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.
But almost more importantly for Laporte, he wanteda clean sheet as he attemptsto wrestle back the Citystarting berth that hadbeen 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 hadbeen 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 justone goal ineight matches without himsince he played in the 4-1 Carabo Cup victory away at Arsenal in December.
It is a remarkable situation thatthe 26-year-old finds himself in havingbeen 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 centre-backhadalways 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.
After being at the heart of two title-winning campaigns before his six-month absence with a knee injury was cited asone 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 bringingin Ruben Dias from Benfica for £62 million ($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, cannotcompare 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 outfor six matches earlier in the campaign, perhaps the main barrier to him returning isthe startling re-emergence of John Stones.
Dias has been forced to moveinto 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.
And so while Laportemay be struggling to force his way into Guardiola’s strongest side right now, hislong-term prospectsat 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’sattacks, particularly when opposition sidescome to the Etihad Stadium with a low block and the intention to defend.
Switching balls around the pitch quickly is key, and thatis 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.
“He’s the best left-sided defender we have, he has special quality with the ball.
“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.
Source : goal.com