The club record £57 million capture of French centre-back Aymeric Laporte took Manchester City’s spending on defence in the past year beyond the budgets of many nations. But the Frenchman could be the final piece of a more than £200 million defensive overhaul to provide the foundations in City’s quest for a historic quadruple.
Pep Guardiola’s men kick off a run of four matches in four different competitions on Tuesday with a return to Champions League action at Basel in the first leg of their last 16 tie. An FA Cup 5th round tie at Wigan follows before Arsenal await in the League Cup final and then another meeting with the Gunners in the Premier League – where City boast a 16-point lead at the top of the table.
However, it is for the Champions League stage that Guardiola was lured by City’s Abu-Dhabi owners and given enormous resources with which to mould an all-conquering squad.
“I have always dreamed of big things and one of them being the Champions League,” said Laporte on his arrival from Athletic Bilbao on last month’s transfer deadline day. “That is the number one objective.”
Virgil Van Dijk’s £75 million January move to Liverpool means Laporte is only the second most expensive defender ever. But City now boast four of the top six in that category with Benjamin Mendy, Kyle Walker and John Stones also costing a combined £150 million over the past 18 months.
Goalkeeper Ederson’s performances have justified his £35 million purchase from Benfica in the summer, whilst Danilo has largely been used as a back-up in both full-back roles despite also setting City back £27 million from Real Madrid in the summer. It is therefore little surprise that Guardiola’s complaints that he “had no players” with which to fill his bench in a recent 1-1 draw at Burnley were met with little sympathy.
However, it does raise questions over whether another strengthening at centre-back was what needed from a January window in which they missed out on more forward thinking targets in Alexis Sanchez and Riyad Mahrez. Leroy Sane and Gabriel Jesus will miss both legs against Basel due to long term ankle and knee injuries respectively, whilst David Silva’s role in 2018 has been limited due to the premature birth of his son and injury.
“We have had a lot of injuries – Gabriel Jesus, David Silva, Benjamin Mendy – but hopefully we can fight for every game in all competitions,” said Guardiola, who has changed his tune since describing the prospect of a quadruple as “unreal” earlier in the season.
“We can try and do absolutely everything.”
Sergio Aguero’s four-goal haul in disposing of Leicester 5-1 on Saturday suggests City will have the firepower in the Argentine to see of the Swiss champions whilst they hope to have Sane and Jesus fit in time for the quarter-finals.
At the other end of the field, Laporte fits in perfectly with Guardiola’s ideals with his left-foot bringing added balance alongside Stones or Nicolas Otamendi. “My build up play is important and also my ability in the air,” said Laporte on his biggest strengths.
“I have always followed Pep’s teams at other clubs too and I have always loved the way they play...we have the same style of play.”
Yet, despite his huge price tag the 23-year-old’s deficiencies were also exposed when he was outpaced by Jamie Vardy for Leicester’s equaliser at the Etihad on Saturday to offer some hope to those aiming to derail City’s path on all four fronts.
(With Inputs from AFP)