Manchester City’s left-back problem has persisted throughout Pep Guardiola’s time at the club but the recent form of Joao Cancelo may have provided yet another short-term solution.
Guardiola made his intentions known at the end of his first season in charge by moving for Benjamin Mendy and Kyle Walker to replace Gael Clichy and Bacary Sagna respectively.
The decision to bring Mendy in from Monaco for a whopping £52m raised plenty of eyebrows, but his marauding performances in the Champions League suggested it was money well spent.
And his first four appearances for the club, which saw him storming down the left-wing and adding an almost unplayable threat on the overlap, compounded that feeling.
But a cruciate ligament injury put a stop to his meteoric rise and in truth he’s never been the same player since.
Injury problems have become a dominant theme in his career and the likes of Fabian Delph and Oleksandr Zinchenko have been called upon to fill the void as makeshift left-backs.
Mendy started City’s opening three games this season but once again suffered an injury setback against Leeds United, forcing Guardiola to deploy the right-footed Cancelo on the left side of the defence.
On Monday evening, Mendy confirmed that he has returned to training via his Instagram account, via City Xtra, and claimed everything is “going well” as he bids to return to first-team action.
Amid Cancelo’s excellent run of form, however, it’s difficult to see a route back into the team for the Frenchman.
The Portugal international, who is valued at £32.4m by Transfermarkt, has been in excellent form this season and seems to be adapting to the slightly unnatural position Guardiola has asked him to play.
Against Liverpool he nullified the threat of Mo Salah and showcased creativity on the front foot, supplying Gabriel Jesus with an excellent chance to steal the points in the second-half with a sumptuously weighted through ball over the top.
In the aftermath of proceedings Guardiola lauded Cancelo’s display in no uncertain terms.
“He played exceptionally, with the ball and without the ball. He is a special talent.
“Defensively sometimes he needs to be consistent but when he is consistent, his focus is fantastic. He’s a fantastic guy and a football player.”
Cancelo’s rise is not the only issue for Mendy to consider following his return to training.
The summer signing of Nathan Ake was dual purpose and gave City an extra option at both centre-back and left-back. The Netherlands international may not be at his most comfortable on the overlap but, as a defensively trustworthy left-footer, he can be trusted against some of the best in the business.
Oleksandr Zinchenko, meanwhile, has his own limitations but still offers an extra option in Mendy’s position.
After more than three years at the club Mendy now finds himself in footballing no man’s land, potentially as low as 3rd choice in City’s pecking order and in danger of drifting into obscurity.
If the writing wasn’t on the wall already, Cancelo’s rise may well have put the final nail in the coffin for a player in Mendy who promised so much and has, predominantly by virtue of his torrid injury record, delivered so little.
It’s difficult to envisage a way back for the 26-year-old at City.
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