Manchester City have swept away all before them this season, promises of Pep Guardiola’s famed style of play has finally come to fruition at the Etihad Stadium with the club playing some of the finest football seen in the Premier League for some time.
They are being matched stride-for-stride by Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United in what is shaping up to be the first properly contested title race England has seen in years.
With that being said, much of Manchester City’s newfound form has come as a direct result of the significant spending in each wing-back position. Over £100 million was spent in order to bring Danilo, Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy to the club and they have helped transform City’s fortunes.
Lengthy spell on the sidelines
Unfortunately for Guardiola, Mendy faces a lengthy spell on the sidelines with early reports suggesting the Frenchman has suffered Anterior Cruciate Ligament damage in Saturday’s 5-0 victory over Crystal Palace.
On paper, losing a left-back shouldn’t cause too much damage to a team’s hopes for the season, yet with Mendy he has quickly become so important to the former Bayern Munich coach.
What was noticeable in the 2016/17 season was how Gael Clichy, Bacary Sagna and Pablo Zabaleta couldn’t cover the entirety of the line throughout most matches. They were simply too old and not quick enough anymore, that isn’t a knock against them, it’s just factual.
Attacking prowess an additional outlet for City
In Walker, Mendy and Danilo, Manchester City now how three players that are perfectly capable of such work and thus, fit into the system with consummate ease.
With Walker and Mendy both bombing forward from either flank, opposing defences haven’t been able to cope with Manchester City. The running of the wing-backs has forced teams to pay attention to the wide areas defensively, this in turn prevents total focus being placed on limiting the influence of Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva, as was the case at junctures in the last campaign.
Danilo was signed on the basis that he could play on either the right or the left side, as the former Monaco defender built up his fitness at the beginning of the campaign, the Brazilian did actually start at left-back.
He did well, but it was clear he wasn’t naturally suited to the role. Danilo will once again be asked to play here in Mendy’s absence, however it remains to be seen how significantly this impacts the team’s level of performance.
All indications are that Manchester City will hand Guardiola funds in January to sign a replacement left-back, such is the desire to provide the Spaniard the best conditions possible to win the Premier League this term.
Alex Grimaldo is a likely candidate with the Blues having shown an interest in the Benfica defender previously, however until this deal can be completed they will have to manage without the immensely popular Mendy.
First real test
A visit to Stamford Bridge on Saturday is the first real test of City’s title credentials. Antonio Conte’s team have recovered from their poor start to the campaign admirably and sit just three points behind the two Manchester clubs.
There have been some entertaining fixtures in the Premier League this season with goals easy to come by, yet this is the first real heavyweight clash. This is the first time two serious title contenders have met and it will give an incredibly interesting picture on how close either side will be to lifting the trophy on May.
Mendy’s absence takes a lot of energy away from City’s left side, it will be interesting to see if subconsciously the team focuses more on the opposite flank, utilising Walker’s skill-set. This could form a dangerous overreliance.
The intricacies of Guardiola’s system will only work in the Premier League if the conditions are perfect. Losing as key a figure as the French defender is a damaging blow, one that will test whether or not City can still perform to the very same level.
An unfortunate loss, which forces Danilo to step up
Injuries can never come at a good time; however it is somewhat unfortunate that City lose the former Marseille full-back just before a trip to Chelsea.
Guardiola has to have confidence in Danilo to perform in a positive way, if he settles in at left-back then Chelsea could be in for a difficult afternoon against the Premier League’s most potent attacking force, yet if City struggle and lose their recent rhythm, the defending champions have the ability to damage their title charge.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @cmwinterburn
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