Guardiola's best Man City signing? Centurion Walker proves worth again with vital winner at Sheff Utd

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Kyle Walker Pep Guardiola Man City Sheff Utd GFX
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The England defender scored the only goal of the game at Bramall Lane as the visitors climbed the Premier League table with a hard-fought victory

Kyle Walker might just be the best signing that Manchester City have made during Pep Guardiola’s time in charge.

On Saturday afternoon, the defender marked his 100th Premier League appearance for the club by getting the vital breakthrough in a tense 1-0 victory over boyhood club Sheffield United.

Walker has been one of Guardiola's most consistent performers since joining in the summer of 2017, playing a major part in the two title-winning campaigns that followed.

However, while the last 18 months haven’t gone to plan for City, the Catalan believes his right-back has just got better and better.

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“Kyle was an incredible signing and I want to thank the club for bringing him here,” Guardiola said on the eve of the game at Bramall Lane. "I have a feeling that this is the best Kyle we have seen.”

Given Kevin De Bruyne, Sergio Aguero and Raheem Sterling were at the Etihad before Guardiola took charge, Walker and Aymeric Laporte have proven the former Barcelona coach's most inspired additions.

Laporte's importance to the team was obviously underlined by last year's spell on the sidelines. The centre-half is highly rated by pretty much everyone in the game other than France boss Didier Deschamps and the signs are that the 26-year-old is starting to build an exciting defensive partnership with new signing Ruben Dias.

Walker, by contrast, is often under-appreciated. However, he showed all of his many qualities by dragging City to victory in a surprisingly difficult clash with a dogged Sheffield United that looked far stronger than their record of one point from their previous six games suggested.

Work ethic, speed, versatility, leadership – the England international has been critical to Guardiola’s years of success.

He constantly offers an outlet, sprinting up and down the right flank, either as an overlapping auxiliary winger or as a speedy full-back providing protection against fast counterattacks.

Seeing off competition from Danilo, now with Juventus, and Joao Cancelo, he has become perfectly attuned to Guardiola’s tactics and is not fazed by taking up positions in midfield when the City boss demands.

That is no mean feat. During the same period of time, no other player has been able to replicate Walker's excellence on the opposite flank, meaning left-back remains one of City's weak spots.

It’s also no surprise that England boss Gareth Southgate, who takes such interest in Guardiola’s tactics, has recently welcomed the 30-year-old Walker back into the fold, despite the fact that he has younger options at right-back, such as Trent Alexander-Arnold and Aaron Wan-Bissaka.

Walker’s commitment to the cause is another reason that Guardiola is so grateful to have him in his squad. One of the City boss’s trusted "captains", Walker is deemed an example to follow on the pitch and in the dressing room.

The way he looks after his body certainly commands respect. During a hectic start to the 2020-21 campaign, during which City's squad has been decimated by illness and injury, Walker has been one of the few constants.

Indeed, he has now started all of 10 City’s matches this season, as well as England’s two Nations League qualifiers.

Kyle Walker Manchester City Sheffield United GFX

The only minutes he’s missed in the Premier League or Champions League this season were the last 12 at West Ham, where he was “exhausted” after another a non-stop performance trying to create a winner.

However, his understandable fatigue didn’t stop him turning in yet another solid performance in the midweek Champions League win in Marseille. Or from proving City's match-winner in his native Sheffield.

It was a fine goal, too. When De Bruyne rolled the ball into his path on the edge of the box, the onrushing Walker smashed a fierce, low strike into the bottom corner beyond Aaron Ramsdale.

With Aguero and Gabriel Jesus both ruled out through injury, and Ferran Torres serving as an emergency No.9, City will gratefully accept goals from unlikely sources.

Walker was certainly a surprise goalscorer but there was nothing strange about seeing one of Guardiola’s go-to guys step up to the mark when his side needed him most.

The City boss has made some good signings during his time, among them Laporte, Bernardo Silva and Jesus.

However, while injuries and dips in form have disrupted their time at the Etihad, Walker never wavers.

He just keeps on playing. And keeps on delivering.

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