Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has confessed that going up against the likes of Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka and Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah this season taught him the importance of solid defending from full-backs.
Guardiola’s full-backs have usually been known for the attacking play, either flying down the wings or drifting into midfield, but there was a noticeable change in tactic this season from the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss as Nathan Ake and Manuel Akanji spent a large part of the campaign helping out on the left
Ake and Akanji, both centre-backs by trade, have enjoyed utterly sensational seasons in this new role, and Guardiola has now admitted that he was given a new outlook on defending in City’s battles with Saka and Salah.
“[Nathan Ake] has been fundamental for us,’ Guardiola told Sky Sports after Sunday’s victory over Chelsea.
“I learnt this season when you play against Bukayo Saka, Vinicius Junior, Gabriel Martinelli or Mohamed Salah, you need proper defenders to win duels one-on-one. They need just one action to beat you. Nathan gave us a boost that we did not have in the past.”
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City parted ways with left-back Oleksandr Zinchenko last summer, selling the Ukraine international to Arsenal, while right-back Joao Cancelo was sent out on loan to Bayern Munich with a view to a permanent exit that appears unlikely to materialise.
In their place, young right-back Rico Lewis was promoted to the senior setup and Kyle Walker enjoyed somewhat of a resurgence towards the end of the campaign, notably pulling out an excellent performance to keep Vinicius at bay during the Champions League semi-final second leg.
“This group of lads are second to none,” Walker said after the title win. “They’re professionals, they’re winners, and I think that’s how we get across the line more times than not.
“But we’re not finished. We’ve got the FA Cup against our bitter rivals Manchester United and then we’ve got the Champions League final.”
On this week’s edition of Talking Transfers, part of the 90min podcast network, Scott Saunders is joined by Toby Cudworth and Graeme Bailey to discuss all the latest transfer news. On the agenda: Declan Rice, Mason Mount, Granit Xhaka, Martin Odegaard, Ivan Toney, Ruben Loftus-Cheek & more!
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