Stalled Marc Cucurella pursuit leaves Man City attack at risk of being undermined

Liverpool have shown Manchester City they are ready to play each other again this season. And City, for now, will have to deal with it with just two natural full-backs from the first team.

Jurgen Klopp’s side clinched the Community Shield title with three goals created from their devastating right flank – with Mohamed Salah starring.

It took three minutes for the Egyptian to let Joao Cancelo know he was in. Salah dribbled past Cancelo with the ease of just a touch of his right foot, but then shot into the side netting.

The Portuguese defender particularly struggled in the opening 20 minutes of the game, which ended with Salah assisting in Alexander-Arnold’s opener. The Egyptian was involved in 32 assists in the whole match. He passed with 94% accuracy, of which only two failed.

Salah also scored Liverpool’s second from the penalty spot and crossed the ball which eventually allowed Nunez to score a third for Klopp’s side.

Basically, it exposed arguably the biggest flaw that Pep Guardiola will have to correct before the transfer window closes: having Cancelo and Kyle Walker as the only experienced full-backs in the team might be too risky a bet to take.

It’s not common to see a team with an inverted right-back as their best asset on the left side of defence. It’s Joao Cancelo and he’s a special case – perhaps the most technically gifted full-back in Europe. But even with Cancelo at the height of his powers over the past two seasons, Pep Guardiola has had times when he needed ‘a Zinchenko’.

Salah was a constant threat on Cancelo’s flank (Picture: Getty Images)

The final Premier League game last season, when he came on at half-time to provide the assist for Rodri’s equalizer, is a case in point. The 2021 Champions League run-in when City reached the final with Zinchenko as their starter, another.

Now the Ukrainian is with Arsenal and City still seem far from finding a successor. A deal for Brighton left-back Marc Cucurella has stalled, despite the Spaniard handing in a transfer request on Friday morning.

Brighton have set a valuation of over £50m ($61m) for the defender, who is even better rated than Ben White, sources in the negotiations say. Manchester City were able to increase their offer to as much as £40m, and Athleticism understands they made an improved offer on Thursday. Brighton’s response has not changed.

Cucurella was not involved in Brighton’s 5-1 win over Espanyol in La Liga on Saturday. As Athleticism also revealed earlier this week that talks between the clubs have come to an end and a major shift in negotiations is needed for a potential deal to materialise.

Apart from his creativity, Cucurella was particularly admired in the senior offices of the City Football Academy for his defensive abilities. The aggressiveness in his man-marking and the discipline on the back line were seen as a perfect complement to Joao Cancelo.

Asked about the signing of a new left side, Pep Guardiola tried to be cautious last Friday: “If it is possible, yes. Otherwise, we stay with what we have. We have enough players who can play it. Joao can play there, Josh (Wilson-Esbrand), Nathan (Ake) can play there.

The Spanish manager mentioned Wilson-Esbrand, and there was a reason for that. The 19-year-old has been included in the Community Shield squad and is highly regarded among the first-team staff. Wilson-Esbrand’s biggest concern is his injury record.

After landing at City in 2019 from West Ham, he suffered two long-term injuries, including a ruptured ACL a few seasons ago. Calm and patience would be the best recipe for his move to the first team.

The city can be expected to explore new options. Borussia Dortmund full-back Raphael Guerreiro has been scouted and tracked in the past but the 28-year-old is unlikely to be released for a reasonable price.

It won’t be the easiest task for director of football Txiki Begiristain, with the Premier League starting next week.

Despite defensive struggles – and Erling Haaland’s missed chances – there were also positives for City to take.

Julian Alvarez was surely the greatest. Following the departures of Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling, the Argentine has shown himself ready to play an important role in Guardiola’s plans.

Alvarez was first used on the right wing, taking the place of Riyad Mahrez and he showed what he had to offer. His pace, link-up play and pressing efforts were promising glimpses. Alvarez equalized the game 12 minutes after coming on and hinted at how he could benefit from Haaland’s presence.

Guardiola even decided to change formation at certain points in the second half, to form a 4-4-2 with the Argentine alongside Haaland in the lead.

Phil Foden was on the same path. It was hard to tell he hadn’t been on the pre-season tour as he kicked off as soon as he came off the bench to replace an ill-fated Jack Grealish.

Foden was silky, smart and a constant threat. Alvarez’s goal came out of his shot. It wouldn’t be surprising if Foden started the Premier League opener at West Ham next week.

However, one lesson Pep’s City should have learned from the past is not to draw too many conclusions from the Community Shield.

The last time they faced Liverpool was three years ago. City managed to win on penalties, after a 1-1 draw at Wembley.

At the end of the year, Pep’s side won the Carabao Cup as their only title, while Liverpool clinched their first Premier League in 30 years.

(Photo: Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

Leave a Comment