Manchester City Squad: Keep or Sell? - The Defence

Joe Butterfield takes a look at Manchester City's squad one by one and decides whether the club should be looking to sell or trying to keep each of them this summer, starting with the defence.

Fire up the aggregators, boys. 

Spamming Sam Lee with tweets of “any news about Kane mate?”, feverishly refreshing Fabrizio Romano’s Twitter all day long to wait for him to give the “here we go!” to a transfer that was already reliably reported on half an hour ago and, most importantly, immediately dismissing anything that comes out of a Portuguese publication.

The transfer window is well and truly back.

But, whilst most Manchester City fans are more concerned with who’s going to be arriving at the Etihad this summer, whether it’s Harry Kane’s underbitey smile as he holds up a City shirt or Jack Grealish’s massive calves strolling out onto the Etihad pitch, there’s still the small matter of the players who may be leaving the club.

Whilst we’ve come off the back of a season where we’ve won a league and cup double, with a Champions League final to boot, it appears that, if reports are to be believed, about half the squad wants to walk down La Rambla on their way to work every day because they simply can’t handle being part of a club that serially wins things.

So, with all that being said, it’s time for me to give my incredibly expert opinion on who we should be keeping at the club against their will and who we should be sending out for paella and tapas.

Let’s start at the back with the goalkeepers and the defence…

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I feel like there’s not really much to say here.

Ederson might not be the perfect shot stopper (though he’s certainly got his moments in him) but I don’t know how relevant that is when you’re a goalkeeper who’s capable of the utterly insane passes that lead to Gundogan’s goal against Tottenham Hotspur, or Zinchenko’s run for our first goal against PSG at the Etihad.

His blood runs so cold that he makes me feel like there might be something in David Icke’s lizard-people conspiracy theories. He’s utterly incapable of feeling any pressure or fear and his natural instinct to greet anybody he loves with a headlock in his vice-grip makes me worry about what he’d do to Txiki if the Director of Football angered him by attempting to sell him. 

He’d probably perform some kind of crazy Mortal Kombat-esque finishing move and rip out his spine and, to be quite honest, I think Pep might leave if his goalkeeper de-spined his best mate.

On that basis, my verdict is: KEEP

Zack Steffen

Steffen may have been at fault for the goal which knocked us out of the FA Cup, finding himself caught between whether to run back to his line or meet Timo Werner and ultimately ending up in a part of his area which was totally useless, however he’s shown enough in the games which he’s played besides that which have given me no reason to see why he should be replaced as the club backup any time soon, including a world class save against United in the Carabao Cup semi-final.

For me, the ideal backup would be a homegrown player, as it seems like a bit of a waste of a foreign spot in the Premier League and Champions League to have a player who will ultimately ride the bench for the entirety of both campaigns (barring injury).

However, that’s obviously not the club’s policy and it’s unlikely that anybody would be better suited to being a backup at the club, especially with Steffen looking like he’s quite handy with his feet.

For me, another: KEEP

Kyle Walker

Walker is a funny one for me as he’s a right-back who I simultaneously think is the best right-back in the league but also think has flaws. On the ball, he’s not great. Watching him try to run forward isn’t very convincing - his only real move is to kick the ball 20 yards ahead of himself and the full-back he’s running at and beat them for pace, which only really comes off a few times every season. 

He’s also got a few brain farts in him, as shown by the number of penalties he’s given up in the last couple of seasons, all of which are usually the same kind of tackle.

However, where Walker excels is his pure athleticism that makes playing Pep’s system possible. You can’t play a high line without a player of Walker’s pace and strength in your backline, as we saw in 2016/17 when we were playing with Zabaleta, Sagna and eventually Navas at right-back throughout the season. 

His recovery pace is a huge part of his game and also City’s system so, until that pace shows any hint of beginning to decline, there’s no reason to get rid.

An obvious: KEEP

(Photo by MB Media/Sipa USA)

(Photo by MB Media/Sipa USA)

Joao Cancelo

Now, this might seem like an over-exaggeration and this may seem completely contradictory to what I’ve just said about Walker, but Joao Cancelo is the best right back in the world. I truly believe that. 

His technical ability, combined with his defensive skills which we have seen much more frequently this season, put him on another level for me. He can play the inverted wing-back role to near perfection, as shown by his ridiculous creativity he showed during the middle part of the season when De Bruyne was injured, and his crossing and winger-like movement make him an ideal traditional attacking full-back as well as that. He's incredibly versatile, as we've seen throughout his career.

Cancelo has had a bit of a nomadic career, having been at numerous clubs, so if there’s anybody who you’d expect to find a reason to leave, it’d be him. However the club shouldn’t entertain any bids, as I feel like another long run in the team like the one he had during our 21 game winning streak this season would help to see him recover that form he found. 

Playing periodically in scratch sides or on his unnatural left-back position was always going to see him have a dip in form towards the end of the season once Walker reclaimed his place, but I feel like Walker’s age may start to see some more opportunities come Cancelo’s way. Pep knowing he has a player who is truly accomplished in that inverted wing-back role should see him utilised far more often, particularly against sides who are going to give us 60-70% of the ball.

If he doesn’t make any noises about wanting to leave, then absolutely no reason not to: KEEP

Ruben Dias

Not even bothering to justify this one: KEEP

John Stones

Just think where John Stones’s career would be right now, considering that this time last summer the club was reportedly more than willing to offload him to Arsenal where he could be reunited with the B-TEC Roberto Martinez.

He would fall prey to the utter banter-shambles that is Arsenal FC and any and all errors, only amplified by the comical nature of their backline, would be ruthlessly analysed by DT and his Level 1 FA Coaching Badge that he thinks makes him Gary Neville on Monday Night Football. 

As he tries to pass it out to Xhaka, who is inexplicably 20 yards away from where he should be, the ball would fall to an opposition attacker who would score. Troopz, in his studio in America, would be screaming to his mate, “JOHN STONES, BLUD? THEY SHOULD BE CALLING THESE MAN JOHN PEBBLES YOU KNOW!”

Instead, the Barnsley Beckenbauer has had a meteoric rise in the last 12 months which has only been matched by Zoom. Alongside the guiding, dare I say Kompany-esque, presence of Ruben Dias, he’s been given the confidence which has clearly been lacking in the 18 months prior to this season. 

He seems to have gotten over whatever injuries were keeping him sidelined which, particularly in a season as demanding as this of all seasons, is absolutely huge. 

Consistency is massive for Stones, it always has been. Whenever he’s been given a solid run in the team he’s been good, it’s just that he’s always been unable to stay fit long enough to earn that. Now that he has, it’s tough to see who displaces him next season if this keeps up.

New contract incoming: KEEP

Aymeric Laporte

This is the big one.

Laporte first came out around February with a slight hint that he’d be open to a move, though caveating that he was ultimately currently happy and would see what happened between then and the end of the season.

He obviously didn’t like what happened between then and the end of the season, because days before the Champions League final he confirmed that he was ultimately not feeling great about his playing time and when asked about his happiness back in February he said, “the situation is very different now”

There have since been reports that Laporte is more than open to a move abroad, specifically to Barcelona, however he’s yet to go too strong publicly about it.

For me, this is slightly concerning. Not just for the obvious reason that Laporte is a good centre-back and I’d much rather we didn’t lose him, but more for the fact that he clearly can’t handle a bit of competition for his spot. 

For virtually three seasons prior to this one, he was a nailed on starter. In 2019/20, the team looked utterly lost without him, cementing his importance to the team at that time. However, as much as City fans put him on a level which wasn’t totally incomparable to Van Dijk at the time, he’s not been without his flaws. 

Unfortunately, this season, with the arrival of Ruben Dias and the resurgence of John Stones, those errors which may have been forgivable in the context of him being the club’s best defender at the time have suddenly become something that makes him droppable for a player who won’t make those same mistakes.

(Photo by MB Media/Sipa USA)

(Photo by MB Media/Sipa USA)

On the one hand, I understand the frustration.

He’s not played a great number of important games this season (though it’s worth noting that he did start in the Carabao Cup final and scored the winning goal) and he’s a player that probably walks into the starting line-up of virtually every club in Europe, however this is the first real challenge he’s had in his career since breaking through as a senior professional and his instant reaction is to throw his hands in the air and say “nope, not for me, I’m out”

There’s absolutely no reason why, next season, John Stones may have a rough start to the season or suffer an injury and Laporte finds himself with a 40+ game season on his hands, playing for a team winning trophies and going far in cup competitions.

However, if he’s really that intent on leaving then, should the club have a replacement lined up and get a fair price from a club (which I personally think is unlikely this summer), we could maybe entertain the idea of selling.

However, Barcelona definitely aren’t paying what we want for him, so for me we should be, this season at the very least, looking to: KEEP

Nathan Ake

He hasn’t had the most outstanding first season with the club, however this isn’t entirely his fault. 

He suffered an injury which kept him out for a huge part of the season, only really coming back into the fold in the last few months of the season, at which point he played pretty much exclusively with Benjamin Mendy accompanying him at left-back, which is basically hamstrings any left-sided centre-back’s ability to look truly great, particularly ones who are still learning the system.

I think he just needs to be given a chance in this side alongside the first team players, and not just in cup competitions. It’s an odd one, because he’s ultimately been signed in response to the shambolic centre-back situation we found ourselves in during 2019/20, but we’ve found ourselves now with the opposite problem where we’ve too many very good centre-backs and there’s basically not much chance for him starting many meaningful Premier League games, despite him clearly having the quality to do so. 

He’s really good in the air and, if the reports of him receiving a large number of votes for a leadership role amongst the squad after only being at the club for a month or two are anything to go by, he’s made his impact already amongst the players.

No-brainer for me, got to: KEEP

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Benjamin Mendy

Look, we all remember the great work of Mendy’s social media team during 2017/18. #SharkTeam, running up the touchline to celebrate despite having knackered knee ligaments, turning up late for important knee treatment because he was out on the lash watching Anthony Joshua fight, it’s all been great “bantz”. But as a footballer it’s been an utter disaster.

It’s not been Mendy's fault - nobody could possibly foresee two knee ligament injuries hitting him one year after another - but he’s not the player we signed from Monaco. He’s got no pace whatsoever, which was ultimately his greatest asset, and his knees have clearly impact his ability to truly throw about his physicality, which was another of his biggest selling points. 

Both are no longer things which can be relied upon and, for anybody in any doubt as to how much this bothers Pep, just try to find his reaction to Reece James absolutely roasting Mendy in our Premier League outing against Chelsea.

I’m absolutely positive that we’ll be unable to find anybody who’ll take him, but by any means possible: SELL

(Photo by Iam Burn/News Images/Sipa USA)

(Photo by Iam Burn/News Images/Sipa USA)

Oleksandr Zinchenko

I love Zinchenko.

He’s a player who has refused to be sold multiple times due to his sheer belief and determination that Manchester City is a club he can play for regularly, and he’s proved the club wrong on both occasions. His qualities as a left-back have sometimes been doubted but I think that this season has shown that those doubts aren’t quite as severe as some would have once feared.

On the ball he’s probably the most accomplished in our back four, calm under pressure and confident with short, intricate passes to get by oncoming attackers. Defensively he’s greatly improved too. He’s no slouch in the air and he’s got much better at one-on-one defending in the last couple of years. He no longer looks like a midfielder playing at left-back, he’s just a left-back now in my eyes.

I recently discussed Zinchenko on a 9320 podcast and a good point was raised - what reason would Zinchenko have to leave?

Even in the case that we bought a superior left-back, he’d still ultimately get a 25-30 games a season, playing for a team which is regularly winning things. He’s got the perfect mentality and determination to win his spot back even if that was to occur and, ultimately, players want to fill their trophy cabinets with winner’s medals. 

Looking at the clubs he’s been heavily linked with moves to in the past, Wolves and Napoli, sure he might play 40 games instead of 30, but how many trophies would he win? Would he really get that much more money than he gets here?

For me, he’s an unbelievable man and a great player. 100%: KEEP

Next time, I’ll be moving forward in the squad and into the realm of the midfield. Keep your eyes out for that one!

You can follow Joe on Twitter here: @joebutters

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