Josko Gvardiol has proved to be a difference maker in the run-in for Man City... the £77m summer signing's brace against Fulham means he now has five goals in his last seven games [1] 0 تعليق 0 ارسل طباعة تبليغ حذف
  • Manchester City beat Fulham 4-0 in the Premier League on Saturday 
  • Josko Gvardiol scored twice and turned down the chance to net a hat-trick
  • Another nightmare… which players are to blame and should Thomas Tuchel come in? Listen to the It's All Kicking Off! Man United Crisis Special podcast

Josko Gvardiol was telling people last summer that it may take a bit of time to wrap his head around Manchester City.

Not only moving himself into a Treble dressing room, as a £77million defender with significant expectation attached to him. Not only because of the guy dishing out the instructions and their nuances. Not only because of the Premier League’s might and his own inexperience.

There was also an acceptance about his position and how that could prove problematic. It emerged, very early on in his City career, that Gvardiol would be utilised almost exclusively as a left back. For now, at least. He’d not played there since his Dinamo Zagreb days in 2020 and had become one of Europe’s finest centre halves at RB Leipzig in the intervening period.

He talked about having to remind himself what it means to play out there. Pep Guardiola’s past signings have shown the first year is hard enough to grasp in their preferred positions, so a slightly new one can only severely up the ante – especially with the lateral movements expected of full backs in this team.

The Croatian’s potential versatility, noticed largely through the way he carried possession in the Bundesliga, was partly down to why City had identified him in the first place.

Josko Gvardiol scored twice as Man City edged closer towards the Premier League title

Josko Gvardiol scored twice as Man City edged closer towards the Premier League title

Josko Gvardiol scored twice as Man City edged closer towards the Premier League title 

And it took some time for Gvardiol, who for the opening months of the season looked every bit the centre back playing wide. ‘There was a period that was so uncertain, it was not really, really good,’ Guardiola said last week.

City’s manager could be regularly seen barking at Gvardiol during matches, patrolling his technical area, sighing and gesturing towards the youngster who only turned 22 in January. He micro-managed Gvardiol’s positioning constantly. It must’ve been a relief when he was over on the other flank, truth be told.

It feels a long time ago now though. The pair of them held productive talks after the new year, focused on what is expected within the Guardiola structure as they studied clips together. ‘He arrived and in some periods he was confused,’ Guardiola said of his slow start. ‘He lost a lot of balls. Every time he had the ball, he wanted to make exceptional things [happen].’

Something clicked immediately, although City could not have envisaged that manifesting itself into him becoming a goal machine. Keeping it simple has allowed him to produce the exceptional.

Five in his last seven games. Two at Craven Cottage, taking him level with Gabriel Jesus in the league. One at the Bernabeu, a stunner, followed up by similar against Luton a few days later. The Gvardiol that Txiki Begiristain saw waltz forward without care and pierce the opposition had arrived, now doing it slightly wider than he’d ever done before.

City are using him as the spare man high up the pitch. Phil Foden, superb again against Fulham and now with 25 goals himself in all competitions, is tucking into very central areas off the left and affording Gvardiol to occupy space. 

It’s allowing the defender to go and enjoy himself a bit more, while giving the attackers a bit more grass to play into. Guardiola called him a winger for the way in which he took the opener on the Thames, picking up Kevin De Bruyne’s laser pass and cutting in, before delivering a slight reality check.

‘In the second half, he didn’t play good,’ Guardiola said. ‘He lost a lot of balls. With defenders, the main important thing is to be safe; playing simple is the most difficult thing in football. And after if he scores goals, he is more than welcome – but that’s not his job. His job is to be a defender and play safe.’

Guardiola is not wrong. But even he, the mega perfectionist, must be raising a smile at how his left back would have had a chance of becoming the first defender in Premier League history to score a hat-trick had he been a bit more forceful in talks over Julian Alvarez’s late penalty. Not bad for a centre back.

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