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Ranked: Manchester City's most important players
Why Joao Cancelo is important and Kyle Walker is not.
As Manchester City battered and flustered Tottenham yesterday, it was suggested by a commentator that Pep Guardiola’s strong suit was his system, that the frame he built meant it didn’t matter who played where, because the job always got done in the end.
Whether that’s the case or not, it got me thinking about the standings of each player in Guardiola’s eyes. Who does he regard in the highest possible terms and who does he feel could be easily replaced?
I’ve decided then to ‘Power Rank’ each Manchester City player in terms of their importance. Think of this as a record of each player’s perceived status at the time - and not necessarily how good they are at kicking circular objects around a field.
Much like F365’s infamous England Ladder, this is an estimation of Pep Guardiola’s thoughts, who – unlike Gareth Southgate – I still feel I don’t know very well.
Ilkay Gundogan #1
Had this list been done just six months ago , Gundogan might have found himself much further down this list. That’s not to say his form has been some sort of late-career renaissance – far from it. What it has been however, is confirmation that the German has always had the ability to do anything on a football pitch. Sit deep and set the tempo? Got it. Get forward and score? No problem.
If you thought Ruben Dias or Kevin De Bruyne were City’s most important players then Gundogan’s display against Tottenham yesterday must have left you feeling at least a little mistaken.
It was spectacularly ruthless. There were no record-breaking numbers of touches nor chance creating passes that we’ve come to expect, but goals; each coming at crucial intervals.
The second of which had the feeling of a genuine classic; a deft touch from a long punt, swivel and finish, leaving Davinson Sanchez’s role in it all contextualised through memes and GIFs. It was a goal that felt iconic in the truest sense of the word by a player fast approaching cult status.
Ruben Dias #2
Dias might have just missed out on the top spot (he was absent on Saturday) but he remains not only City’s best defender, but also the team’s leader and de-facto captain.
He has not just reset the natural order that departed with Vincent Kompany, but has taken it one step further, helping establish City as a side you could genuinely characterise as ‘good defensively’. His record so far speaks for itself: 19 league games, 13 cleans sheets and just eight goals conceded in the process.
Whilst the other defenders may be more individually talented, Dias is the one who holds it all together. Just watch City in any defensive phase and you’ll see him leading the line and everybody else, like a school of fish, following suit. Whether he pulls wide, drops deep or pushes forward, the rest of the backline will do so in tandem. He’s an authority on how to defend and it’s hard to believe he’s just 23 years-old.
Kevin De Bruyne #3
There’s been a lot of discourse surrounding Kevin De Bruyne in the past week or so and I actually got involved myself. You can read my thoughts here, so I’ll just leave it at that.
Raheem Sterling #4
Raheem Sterling has to be the most inevitable person of all time. It honestly doesn’t matter what you think of him or how he’s playing because, like destiny, he arrives all the same.
Joao Cancelo #5
What an unbelievable player he is and what a transformation from the choppy performances of last season. He’d be higher on this list was he not a full-back – although he sort of isn’t.
We heard a lot about Trent-Alexander Arnold redefining the full-back role but it might well be Cancelo who will hold that mantle. A right-back by name only, you’ll usually find him in midfield helping Rodri recycle the ball. Blink and he’ll be somewhere around the opposition box overloading a downtrodden defence. He’s like a quarter-back and running-back morphed into one and he’s extremely important to the way City play.
Rodri finally looks at home at Manchester City and he been absolutely immense since December, although truth be told, most of us had already thrown in the towel by then. Even his biggest supporters were inclined to believe that this was case of: ‘Good player, wrong team’. How things have changed.
Rodri has now emerged as one of the most important players in the system, the perfect foil to City’s attack. Rather than leaving him isolated or glaringly exposed on the counter-attack like before, City are now playing towards his strengths.
It’s been a hell of a journey for the Spaniard which Sascha concisely summarised in just a few words:
Bernardo Silva #7
Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Bernardo Silva is back. And he has been dearly missed. Having spent the last year playing more like Andros Townsend, you could be forgiven for forgetting that this was the same player who had finished ninth in the Ballon d'Or just a year before.
Silva is not an output machine like Sterling or De Bruyne but that’s because he doesn’t need to be. His relentless energy and tenacity in every duel, dribble and shot is what makes him so special and so difficult to play against. And it is exactly why he will always remain one of Guardiola’s favourite players.
Phil Foden #8
Climbing up this list by the week is Phil Foden. Versatile, committed and gifted with God-given talent, Foden is a manager’s dream.
Guardiola has always thought highly of him but was perhaps wary of dangling too much of the carrot. Or perhaps there was a fear he could’ve been overplayed and consequently burn out later in his career like Jack Wilshere did.
Either way, he’s had to bide his team and looking back in hindsight, I think the whole situation was managed as well as it could be.
John Stones #9
Riyad Mahrez #10
Love him or loathe him, Guardiola places a lot of trust in Mahrez and he usually returns the favour. He’s not everyone’s cup of tea and his individual style of play is in contrast to a lot of the other forwards, but (I think) that’s exactly why he plays so much.
Gabriel Jesus #11
Victim to the striker-less formation that kicked off City’s good form in December, but he now finds himself back in the side after string of good performances and a few goals to boot. The expectations are high for Jesus and it feels like this season might be his last to prove he’s worthy of being a mainstay in the side.
Still remains the best goalkeeper with his feet and has cut out the errors that were creeping into his game last season. Very highly thought by everyone, I’m sure. However, he’s a goalkeeper so I can’t put him higher than twelfth.
Sergio Aguero #13
Where is he? What is he? Sergio Aguero hasn’t played regularly in such a long time that he’s become some sort of enigma.
I don’t think anyone knows what kind of player he will be when he returns but he’s Sergio Aguero so he must be somewhere in Guardiola’s estimations.
Oleksandr Zinchenko #14
Currently having a purple patch that couldn’t have come at a better time. I always write Zinchenko off but then he’ll string a couple of performances together and cement his place in the side. He’s a player prone to morphing into Eric Abidal as much as he is into Gael Clichy.
I don’t think I’ll ever fully trust him but he seems to be Pep’s favoured left-back at the moment.
Kyle Walker #15
Once a mainstay in the City side, Kyle Walker has been utterly condemned to obscurity by Joao Cancelo. His stock has fallen dramatically this season and it’s not hard to see why: Cancelo is simply everything he is and more.
Zinchenko, who hasn’t been half the player Walker has these past three years, is currently above him on this list. Such is football, such is life.
Aymeric Laporte #16
Sitting lowly on this list is Aymeric Laporte. Outshined by the incumbent Ruben Dias and dropped for John Stones, the Frenchman has had to bide his time on the sidelines. It seems Guardiola has not forgiven Laporte for his performances in certain games, particularly in the Champions League knock-outs. Simply put, he’s not as highly regarded as he used to be.
Ferran Torres #17
A good debut season so far despite just 741 minutes in the league. Probably last in the wide-man pecking order but through no fault of his own having scored or assisted ten times already. One for the future.
His best days are behind him but the vigour and leadership he brings to the side is unquestionable.
Benjamin Mendy #19
Has actually remained relatively fit this season but lost his place to Zinchenko in the process. Mendy will never be the same player we bought from Monaco and I think everybody accepts that. But will he ever take advantage of the multitude of chances afforded to him?
Eric Garcia #20
I think Steven summed it up best:
Zach Steffen #21
Not done anything particularly good but neither has he done anything bad. The American seems to be reasonable back-up for Ederson and looks decent with his feet too.
Nathan Ake #22
Well that was ******* pointless, wasn’t it?