Nearly every successful centre-back partnership has a defender that is universally recognised as the outstanding player of the pair.
Whether it be Virgil van Dijk, Tony Adams or Jaap Stam, to succeed at the highest level there needs to be a player at the heart of a team’s backline that can be depended upon to produce consistent brilliance, while being adequately assisted by his noble steed alongside him.
For years Manchester City were able to call upon the services of Vincent Kompany, safe in the knowledge he would rarely fail to produce solid displays – he even managed to turn Joleon Lescott into a Premier League winner.
City have struggled to replace the Belgian colossus since he entered the twilight of his career – before eventually leaving the club in 2019 – however, the signing of Aymeric Laporte in January 2018 had City fans believing they’d found the man who their defence could be built around.
Sadly, Laporte doesn’t look to be the defender City can depend on to produce consistently throughout a season, needing only an ‘adequate’ partner by his side. In fact, the Frenchman’s qualities are only befitting of the aforementioned ‘noble steed’ berth – the Joe Gomez, Martin Keown or Ronny Johnsen role if you will.
City’s capitulation in their Champions League semi-final clash with Lyon exposed all of the flaws that prove Laporte isn’t the man to lead the club to European glory.
The former Athletic Club man was found wanting in a positional sense on a number of occasions during the semi final, with the French side – who sat in seventh position in Ligue 1 prior to the postponement of France’s top tier – exploiting the fragile City backline seemingly at will.
Supporters of Laporte will argue it was ‘only one bad game’, but in truth, it was the biggest game of City’s season, and the pattern of the contest was no different to what City have experienced for years.
Lyon sat deep for large periods of the game looking to soak up pressure and utilise the pace of their frontmen whenever possible. City are no stranger to these tactics, with the majority of Premier League sides adopting them – particularly when playing at the Etihad Stadium – yet Laporte continually found himself out of position and forced to make desperate sprints back towards his own goal.
Admittedly, on paper the Frenchman looks as though he’s had a huge impact on City’s defence, becoming the fastest player to reach 50 Premier League wins (in just 59 games).
However, in a team as strewn with world class players as City’s it’s easy for stats and figures to become overinflated (take Raheem Sterling’s 20 Premier League goals for example, despite looking as though he couldn’t finish his dinner at times).
With Guardiola openly admitting his preference for a centre-back pairing consisting of one left-footed and one right-footed defender, the signing of backup defender Nathan Aké is a strong indication that the former Barcelona manager has no intentions of replacing Laporte in the City backline.
While the Frenchman has made a solid start to life at City and definitely fits the mould of a Guardiola defender, his dismal display in the Champions League semi-final is not the first time he’s come up short in crucial fixtures.
The 26-year-old made two critical individual errors in the club’s 2019 Champions League quarter-final against Tottenham, mistakes which would prove costly as City were eliminated from the competition they so dearly crave success in.
Compare these displays to the performances of Kompany during his 11-year stay at the Etihad and suddenly the gulf in class becomes apparent. The Belgian produced a number of match-winning displays for the club, with crucial goals against Manchester United and Leicester City proving pivotal in City securing Premier League crowns.
Guardiola is clearly intent on recruiting defensive reinforcements this summer, and Laporte will almost definitely be in the City starting XI next season.
However, if the club are serious about being crowned kings of Europe, Laporte needs a commanding centre-back partner alongside him, as he’s already shown he’s not the authoritative figure who can take the club forward.