January Window Shopping: Full-backs for Manchester City

What do you get if you combine the best manager in the world with tons and tons of money? Certainly not what has been going on at the Etihad Stadium this season. After losses to Chelsea and Leicester City, Manchester City suffered a shock 4-0 defeat at the hands of Everton on Sunday. Now they sit at 5th place, 2 points away from a Champions League spot and 10 points off league leaders Chelsea. In fact, their goal difference is half of that of Chelsea.

One major reason for City’s unconvincing performances is that their full-backs are weak. Pep Guardiola’s tactical system demands a lot from his full-backs and City’s current full-backs (Pablo Zabaleta, Bakary Sagna, Aleksander Kolarov and Gaël Clichy) aren’t delivering. They are slow and are too old (Sagna is 33 and the rest are 31). New, young full-backs will add a lot to Pep’s City.

Many other people also share the opinion that City need new full-backs.

full-backs-for-city

Have they made efforts to sign new full-backs? Yes. Apparently, they are trying to sign the dynamic Tottenham full-backs Kyle Walker and Danny Rose. However, their Transfermarkt values are €15 million and €14 million respectively. Signing both of them would mean forking out at least €30 million. Of course, City will have no problem at all paying that sum, but can they look for a better, cheaper alternative? I have tried to answer this question by writing a transfer dossier.

As I mentioned in my earlier article, my rules for signing a new full-back for City are:

  • The player has to be 25 years old or younger.
  • The player should not be from the Premier League.
  • The player should not play in a top team.

I used the above criteria to filter players out of the database that I copy-pasted from WhoScored. Here are the three options that I zeroed in on for Manchester City, ranked in decreasing order of being an overall good buy.

Option One: Emerson

Age: 22

Current club: AS Roma

Transfermarkt value: €3 million

Contract till: 30th June 2021

Emerson Palmieri (he goes by one name, but you will need to mention his last name in a Google search to locate him) is a Brazilian left-back of Italian descent who plays for Roma. After a successful loan spell last year at Roma from Santos, Roma signed him for €2 million.  Ted Knutson named Emerson as a potential full-back signing for City.

He also looked great in my Excel file populated with WhoScored data of stats of non-PL, under-25 full-backs. When I organized his data into a radar, the results were pretty amazing.

Emerson 16.png

Just look at the right side of the radar. It’s clear that Emerson is the most creative full-back in Europe. He has played 1.7 key passes per 90 minutes. He is a great dribbler, too. He has completed an overwhelming 2.3 successful dribbles per 90 minutes this season. Even though Emerson is a fantastic attacking full-back, he won’t let you down in defence. He completes a healthy amount of tackles and interceptions and he almost never loses a tackle. He doesn’t give too many fouls away, either.

However, Emerson has played only 51% of total minutes for Roma. He missed a game in the Serie A and the Europa League due to a disrupted calf muscle. This is something that should be worked on. However, his best feature may be his cost. His Transfermarkt value is only €3 million! Manchester City should try to sign him as soon as possible.

Option Two: Sead Kolasinac

Age: 23

Current club: FC Schalke 04

Transfermarkt value: €6 million

Contract till: 30th June 2017

Sead Kolasinac is a celebrated, young left-back who plays for Schalke. The Bosnian international has always been linked to big clubs. He was brought into the limelight when he scored an own goal in the 2014 World Cup against Argentina in the group stages.

Kolasinac put up good stats, but different from Emerson’s. Take a look at his radar.

Sead Kolasinac 16.png

As the radar shows, Kolasinac is the opposite of Emerson. Although he plays a good amount of key passes and crosses, and completes a few successful dribbles, he is the kind of player that intercepts the ball and wins aerial duels. Even if his high interception count isn’t because of his skill, it shows he is capable of playing in a high-pressing team. The only stylistic drawback to Kolasinac is his passing success rate. You need to be better at passing in a Guardiola team.

If City sign both him and Emerson, they will be presented with two different types of full-backs. Kolasinac will be the defender who sits back and defends when Emerson flies forward. He will also initiate the high press; Kolasinac has intercepted 4.3 passes per 90 minutes. Although Kolasinac has only played 66% of total minutes for Schalke, he hasn’t missed a game due to injury since his horrific ACL injury in 2014-15 that made him miss 23 games.

Another factor that goes in Kolasinac’s favour is that he has also played as a defensive midfielder and a center-back for Schalke this season. Guardiola can also play him at different positions like he played David Alaba at Bayern.

However, City may have to fork out a higher sum for Kolasinac. Although his Transfermarkt value is only €6 million and his contract runs out this year, Kolasinac has been the subject of interest of Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea. Juventus supposedly launched an unsuccessful bid of €4.5 million for him. Though that’s a scanty fee, interest from the three big Premier League clubs may make Kolasinac very expensive. But that isn’t a problem for Manchester City, is it?           

Option Three: Youssouf Sabaly

Age: 23

Current Club: Bordeaux (on loan from Paris Saint-Germain)

Transfermarkt value: €3.5 million

Contract till: 30th June 2020

Youssouf Sabaly is a French right-back who plays for Bordeaux on loan from PSG. The 23-year-old can play as a winger, too. This is his radar for this season.

Youssouf Sabaly 16.png

Sabaly isn’t great, but he isn’t bad either. He can be a back-up at City. I feel stockpiling young players at crucial positions is a good thing to do. He is very good at dribbling and is quite creative. But a flaw in his game is his defending. He has lost 1.2 tackles so far. Can this be fixed by Guardiola? Sabaly has played 89% of the time for Bordeaux this season, not tormented by injuries.

There might be some issues signing Sabaly. First of all, he is on loan at Bordeaux for the rest of the season, that too from PSG. PSG is the only European club that can match City in terms of money. They wouldn’t mind paying Sabaly weekly wages. Also, Milan and Barcelona are interested in PSG’s controversial right-back Serge Aurier. Apparently, PSG are impressed by Sabaly’s performance this season and would like to keep Sabaly to replace Aurier. So City are better off signing the two earlier-mentioned full-backs, Emerson and Kolasinac.

Conclusion

Fortunately for City, the full-back position is easy to scout for with stats. I think City should try to sign at least two out of the three full-backs recommended here. Even signing all three full-backs would cost less than signing one of the two Tottenham Hotspur full-backs.

Additionally, I did a small test on whether these new players will fit into the team. I couldn’t do much since the non-PL leagues don’t have public data on passes against and pass completion against. I only looked at directness coefficient.  City under Guardiola isn’t very direct. Only 61.47% of total passes go forward. Roma’s directness coefficient (63.89%) is the most similar to City’s. And Roma play in the Serie A, a comparatively counter-attacking league. This is further evidence that Emerson has potential to make it big at City. After Schalke, Bordeaux is the least direct, with 64.63% forward passes. But these full-backs can adapt. Manchester City’s manager, after all, is the brilliant Guardiola, who can coach them well.

Pep would love these new full-backs too. While Emerson is the flying, attacking, Dani Alves type of full-back, Kolasinac is an all-round, versatile full-back who provides solidity at the back while enriching the attack. With these young, exciting players on board, City have a very good chance of becoming the best English team for years to come.


I want to thank Tom Worville for his feedback on the article. This was exactly the kind of feedback you’d like to hear. 

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