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By Micah Richards
Last Updated: 02/07/20 4:00pm
Former Man City defender Micah Richards insists Pep Guardiola’s side need a leader in defence to close the gap on Liverpool next season.
City currently sit 23 points off the newly-crowned Premier League champions, and have lost eight Premier League games this season, more than they lost in the previous two seasons combined.
Much of City’s problems have come in defence; in the final third they have been as devastating as ever, but the back line has been hamstrung by long-term injuries to Aymeric Laporte, plus the retirement of Vincent Kompany at the end of last season.
That has meant defensive midfielder Fernandinho has dropped into central defence, though Richards believes that takes away solidity in front of the defence.
Here, Richards runs through the steps City can take to improve over the summer, and why there are still plenty of reasons for optimism, even with the large gap to their rival…
Why City need a leader
“It’s been very difficult for City. I feel a bit sorry for John Stones. He’s obviously a top player and you’d think the way City play he’d just fit in easily, but he’s made a couple of high-profile mistakes, and he’s not really been able to claw that back.
“Without Laporte there, they don’t really seem like they’ve got much stability. Losing Laporte for the first half of the season was massive. City are looking at various players for the summer, but for me they need a leader at the back to play alongside Laporte. That’s no disrespect to Nicolas Otamendi and Stones, I’d still have Stones around to try and win back the manager’s confidence.
“But when you have a central midfielder dropping back into centre-back, you know you’ve got a player there. I know people say that Pep Guardiola dropped Javier Mascherano back into defence at Barcelona and it worked, but this is a bit different in the Premier League. When you’ve got Lionel Messi on your side, it’s completely different.
“Going forward it hasn’t been a problem for City. They’ve been scintillating at times, but then you just know that there’s going to be some sort of uncertainty at the back without Kompany’s leadership.
“They’re just missing that voice. It doesn’t have to be the world’s best centre-half, just somebody who knows how to lead the team, get people in the right positions, and who is not afraid to shout at people if their positioning is wrong.
“Manchester City have lost some really important players, not just on the pitch, but off the pitch. Joe Hart was massive in the dressing room, then you lose Yaya Toure, then you lose Pablo Zabaleta, then you lose Vincent Kompany… every single season you’re losing somebody who made a massive impact on and off the pitch.”
City stronger with Fernandinho in midfield
“If Fernandinho drops back into the centre-half position, you lose the whole balance in midfield. You might outplay your opposition, but on the counter-attack you leave yourself so vulnerable. The amount of times Fernandinho would break up play just sitting in front of the defence.
“I think City are a better team when Fernandinho is playing in central midfield. It’s also confidence for the centre-half when you’ve got a midfielder like that in front of you.”
Give Mendy a chance
“At left-back, I think with Benjamin Mendy getting a run of games, and with a good pre-season under his belt, I do believe he can nail down that spot and rotate with Oleksandr Zinchenko, because I like him too. You need two good players in every position.
“But I don’t think we can judge Mendy yet. If he has a full season next season, and doesn’t hit the heights, I think we can judge him there. But I’ve been through similar knee injuries, and it does take a while to get back to full confidence. I’d give him another season to show his true worth.
“City also bought Joao Cancelo for £60m, and everyone thought he’d have a better delivery and be better going forward, but Kyle Walker hasn’t given him any loose change to get in.”
Not as simple as buying one defender
“I don’t want to be too disrespectful to Liverpool, because it’s currently 23 points. That’s going to be difficult to make up. But a few years ago everyone said it was City’s title for the next five years, so we know anything can change in football.
“It’s not as simple as getting a centre-back in… Fernandinho will be a year older and his legs won’t be the same as this season or past seasons.
“Just buying a centre-back is not going to solve all the issues. People say Van Dijk solved Liverpool’s problems, and he did to an extent, but his arrival coincided with the improvement in Trent and Robertson, and also Alisson arrived.
“But getting a centre-half would help so much in terms of consistency, and to have somebody who understands that position more to drive the team forward.”
But City will close the gap…
“Liverpool at this moment have players at the right age and in form, but they also have a great manager in Jurgen Klopp, too. However, I do think that gap can be closed. I don’t think it will be anything like this gap next season, I do think it will be tighter.
“City give so many times so many chances, despite it looking like men vs boys at the other end. But it’s not all doom and gloom. I think City will go back to the drawing board – not in the way they play, but in players – and I think it will be a closer title race, and not just with Man City. I don’t think these two can go and win the league, but I do think Man Utd and Chelsea will have a lot to say in the title race.
“But if City are to take on Liverpool next season, Sergio Aguero must stay fit.”