Manchester City’s season starts today and the big question is… well, it is whether Bernardo Silva will stay or not, but other than that, it is whether a new left-back will arrive.
After missing top target Marc Cucurella, who eventually left Brighton for Chelsea in a deal worth up to £63million ($76.4m), City are hunting around for an alternative.
They have sold Oleksandr Zinchenko to Arsenal for £32.5million, meaning Kyle Walker and Joao Cancelo are their only remaining senior fullbacks although, they are very good ones.
Pep Guardiola has said that 19-year-old Josh Wilson-Esbrand is ready to play left back, as well as Nathan Ake and “some surprises we can do”.
He has also hinted, generally, at doing business in the winter transfer market — “maybe we are going to do something we cannot do right now” — which may suggest that getting a new left-back on board before September 1 is not going to be easy, but they are certainly trying.
In addition, as we try to discover who the chosen one will be, we have looked at several potential candidates based on similarities in their data when compared to Cucurella, who was very much the man they wanted.
It may be notable that Zinchenko is rated as similar in profile to Cucurella, although the consensus is that City would be moving away from a left-back who tucks in as an extra midfielder towards somebody who attacks the wide areas and makes lots of crosses. Zinchenko is more of an attacking threat but has also played with players of higher quality in a team that dominates the ball and attacks far more.
With a link-up play volume of 81 out of 99, the former Watford man is more likely to play simple passes, although he keeps possession at an average rate for a left-back (ball retention ability, 53 out of 99). This would have to change if he were to ever join City.
He gets forward well for a left-back, as shown by his receptions in the opposition box (92 out of 99), is pretty active in his defensive actions (ball recoveries and interceptions, 79 out of 99), and above average in preventing the opposition from progressing up the pitch (defending impact, 64 out of 99).
A move for Thomas would likely be too complicated to complete before the transfer window closes given that his club would most likely demand a premium for an English player who’s 21 years old (especially since Leicester would know City are on the back foot and have made a transfer profit of roughly £100million this year).
Even so, his profile last season was unremarkable from an attacking perspective, with only two league assists in the past three seasons. Thomas looks to largely keep it simple with his passing (link-up play volume, 74 out of 99), although his defensive output is solid for a Premier League left-back, especially in terms of ball recoveries and interceptions (70 out of 99).
In terms of tackles, clearances and other defensive responsibilities, he was below average last season (disrupting opposition moves, 45 out of 99). He’s also not the most active in getting tight to his man (defending intensity, 22 out of 99) and is below average in preventing the opposition from progressing further (defending impact, 44 out of 99).
City have been linked with a move for Stuttgart’s Croatia international Borna Sosa. The 24-year-old often plays as a wingback in Germany and although he has only scored once in 66 Bundesliga appearances, he has registered 18 assists in those games and his crossing has caught the eye.
The data does not paint a pretty picture but that is largely because his position is listed as a left midfielder from his wingback position, meaning he is compared with a different positional cohort within smarter scout’s metrics. Most of the other players on this list are compared to left-backs.
Sosa’s defensive output looks far from strong but his varied profile on the ball suggests that he has the skill to keep his passing simple, (link-up play volume, 52 out of 99) or play longer, searching balls upfield when necessary (progressive passing, 70 out of 99), which explains his attacking output in getting the ball into more advanced areas (xG from ball progression, 61 out of 99).
The 21-year-old, like Sosa, is down as a left midfielder rather than a left back, with Wolves playing a back three and wingbacks, so his data does not look remarkable at first glance either.
Compared with other left-sided midfielders, he is less likely to play the shorter passes (link-up play volume, 36 out of 99) but overall, his possession numbers are pretty solid (ball retention ability, 73 out of 99). Defensively, he likes to get tight to his man (defending intensity, 85 out of 99), although such defensive actions are not especially effective (defending impact, 14 out of 99).
Meanwhile, there are many options; it might be worth looking at Cucurella’s output from his final season at Getafe, in 2020-21, when he played as a wingback.
With an attacking output of 34 out of 99, ball retention of 22 out of 99 and “defending quantity” of 44 out of 99, he might not have stood out too much either — and look at him now.
When City have missed out on top targets in the past, they have ended up with Rodri, Ruben Dias and Erling Haaland as replacements. If they can use those powers again now, or even next year, they will have done very well indeed.