Following multiple injuries to Manchester City's Vincent Kompany, the Citizens have largely struggled to maintain the form that saw them storm to the top at the beginning of the season.
And in a Premier League race that's so open and unpredictable, the fitness of the club's captain could prove vital.
During both of City’s Premier League winning seasons, the Belgian was central to success; when he has been injured or out of form, his side have been nowhere near good enough to win the title.
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Kompany's importance is epitomised by the games in which he has been present. Manuel Pellegrini's side are yet to lose any of the eight league games that the 29-year-old has played this season, conceding just once in the process.
Without Kompany, on the other hand, City have lost four of their eight games, conceding 16 goals. Losing half of their matches and conceding two goals a game suggests they're incapable of a title bid without the Belgian.
In Kompany’s absence, City have turned to the likes of Eliaquim Mangala and Nicolas Otamendi - the two most expensive defenders in British football history - but from what we have seen, the pair are certainly not worth the money spent on them.
Mangala has been at the club since his £32 million move from Porto last summer but has never quite settled. His indifferent form saw him in and out the side, sharing a place next to Kompany with Argentine Martin Demichellis.
Otamendi, on the other hand, signed for a very similar fee from Valencia this summer. After being linked with a move to City’s local rivals United for most of the transfer window, the 27-year-old’s move to the blue side of Manchester came about very quickly.
The move had a hint of desperation about it and, given the chance again, City might have chosen someone with more Premier League experience.
When Otamendi and Mangala were paired together against Liverpool, it was a car crash. The pair were torn apart in the first half, with their ill-discipline and lack of positional awareness clear as Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho cut through them time after time.
City may choose to go big in the transfer market to find a partner for Kompany or simply a capable replacement during inevitable injury spells; if not, they need their captain to be consistently available if they're to have any chance of winning the Premier League.
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