The meteoric rise of the brilliant young right full-back, Rico Lewis, has added even more competition to City’s back-four conundrum, made even more complicated by Pep strategically varying it to a back-three not only from the kick-off sometimes, but increasingly often during the course of a game.
When Pep arrived at the beginning of the 2016/17 season, he was surprised to find four ageing full-backs in Zabaleta, Sagna, Kolarov and Clichy, but little succession-planning…at the end of that first season, as he started to ship out the old guard, he brought in Walker and Mendy for the best part of £100m – the first a massive success, the second considerably less so.
While Walker quickly established himself as one of the world’s best right-backs, the left-back spot remained an ongoing issue for a long time.
The full-back, backup signing of Danilo at around the same time was not particularly successful, and he was traded in for Cancelo who became the world’s most expensive full-back two years later.
Although primarily a right-back, Cancelo quickly became first choice left-back, pushing Mendy to the periphery, while still capable of providing cover for Walker.
Cancelo has universally redefined the full-back role, his vision and silky skills on the ball a huge asset as he drifts in and out of central midfield leaving a strong back-three to cover behind him, and giving City even more midfield dominance.
Meanwhile, young Lewis is fast learning from the same songbook.
Ake is proving to be a brilliant left-back alternative when not needed to cover for Laporte at left centre-back.
He is more a holding left-back and roams less than Cancelo and Lewis but, like Walker, pushes upfield well when necessary.
Ake is one of City’s most underrated players and rarely puts a foot wrong regardless of his position. The riches that Cancelo and Ake provide at left-back have made the recent signing of young, third-choice left-back Gomez less important.
He’s had a slow start and Pep doesn’t seem to trust him yet, but hopefully, his time will come.
Laporte can also cover there in an emergency.
And with the prodigal Lewis contesting the stellar Walker for the right-back role with back-up from the mercurial Cancelo (and Stones and Akanji occasionally), both right and left-back roles boast the strongest potential player line-up and increased competition since Pep arrived
And just in time for the January 2023 push for four major trophies.