While Manchester City have made shrewd moves in the summer window, the center-back position remains a key area of concern as the Citizens seek a third consecutive Premier League title.
Manchester City have been active in the summer transfer window, bringing in players such as Angeliño, Zack Steffen, and Rodri in order to strengthen as the Blues look to compete on four fronts yet again. However, City have yet to address arguably their biggest need of the window at the heart of defense.
Following the departure of club captain Vincent Kompany to serve as player-manager of Anderlecht, a gaping hole has emerged to partner with Aymeric Laporte in central defense. While John Stones appeared to be the clear successor at the position, injuries and poor form saw him lose his starting position to the 33-year old Kompany during the critical stretch of matches at the end of last campaign’s domestic treble-winning effort.
Moreover, Stones struggled horribly in England’s Nations League run in the summer, from shambolic errors at the back to looking seriously uncomfortable when playing the ball.
The 31-year-old Nicolás Otamendi has been linked with a move away from the club and has truly looked past his best for both club and country in recent months. Therefore, with no clear options and a lack of depth at the position following Kompany’s departure, City must make replacing him an absolute priority.
Matthijs de Ligt was perhaps the ideal replacement, but appears well on his way to a £67.5 million move to Italian champions Juventus, according to BBC Sport. City have been linked most consistently with a move for Leicester City’s £80 million-rated Harry Maguire, but he is not the ideal fit for the club and appears to be close to a transfer to local rivals Manchester United.
While the need is clearly present, City have yet to show real interest in bringing in another central defender, a puzzling move from manager Pep Guardiola. In the Catalan’s system, the player must be extremely comfortable playing out of the back with an ability to read the game, ideally with an aerial presence to partner with Laporte.
Players that could be a potential fit include Inter’s Milan Škriniar or Bournemouth’s Nathan Aké, although Škriniar could be difficult to secure and there are concerns about Aké’s 5’11 frame and whether or not he is truly the elite-caliber player City are seeking at the position.
City’s muted interest may be because they are exploring their options, but it could also be because Guardiola has an unexpected trick up his sleeve. He has consistently proven his ability to get the best out of almost every player and has allowed the best version of an inconsistent player in Stones to shine through.
Having loaned out promising young Dutch defender Philippe Sandler to play under Kompany at Anderlecht, City’s depth at the position is also a serious concern.
Guardiola and Director of Football Txiki Begiristain have already had immense success identifying young talent and filling the club’s needs through their transfer policy, and there is no reason to believe they will not find the next great Manchester City center-back, whether that player is already at the club or not.
As City begins to transition away from the Kompany/David Silva/Yaya Touré/Sergio Agüero era that defined the club’s early years of success, it will be the combined vision of Guardiola and Begiristain that will shape the future at the Etihad Stadium.
With the start of the Premier League season quickly approaching and City already beginning their preseason tour with the Premier League Asia Trophy in China, the Blues must quickly uncover a solution to solidify this side as one of the world’s absolute best and in order to contend to win the first Champions League title in club history.