I’ve stated multiple times that Pep Guardiola’s refusal to buy another central defender is one of the reasons why Manchester City failed to meet the expectations this season. I still believe that is the case, but I can’t deny the fact that the Spanish manager has been unlucky too.
The injury of Aymeric Laporte early in the campaign was monumental. The Frenchman is the best player in arguably the only position where the champions are short in numbers.
What he brings to this team is invaluable for many reasons and his return is crucial for Manchester City. If Laporte is fit, the club still has a chance to salvage the season by lifting the UEFA Champions League in May.
What Do the Numbers Say?
Before I get to my subjective opinion, let’s explore the numbers. Aymeric Laporte has played only five English Premier League games this season, including last night against West Ham. His team kept a clean sheet in four of them.
In comparison, Man City hasn’t conceded only five times in the other 21 games played without Laporte in the lineup. That’s a staggering difference that can be confirmed by the stats from last season.
The champions conceded a total of 23 goals in 38 games. Laporte was part of the side in 35 of them, while the team already allowed 29 goals in 21 games this year.
The defense is the clear difference compared to the previous campaign, when you look at what happens at the other end of the pitch. Manchester City was scoring 2.5 goals per match in 2018-19 and the number is slightly higher in 2019-20, so the attack brings the same productivity.
Saying that Laporte is the only reason why City has declined so dramatically at the back might be a step too far, it certainly is the main one for sure.
What Does Laporte Bring to the Table?
There’s little doubt that Aymeric Laporte is Manchester City’s best central defender. He has a complex skillset that makes him crucial in all aspects of the team’s defensive tactics.
The Frenchman is fast and reads the game well, so he can easily play in the high line demanded by Pep Guardiola.
On top of that, he is tall and strong in the air. That helps him cope with the Premier League strikers that rely on their big frame. City has often suffered from direct teams in the absence of Laporte. The same can be said about the set-pieces faced by the champions.
If you add Laporte’s leadership and the excellent passing, it’s easy to see why Pep views him as the best centre back in the world. I’m not 100% sure that’s the case, but the Frenchman certainly is in the conversation.
Other Factors to Consider
Aymeric Laporte is a world-class player that would be missed by any team. However, Manchester City simply can’t afford his absence for a sustained period of time and this is where Guardiola should take some blame.
After the departure of Vincent Company in the summer, the squad was left with three senior central defenders: Laporte, John Stones, and Nicolas Otamendi. That’s not enough for a leading team in the Premier League, especially if you consider that Stones and Otamendi don’t make a good pairing.
That has forced Guardiola to use Rodri in the same position which has brought further problems. The Spaniard is necessary as an anchor that protects the defense and no one else can do his job with the same efficiency.
I won’t go into too many details, but you’ve probably watched enough games of Manchester City to know that the defense is simply not working. Often, the attack managed to bail the team, but there were exceptions and Guardiola paid the price for the risk he took in the summer.
After Pep Guardiola doubled down on his decision to not buy a central defender in January, Manchester City’s success in the Champions League strongly depends on the health of Aymeric Laporte.
The club could do a game or two without him, but if he is injured once again or simply not back at his best for the deciding clashes of the tournament, Manchester City is doomed in Europe.