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Midfield experiment Guardiola should consider for rest of Man City season

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One of the defining features of Pep Guardiola’s brand of football is his use of full-backs and his significant role in the evolution of the position in recent years.

Once viewed as the peripheral figures in football - support acts to the main attractions - they have always been fundamental to the Manchester City manager's style of play.

This was epitomised during his time at Barcelona when Dani Alves established himself as one of the world’s best players, before Philip Lahm and David Alaba flourished at Bayern Munich.

Full-backs are vital for Guardiola; they are the players who are traditionally afforded the most time on the ball, the ones who can bomb forward, offering width and overlapping runs to stretch the pitch and opposing defences.

This goes a long way to explaining why the Catalan’s first season at the Etihad yielded no trophies and an underwhelming third-placed finish.

It is also the reasoning behind the club sanctioning over £100m on the purchase of two full-backs that summer.

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Guardiola recognised a total overhaul of his defence was required and Manchester City were prepared to fund it.

Ageing players without sufficient energy levels were replaced with dynamism and youth.

Yet the arrivals of Benjamin Mendy and Kyle Walker alone were not sufficient, and when Mendy sustained a long-term injury it immediately became problematic.

Fabian Delph filled the role admirably - proving in Guardiola’s philosophy that full-backs could essentially be midfielders with a greater level of tactical understanding.

Back in 2016, City made several eye-catching additions to their squad but one of the most important went totally under the radar: Oleksandr Zinchenko.

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The Ukrainian was added from Russian side Ufa and was initially sent out on loan.

A rising star in Eastern Europe, little was known about Zinchenko outside of his home nation but he impressed scouts at the Etihad.

However, as outlined by City’s official website Zinchenko was an attacking midfield player - technically extremely gifted, dynamic and offering balance to the side.

It is important for teams to include left-footed players to maintain balance - with City’s recent 5-0 win over Burnley notable for eight of the starting XI preferring to use their left foot.

True to form, Guardiola saw the Ukrainian in a different light to other coaches and scouts, believing he could fill in at left-back.

This was largely prompted by Mendy’s injury and subsequent fitness worries, but Zinchenko was much more convincing in the position than Delph had been and to those unfamiliar with the player, it would have been assumed he was a natural in the position.

He fitted into the tactical system like a glove, often pushed forward into a role which was a cross between a traditional wing-back and central midfielder.

It was not easy to pull off yet Zinchenko impressed and offered City’s system the vital balance it needed.

Zinchenko has a skill set which allows him to be more than adequate in the position if not at the level of being indisputably first-choice.

Since his first Premier League start in January 2018, he has made just 31 starts in the division and all have come at left-back - yet he remains an understudy to Mendy, whose form itself has often flattered to deceive.

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The main argument for Zinchenko not being given a run in midfield is because of the embarrassment of riches City have in the positions.

But with just six rounds of league action remaining and the club having nothing significant to play for (while also prioritising cup competitions), now appears to be the perfect opportunity to give the 23-year-old a run in his preferred role.

After all, that is the role Zinchenko is deployed in at national level and he has netted twice in his past four appearances for Ukraine.

He is naturally attack-minded and this would afford him the liberty and freedom to release his true potential.

Guardiola prioritised fluidity in his systems and pushing Zinchenko further forward would freshen up the attack and give greater tactical choice ahead of next season, while also potentially influencing any summer transfer plans.




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