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Eyebrows were raised across the board when Manchester City signed Kyle Walker for a fee believed to be in region of £53 million and critics were even quicker to line up when it emerged on Wednesday that Manchester City had also agreed a deal worth £30 million to sign Real Madrid right-back, Danilo.
Many were surprised at how the Blues were parting with the best part of £83 million to sign two players for the same exact role and that surely one of the two would end up being a back-up option, a wholly expensive one at that.
Yet whilst this is factually true it must also be made clear that whilst Manchester City’s pursuit of multiple full-backs is expensive, it is also an absolute necessity after the dismal debut campaign for Pep Guardiola at the Etihad Stadium.
As he arrived at Manchester City in July 2016 one of the most pressing matters in the Spanish coach’s in tray was the weakness at full-back.
Given this is such an integral position with regards to how Guardiola likes his system to function, it was almost a given that full-backs would be recruited to replace the ageing selection of Bacary Sagna, Gael Clichy, Aleksandar Kolarov and Pablo Zabaleta.
However no such recruits arrived and City went into the 2016/17 campaign virtually unchanged in defence aside from the arrival of John Stones.
As many predicted this was a decision that would backfire with none of City’s full-backs performing anywhere close to what is required at the very top level and defensively the team was a shambles from the start of the season until April when Vincent Kompany made his return over a consistent period of matches.
Things got so bad that due to a combination of injuries and poor form, Jesus Navas even ended up playing at right-back near the end of the season.
This is quite simply unacceptable and it is clear the 46-year-old coach felt the same way with three of the four full-backs already jettisoned out of the club this summer. Kolarov remains although a move to Roma is currently in progress.
Danilo and Mendy set to arrive
Thus far Walker has arrived and Danilo will follow for the aforementioned combined figure of £83 million.
Following on from this duo Benjamin Mendy of Monaco is expected to eventually sign too although his departure from the principality club has been far more protracted than anyone could imagine. More Tiemoue Bakayoko than Bernardo Silva in the transfer efficiency stakes.
That said the French international is expected to join for a fee believed to be between £43-46 million once an agreement is reached with Monaco. Such a deal would take the spending on full-backs at Eastlands to around £128 million with there still the spot of back-up left-back to fill as well, although on this front there is a suspicion that Danilo may be asked to cover both sides.
The Brazilian at 26 is a player with experience at the top level and he has qualities that were admired by many prior to his move to Real Madrid. Unfortunately the stage at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, as it does for many, proved too big for him and there is no shame in that.
At Manchester City he is moving to a smaller stage and the pressure will not be as intense. He will be given the opportunity to show his qualities and will vastly improve City’s depth at right-back.
It is what Guardiola needs
Attacking from the full-back positions is key to Guardiola’s style of play. It makes the pitch bigger and allows his teams to be brilliant through the middle in terms of ball retention.
At Barcelona he had Dani Alves and Eric Abidal with Abidal clearly the more conservative of the two in terms of making attacking runs yet he still got forward when possible.
Last term City couldn’t do this, they were hamstrung by relying on older players who couldn’t contribute efficiently in both phases of play on a regular basis throughout a match. This is why Navas, despite his defensive frailties, was used as an option near the end of the campaign.
With Walker and Danilo there are no such concerns, neither are there with Mendy and for the critics suggesting such an fiscal outlay on one position is irresponsible, it is absolutely fundamental to improving Pep Guardiola’s team and chances of success which in earnest is what the entire point of recruiting players is.
The pressure is at a high
Are Manchester City clearly better equipped to challenge for the Champions League after these arrivals? Yes. So what’s the problem with which position the money is spent on?
The stakes and demands on both Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho this season are so high that you can understand why such vast sums are being spent. Both managers have been set the goal of winning the Premier League title whilst reaching the latter stages of the Champions League.
Such feats require incredible levels of consistency and luck in addition to the high quality of football that needs to be played.
Last year both teams had specific areas which let them down, for City is was their defence and for United it was in attack.
So far this summer both teams have spent significant money to rectify those issues and whilst it may be unsightly for some, it is absolutely necessary if the two managers are to stand a chance of achieving their goals for the current campaign.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @cmwinterburn
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