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Maverick Mendy facing crucial months to win over Pep as Man City line up Chilwell

09:00 GMT 15/02/2019
Benjamin Mendy and Ben Chilwell, Man City transfers
The Frenchman was still an important part of the first-team plans despite his off-field antics earlier in the season, but City are planning to move on

Benjamin Mendy’s continued absence from the Manchester City first team has been a source of constant frustration for boss Pep Guardiola and his staff.

Goal reported back in September that Mendy had been banned from being around his team-mates for a week after a string of off-field incidents and repeatedly turning up late for meetings.

Guardiola’s staff also felt that Mendy did not pay enough attention when the Catalan was not involved.

Yet despite all of that, plus other misdemeanours that led to Guardiola making the 24-year-old move away from the distractions of Manchester city centre, there was still a place for him in the City first team.

Having angered staff with his approach to recovery from a foot injury – he attended a boxing match in London and returned for a session three hours late the next day – he was trusted to make his comeback at Anfield, where he showed a defensive acumen that many pundits had previously believed beyond him.

That was the first of five full consecutive Premier League appearances and it appeared that no matter the level of discontent with the Frenchman – and there was plenty – he was still good enough and important enough to City’s approach to be included in the starting line-up.

Yet after injuring his knee again in November, City staff started to believe that there were very few options left open to them in their bid to get the left-back to focus on his football, regardless of his fitness record.

It was around this point that the City hierarchy decided to pursue a top-class left-back in the summer, with a view to the new signing dislodging Mendy from the first team and forcing him to take his City career more seriously.

City are aiming to make a big move in the transfer market and Leicester’s Ben Chilwell features prominently in their thinking.

His ability to defend solidly and also get forward has impressed City, while it is believed that Leicester would be persuaded to sell for a fee the league champions see as reasonable. The 22-year-old's homegrown status is a bonus.

Guardiola has frequently referred to Mendy's absence in press conferences of late, regularly mentioning the fact City have played without a natural left-back for two years.

That remains the case, given he has missed out on the last five match-day squads after making a 27-minute comeback from his knee problem at the end of January.

"He's injured, it's not easy, the meniscus, it's not easy,” Guardiola said a week ago. “He needs to re-adapt. It's not that you start training and in two days you are fit; he has to handle the effort we are putting on him – he has to be careful.”

Guardiola has generally done well to hide his dissatisfaction with Mendy publicly – especially back in September when he was repeatedly questioned about the player's attitude – and while there are still genuine grievances behind the scenes, the Catalan was right to urge caution when it comes to the nature of meniscus injuries.

Mendy missed the FA Cup game with Burnley as a result of swelling around his knee and City are treating his recovery cautiously, as they still hope he can make a telling impact during the run-in as the club fight for all four competitions.

For his part, Mendy is said to be working hard at the moment, and he is expected to return to full training with his team-mates next week.

That will come as a major boost given City's daunting run of fixtures in all competitions. 

Nobody else in the squad can replicate what he brings to the team, and while Guardiola did revert to a more routine 4-3-3 formation even when the former Monaco man was available in October and November, it is notable that the Catalan’s most tactically adventurous approaches depended heavily on Mendy’s ability to either charge up the left wing and put in crosses, or rampage through the middle.

Incidentally, Guardiola has become increasingly convinced of Oleksandr Zinchenko’s merits in recent weeks, admiring how the 22-year-old, who was brought to the club as an attacking midfielder, has stood in at left-back in the past year or so.

Despite that, however, the desire is for Mendy to not just get back to his best on the pitch, but to change his attitude and become as focused as the majority of his team-mates.

That could go either way, and recent improvements will not affect City's transfer plans.

Chilwell’s arrival is far from set in stone, but City’s strategy certainly is.

Guardiola and his staff had been described as being "at their wits' end" by one source familiar with the Mendy situation towards the end of 2018, but there is now some encouragement that he is ready to grab his latest opportunity.

If he does not, it could be his last.