Manchester City: How important is Benjamin Mendy this season?
The Frenchman was excellent at the weekend and could be a major part of City’s efforts to retain the title.
Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley
For once, Mesut Ozil escaped criticism. Deployed on the right during Arsenal’s 2-0 defeat to Manchester City, the German was diligent and tenacious as his side sank without trace.
He couldn’t stop Benjamin Mendy, though. The flying Frenchmen was imperious throughout, setting up both of his team’s goals on an afternoon that sagged with rampaging runs and incisive cutbacks.
Brought in from Monaco last season, Mendy’s early injury caused Pep Guardiola to rip up his plans for the season, changing up the formation from the 3-5-2 used in early games to the 4-3-3 that became so familiar on the pitch at the Etihad throughout the season.
With Mendy back, then, does this mean that the Frenchman could be influential on Guardiola’s future plans for Manchester City?
A torrid time
It’s been a torrid 18 months for the 24-year-old, who started just his fifth Premier League game at the weekend after missing most of the previous season with a cruciate ligament injury.
With his impact stifled on the field, his jocular antics on social media became an integral counterpart to City’s season. Yet the humour offset what must have been a hugely frustrating time on the sidelines.
“What a player we have,” marvelled Pep Guardiola to reporters after the game.Now, having recovered full fitness after a series of setbacks, Mendy is reserving his punchlines for the touchlines.
Suddenly, City fans remember why their club parted with £52 million in the first place. Strong, fast and with breathless stamina, Mendy is the mirror image of Kyle Walker on the other side of the fiel.
An Extra Energy
“He gives us this extra energy,” Guardiola agreed on Saturday. Which is just as well, given the erratic performance that his teammates laid on in North London.
With an hour gone, Arsenal looked ready to pounce on the visitors’ complacency, punishing their’ loose passing and lack of concentration. It was a display that had Guardiola foaming before frantically celebrating as Mendy created the second his side barely deserved.
Mendy, having sat outside his team’s momentous triumphs last year, has extra motivation. Whilst Fabian Delph was an excellent deputy, he is no match for the marauding Frenchman at his best, particularly now that he has a point to prove.
“He is undoubtedly one of the world’s best full-backs, our number one target in this position,” admired Txiki Begiristain after his £52 million capture was confirmed last summer.
The joker in the pack
The year before, Mendy had played a vital part in the triumph that saw Kylian Mbappe, Bernardo Silva and Monaco reach the semi-finals of the Champions League.
Domestically, he made more assists than Joao Moutinho, swallowing the entire left wing as Thomas Lemar ploughed infield. According to WhoScored?, Mendy was just as effective a dribbler too, making the same amount per game (1.5) as Lemar, who’s just joined Atletico in a shower of bells and whistles.
There might have been fears about Mendy’s match fitness. There may have been allowances made, an understanding that it could take him a while to reach his roaring best. On Saturday’s evidence, those concerns are clearly unfounded.
For now, City fans can expect the gifs and the memes to simmer. Guardiola himself has admitted that the defender needs to curb his online presence.
“Hopefully we can convince him to forget a little bit the social media and improve a few things,” he said at the weekend.
“I will I promise,” came the inevitable reply on Twitter. Mendy, however, is no longer a laughing matter. In a squad that has much to defend, he could be the joker in the pack.
If you want to read more football content, make sure you follow us on Twitter @realsportgoals