have no problem man-marking if the coach asks me to do this job."

And that's what he did. The 20-year-old relentlessly and doggedly pursued the four-time Ballon d'Or winner - as he had done a month earlier to Lionel Messi - and left him frustrated, despondent at his unusual lack of impact.

Girona won 2-1 and at the heart of it was Maffeo. He provided the assist for the second goal, defended excellently alongside his teammates and appeared very much at ease against Spain's most reputable opposition.

He is one of a number of City players on loan at the Catalan club, but few have caught the eye to this extent. Quick, skillful and technically gifted, and equally pugnacious in defense, he has already demonstrated the attributes of a well-rounded fullback.

And his performances will certainly not have gone unnoticed by Pep Guardiola. In the summer, there was a sizeable and concerning gap in City's squad; at right-back, where Pablo Zabaleta and Bacary Sagna - both in their 30s - had struggled to maintain the demands set the previous season and departed.

So the club opted to spend money to fix the issue, a lot of it. Kyle Walker was signed from Tottenham for £50m, an arrival that has proved successful, and Danilo was acquired for £26.5m having been deemed dispensable at Real Madrid.

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It is the addition of the latter that has grown increasingly questionable as the season has progressed. The Brazilian full-back is versatile and generally dependable, but has rarely featured, and has been overlooked at left-back following Benjamin Mendy's injury.

Having said that, Danilo is naturally a right-back and will likely act as a deputy for Walker. But there remains a question over the need for such a large fee to have been spent when Maffeo was already at the club, waiting patiently for his chance like so many other youngsters.

This is his third season at Girona and with each he has developed and improved. "I belong to Manchester City, but I'm on loan with Girona, I'm proud of that," he has said. What remains to be seen is whether he will still belong to City as he approaches the peak years of his career.

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There is an argument that Maffeo may have been too inexperienced, too unproven to slot in at City this campaign. Playing at Girona will certainly not have hindered his progress, although Guardiola is no stranger to placing his trust in youth. Maffeo's displays this season suggest a player more than capable of deputising, of filling in where necessary. 

City, like a number of top clubs in the Premier League, have struggled to integrate their talented youth prospects, despite heavy investment in the futuristic Etihad Campus and the players that inhabit it. Five players are at Girona, six at NAC Breda and two at Melbourne City.

Maffeo is one of the most talented of that group, yet there is a danger that he, and other exciting prospects, could slip through City's grasp if they choose to continue with their relatively risk averse policy of spending big, even for backup options.

The former Espanyol youngster has played twice for the Citizens - against Steaua Bucharest in a UEFA Champions League play-off and against Manchester United in the EFL Cup. He called those appearances "very special", but the prospect of more could depend on City's willingness to trust in their academy.

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