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No new left-back for Man City leaves Guardiola to take final risk on Mendy

14:11 BST 02/05/2019
Pep Guardiola Benjamin Mendy Manchester City Crystal Palace
The Premier League club planned to bring in a new left-back this summer but have now prioritised other areas, leaving them to rely on the Frenchman

Manchester City’s decision not to pursue a new left-back this summer will place an even greater emphasis on the fitness and fortunes of the increasingly erratic Benjamin Mendy.

City had been working to strengthen the left-back position in recent months, with Leicester’s Ben Chilwell high on their list of targets, but the news out of the Etihad Stadium this week indicates that they have now shelved those plans.

That is despite fresh concerns over Mendy’s fitness - he is unlikely to play again this season - and behaviour, which has led to even his team-mates making an effort to turn his City career around.

Pep Guardiola and Mikel Arteta are among the staff members to have sat down with the 24-year-old this season, and recently club captain Vincent Kompany and close friend Bernardo Silva have also attempted personal interventions.

Yet despite those persistent concerns, as it stands City will prioritise other areas in the upcoming transfer window.

The emergence of Oleksandr Zinchenko as a viable option at left-back is one reason for that. The Ukrainian has already agreed a new contract, which is soon to be announced, and he could head into the 2019-20 campaign as City’s first-choice left-back.

Another reason, and possibly the most important, is that City can now use the money they had provisionally set aside for a new left-back to reinforce other areas. With Nicolas Otamendi hoping to leave the club this summer, and Ilkay Gundogan’s contract situation no closer to a resolution, City could spend big on either a central defender or a central midfielder, possibly both.

Atletico Madrid’s Rodri remains the priority target for the deep-lying midfield role, but in the event that Otamendi and Gundogan leave, City would need to find replacements capable of stepping into the first team and looking right at home, as both have done over the past two seasons.

That would mean that central defence and midfield would become, arguably, more in need of strengthening than left-back.

There is also the belief at City that very few clubs, if any, would currently be willing to take the risk of buying Mendy, certainly not for the kind of money City would be willing to sell for.

Which means that it is left to City to take a risk themselves; Mendy will need to make a significant contribution next season, especially as other capable deputies may also leave this summer, with Fabian Delph almost certain to go, and Danilo linked with a move to Inter.

Given Mendy has missed much of this season with ongoing knee problems and that he is not expected to be fit for the final three games of this season, City’s decision to rely on him for another campaign will not have been easy.

It represents a major leap of faith, and City are aware of that. Guardiola had publicly admitted in early March that City were looking for a new left-back this summer, and sources have told Goal that the club are already thinking about the possibility of signing a new left-back next January (transfer ban permitting) if Mendy cannot stay fit enough to even be a back-up option to Zinchenko.

But it is one thing to rely on his fitness, and quite another to rely on his focus. He has had a history of run-ins with City staff this season, going right back to the eve of the current campaign when he was fined for repeatedly being late for team meetings, around the time he was made to move out of the city centre by Guardiola over concerns about his penchant for nightclubs. His new house in the suburbs, however, quickly turned into party central.

In September he was banned from the first-team set-up for a week after arriving more than three hours late for a rehab session on his injured foot, having been at an Anthony Joshua fight in London the night before.

As far back as November, when he underwent surgery on a knee problem, City staff were said to be at their wits end over how to persuade Mendy to focus on his football - they believed he did not pay attention as much when Guardiola was not giving instructions - and little has changed in recent months.

Earlier this year, as he neared a return from that injury, he was said to be training well and looking focused, but since then his attitude has caused concern once again. In March he was seen partying in Manchester bar Club Liv after being left out of the travelling squad for City’s game against Fulham, which irked Guardiola, and it is understood he was there again the night after City were eliminated from the Champions League by Tottenham.

He has not played since then and this week he has been in Barcelona, which has become a home away from home due to the amount of time he has spent there recovering from his knee injuries, most recently the swelling that has meant he has been in and out of the team for the past few months.

On Wednesday night he was at Camp Nou to watch Barcelona’s Champions League clash with Liverpool, as a guest of Ousmane Dembele, and was seen on social media joyously celebrating Lionel Messi’s remarkable free-kick.

Yet his situation back in Manchester is far from all smiles; during his regular scoldings at the hands of coaches he has been known to break down in tears, yet his actions have not showed any signs of changing. Kompany and Bernardo have tried to talk sense into him, seemingly to no avail.

Despite all this he looks set to head into next season as a part of Guardiola's plans. If he can stay fit and focused he will surely prove a huge asset to the team, as his comparatively rare on-field contributions have suggested during his two seasons at the Etihad. But that's a big if.