Manchester City knew they wanted to sign at least one centre-back in the last transfer window.
They were willing to spend big to replace Vincent Kompany and bring on somebody that would challenge to be Aymeric Laporte’s long-term partner with John Stones yet to fully convince.
For reasons that have already been pored over and scrutinised, they didn’t get the player they needed. With the time needed for Rodri to settle into Fernandinho’s role and injuries to Laporte, Stones and Nicolas Otamendi, the defence has been simply unable to cope and where it has hit the team hardest has been on the counter. A team that conceded no goals in that way last season as they stormed to the Premier League title has been exposed again and again as they have tried to defend it.
Leicester became the latest team to pick City off as Jamie Vardy hared past Fernandinho when Ben Chilwell fed him and chopped it exquisitely past Ederson.
That is the level that Guardiola refers to when he says City will struggle to compete with the top teams in England and Europe. There are other Vardys, Marcus Rashfords and Sadio Manes our there ready to prey on a glaring weakness and change the nature of a game within seconds.
That is why, whether it is January or in summer, City must bring in a centre-back either with the pace or ability to read a game or (ideally) both that can stop opposition teams from targeting them in such a way.
Laporte, when fit, will bring some authority back to the position but pace is not one of his big strengths. With Guardiola committed to Rodri and Ilkay Gundogan in the holding midfield role, signed on until 2024 and 2023 respectively, there is not going to be an abundance of pace to shield the defence. Nor is Eric Garcia, the next youngster coming through, blessed with it.
It will be no easy task to find a defender that ticks all of those boxes and is available for a price that is considered fair by the transfer team led by Txiki Begiristain.
But as well as signing Laporte the Blues have also had Virgil van Dijk and Harry Maguire firmly in their sights before so are able to identify the best defenders on the market. What’s more, they don’t really have a choice. Their rivals have forward lines capable of shredding their defence as it stands and the more times they are exposed the more teams that will try their luck with the aura of invincibility that once resounded from their back line now gone.
Getting that back isn’t quite priceless but may need to be more than what they would normally be willing to play.