Indispensable to inessential: Dias & Stones' Man City form leaving Laporte out in the cold

Man City
The French defender has gone from Pep Guardiola's leading centre-back to watching an unbreakable partnership from the sidelines

When Aymeric Laporte went chasing after the referee following Cheltenham Town's shock opener against Manchester City on Saturday, it was a sign of desperation.

There was the potentially huge embarrassment of losing to the League Two side, in what would have been one of the biggest FA Cup shocks in recent history, to try and avoid.

But almost more importantly for Laporte, he wanted a clean sheet as he attempts to wrestle back the City starting berth that had been his since he joined the club three years ago this week.

Laporte did get a slight nudge from Charlie Raglan as he tried to defend a long throw hurled into the box, but it would not have been enough for VAR to rule Alfie May's goal out even if the technology had been installed at the tiny Jonny-Rocks Stadium.

The centre-back picked up a yellow card for his over-the-top protest before Phil Foden, Gabriel Jesus and Ferran Torres ultimately dug City out of their hole to secure a 3-1 victory.

The frustration for Laporte, though, was clear as City failed to record a shutout for the first time in five matches, conceding their first goal in 509 minutes of football.

That impressive streak was achieved without Laporte at the heart of the defence. Indeed, City have conceded just one goal in eight matches without him since he played in the 4-1 Carabao Cup victory away at Arsenal in December.

It is a remarkable situation that the 26-year-old finds himself in having been Guardiola’s first-choice defender ever since his club-record £57 million ($77m) move from Athletic Club in January 2018.

Despite failing to earn a solitary cap for France, at City the defender had always been a guaranteed starter since Guardiola made a rare decision to pursue Laporte even after he had originally turned down a move to Manchester six months before his eventual arrival.

Aymeric Laporte Manchester City GFX

After being at the heart of two title-winning campaigns before his six-month absence with a knee injury was cited as one of the main reasons for last season’s disappointment, he suddenly finds himself out in the cold.

Without Laporte, City’s defence struggled woefully last season, and they reacted by bringing in Ruben Dias from Benfica for £62m ($79m).

The Portugal international's impact has been phenomenal, with his performances in a City shirt so far of a level few in the world could match.

In Dias' 24 appearances for City, Guardiola's side have won 17 games, conceding just nine goals.

Even Virgil van Dijk, who transformed Liverpool’s defence, cannot compare with that record after the Reds conceded 24 goals and recorded just 14 victories in his first 24 games for Jurgen Klopp's team.

And while Laporte has been nursing a hamstring injury that kept him out for six matches earlier in the campaign, perhaps the main barrier to him returning is the startling re-emergence of John Stones.

Dias has been forced to move into Laporte’s position on the left side of defence following Stones' resurgence, with the pair having incredibly only conceded one goal in 11 matches together.

Ruben Dias John Stones Manchester City GFX

And so while Laporte may be struggling to force his way into Guardiola’s strongest side right now, his long-term prospects at City remain strong due to what he is able to give the team that Dias and Stones cannot.

Defenders under Guardiola also have to contribute to beginning the team's attacks, particularly when opposition sides come to the Etihad Stadium with a low block and the intention to defend.

Switching balls around the pitch quickly is key, and that is one of Laporte’s strengths, and though the Cheltenham victory may not be fondly remembered, it did showcase Laporte's range of passing that is missing when he is not there.

That is why the City boss wants him to be ready when he eventually gets the call.

“[He has to] be in top form and have his mind open,” Guardiola said ahead of Tuesday's clash with West Brom, which will likely see Laporte return to the bench as City look to go top of the Premier League table for at least 24 hours.

Aymeric Laporte Manchester City quote GFX

"He’s the best left-sided defender [we have], he has special quality with the ball.

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“He has to be focused to come back in the best condition possible and he will get his minutes. After, it depends on his performance like it depends on the form of everyone.”

Laporte will hope that, with City still in four competitions, that he can impress when he does get the chance.

How Liverpool must wish they had a player of his ability in reserve as they continue to deal with their own defensive crisis.

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