It’s not yet April, Man City still have three trophies to play for in their quest for the quadruple and yet here we are, talking about next season’s transfer plans.
Excuse the over-excitement, but this is no ordinary transfer. This is Atletico Madrid’s Saul Niguez, a rumoured €80million-replacement for the ageing Fernandinho.
Aside from being the most important signing of Pep Guardiola’s reign, the potential transfer of Saul carries a peculiar sense of intrigue. If completed, it would take City one step closer to left-footed nirvana.
There’s no scientific reason why left-footed footballers are easier on the eye than their right-footed brethren. As Tupac concluded: “That’s just the way it is.”
Lionel Messi wouldn’t be half the player he is today if he was right footed and Cristiano Ronaldo would have a stronger case for being the GOAT if he was left footed.
No-one grows up wanting to be a right-back, but everyone goes to bed dreaming of waking up with Roberto Carlos’ left thigh muscle.
Stewart Downing- he of zero goals or assists during Liverpool’s 2011/12 season- burgled 35 whole caps for England purely because of his left foot.
What’s this got to do with City’s pursuit of Saul?
If the 24-year-old does move to the Etihad then, with a bit of artistic licence, City could field a completely left-footed team next season.
It would require City to go with a back four of Benjamin Mendy, Aymeric Laporte, Eliaquim Mangala and Oleksandr Zinchenko, which is obviously ludicrous.
Bernardo Silva, Riyad Mahrez and Leroy Sane would have to play as a fluid front three, with David Silva, Phil Foden and Saul in midfield. Again, unlikely. Spare a thought for Fabian Delph, who still wouldn’t get in City’s team.
In reality, the unlikely outliers of John Stones, Kyle Walker, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero would see City line up with a six to five balance in favour of the left footers, give or take a few wild tactical calls from Guardiola.
City’s attempts to dominate the left-footed football market is more than pure frivolity. Having a near-mirrored side opens up the pitch and presents angles for City’s players to implement Guardiola’s style.
The more balanced City’s XI is, the harder they are to press into specific areas of the pitch. Saul’s ability to play of either foot from the base of City’s midfield again makes setting the press a more difficult task for the opposition.
As for Saul’s prospects of seamlessly replacing Fernandinho, the Spaniard has made more tackles than any other player in La Liga since the start of the 2017/18 season.
Tactical flexibility won’t be a problem, given he’s operated in five different positions this campaign.
He’s even filled in at left-back, as is customary for any midfielder who plays under Guardiola.
What’s not to love? Well, except for the terrible Better Call Saul headlines we’ll be subjected to when City have a bit of a wobble after Saul gets ruled out for 2-3 weeks with a minor thigh strain.
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