Aymeric Laporte

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Who’s the most irreplaceable player on ‘Big Six’ Premier League sides?

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When Aymeric Laporte was lost for months with a knee injury, there was a fairly standard reaction to the news.

This was the player Manchester City could least afford to lose for a long period of time.

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There’s a debate to be had there, and it’s been had plenty, but it has us thinking: Which player is the most indispensable for each of the “Big Six” in their quest for a successful PL season?

It’s going to be a defender heavy list.

Tottenham Hotspur

Tough one, here, and we may be just a few months of consistent performances from changing the answer to Tanguy Ndombele (Yes, he looks that good).

But this one’s down to two players. It’s not a defender, as Spurs have three dynamite center backs and the drop-offs between full backs don’t hold wide-enough margins.

It’s between the Harrys (Harries? Anyway, “Between the Harries” sounds like we just started a new reality show).

Don’t be misled by Spurs’ remarkable job making up for the loss of Harry Kane to injury late last season; the big striker is still on history-making pace for his young-enough career. Since becoming a full-time starter, Kane has 162 goals in 241 matches. Would you believe he’s not 27 until next summer?

Harry Winks is the ball-possessing, clean-passing motor that so many teams crave for their midfield. He’s been a 90-plus percentage passer in every season, and has completed 94 percent this early season. Again, small sample size, but his 75 passes per game trails Nicolas Otamendi, Aymeric Laporte, Granit Xhaka, Paul Pogba, and teammate Toby Alderweireld.

It’s almost a coin flip here. We’re taking Kane, but we’re basing it on a tiebreaker of advanced statistics. Anyone making an argument for the 23-year-old Winks deserves to be heard.

Manchester United

This is perhaps the trickiest call of the bunch.

Anthony Martial has been far and away the most important player to the Red Devils’ early season, sputtering as it may be, but it’s far too soon to say he’s irreplaceable.

Four players have played every minute of the early season: Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Harry Maguire, Paul Pogba, Victor Lindelof, and David De Gea. Both Marcus Rashford and Scott McTominay have nearly played the full 360.

The fact of the matter, and this belies United’s plight, is that United is too thin to have a single player who would hurt the most to lose; Forced to choose one, we’ll say Maguire as he’s the most proven consistent entity of the bunch.

Chelsea

Another tough one, though it seems like it should be an easy one: N’Golo Kante. But he’s still finding his footing under Frank Lampard and last season wasn’t a great one as Maurizio Sarri messed with a great recipe by moving Kante from his role of pure opposition destruction.

Again, Chelsea’s has a good answer in replacement players for any of their stars getting injured; Marcos Alonso is barely playing, same with Michy Batshuayi. Olivier Giroud, Willian, even Pedro.

So while we’d like to make the case for Cesar Azpilicueta, the answer is probably still Kante.

Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

Arsenal

The easy answer is Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but it is not necessarily the correct answer because of replaceability. If the Gabonese superstar goes down, Unai Emery can still roll out a strike force with Alexandre Lacazette and Nicolas Pepe.

The Gunners are very thin at center back, but the problem is that the starters aren’t stars.

So we’ll proffer one that’s a bit out of the box: Bernd Leno. The goalkeeper has been pretty darn good considering his team has offered very little resistance to attacks. His back-ups are Emiliano Martinez and Matt Macey. There’s no rule stating one of those two wouldn’t be a good starter, but they have six PL appearances between them (all Martinez).

Liverpool

It’s Virgil Van Dijk.

Mohamed Salah is the straw that stirs the drink, but the Reds have a very good attackers behind him (both young and experienced) and made a run to the Champions League and a record league point total while he was not exactly thriving in form (Salah had a lone goal in an eight-match league run over February and March, and missed the incredible Barcelona comeback with a concussion).

The idea of it being Alisson Becker is interesting, but for Liverpool supporters that is probably fueled more by watching substandard keepers derail their dreams for a couple of years. For a neutral and especially for stat hounds, it’s not as big of a drop to Adrian as it seems (but it’s big).

We may want to revisit this discussion in January regarding Fabinho, but Liverpool is very deep in the midfield, too. It’s Van Dijk, and it’s not close.

Man City

It was a combination of a few things, the first obviously being the players’ quality. The PFA Team of the Year winner helped City lower its goals conceded total in his first full season at the Etihad, as City won almost every competition it entered in 2018-19.

But it was also City’s depth behind Laporte, with Vincent Kompany gone to Anderlecht and the next injury seemingly cueing up Fernandinho or Kyle Walker for center back duty.

An argument could be made for Ederson simply based on the keeper’s quality in possession and shot-stopping alone but no other position, really; City may have had to work harder for the title last season with Kevin De Bruyne injured, but it found an answer largely through Bernardo Silva. Leroy Sane looked like City’s MVP two seasons ago, but Raheem Sterling emerged as the club’s best wide man and there’s some guy named Mahrez behind him.

Laporte, it is (And if you want to really get into the nexus of this article, and why the stats say there is a big drop-off from Laporte to even John Stones, let alone a third wheel, check here. Also, I’ve learned that City fans vastly under-appreciate Otamendi).

Best of the Rest

Less explanation, similar amounts of confidence.

Aston Villa: Jack Grealish
Bournemouth:
Nathan Ake
Brighton and Hove Albion:
Shane Duffy
Burnley:
James Tarkowski
Crystal Palace: Luka Milivojevic
Everton:
Michael Keane
Leicester City:
Wilfred Ndidi
Newcastle United:
Fabian Schar
Norwich City:
Teemu Pukki
Sheffield United:
Dean Henderson
Southampton:
Jannik Vestergaard
Watford:
Abdoulaye Doucoure
West Ham: 
Sebastien Haller
Wolves: Willy Boly

Report: Man City looks to January window after Laporte injury

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Hindsight is 20/20, and Manchester City’s decision not to bring in center back depth this summer is looking really poor.

That’ll happen when perhaps the most irreplaceable part of a hopeful quadruple contender goes out for the rest of 2019. Aymeric Laporte’s surgery means that John Stones, Nicolas Otamendi, and (probably) Fernandinho are an injury away from Manchester City using kids or Kyle Walker at center back.

The Daily Mail says that Pep Guardiola will buy a center back in January, five months after pulling out of the bidding for Harry Maguire when the price got too steep.

City almost has to go the transfer route, as the majority of high-ish end free agents on the market on attack-minded.

Laporte is not expected back until at least January, but what would a transfer be? The eventual successor to Otamendi, or something a bit less revolutionary than dropping $75 million on an absolute stud?

Either could work, but both will include inflated fees due to the clear desperation in the case of the buyers.

Also, quality center backs didn’t exactly move this summer. Aside from Maguire, most targets stayed home. Toby Alderweireld, Issa Diop, and James Tarkowski were linked with moves but went nowhere. David Luiz moved, perhaps only because Laurent Koscielny demanded out of Arsenal. Veterans Phil Jagielka, Gary Cahill, and Ashley Williams opted for playing time, not that Guardiola would’ve been looking to “buy old,” either.

What we’re trying to say is… City’s going to have to spend a lot of dough if they want to buy someone.

With Laporte out, what now for Man City?

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Aymeric Laporte has had “successful” knee surgery, but Manchester City will be without their best center back for at least the next few months, as a January return is optimistic.

What now for Pep Guardiola and his defense?

John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi are the only two center backs they have in their squad, while Fernandinho has revealed he has been training as a center back in recent weeks.

After Vincent Kompany moved on this summer, everybody thought City would splash the cash to sign a new center back. They went after Harry Maguire but couldn’t match the fee Man United wanted to pay, and now here we are.

Losing Laporte, who was superb for City last season, was the last thing Guardiola would have wanted.

It is no exaggeration to say this injury, depending on how serious it is, has swung the pendulum in Liverpool’s favor when it comes to the Premier League title race.

What options do Man City have to plug the gap left by Laporte?

Stones, who is returning from injury himself, and Otamendi are the obvious choices, but the latter has struggled in the early weeks of the season after being left out for most of last season. And Stones’ issues from a pure defensive standpoint continue.

Another option is to play Kyle Walker at center back and have Joao Cancelo at right back, while playing Fernandinho as a center back is also a very decent option, as youngster Eric Garcia is still probably a little too raw.

Guardiola isn’t against playing a central midfielder at center back. He did it with Javier Mascherano at Barcelona and Fernandinho’s spot as a holding midfielder has now been taken up by Rodri so the Brazilian veteran may have a big role to play.

Simply put, it was a big mistake by Man City to not bring in a new center back over the summer. Relying on three center backs for the entire season, which will likely consist of over 60 games, was a huge gamble.

Despite all of their attacking options, Laporte’s injury is a massive blow for Man City’s defense and their title push.

Man City batters Brighton, loses Laporte

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Manchester City smashed Brighton and Hove Albion, but will be on pins and needles over an injury to one of its very best.

Sergio Aguero scored twice and David Silva had two assists in the 4-0 defeat of the Seagulls at the Etihad Stadium, but Aymeric Laporte was stretchered off the pitch.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva also scored for City, who will enter the international break no lower than second on the table while boasting the league’s best goal differential (10).

Brighton dips 15th with four points and a minus-2 goal differential.


Three things 

  1. Laporte’s injury looms — City cruised to victory, but Laporte’s departure via stretcher threatens to overshadow the easy win. Perhaps no City player is more important to Pep Guardiola‘s system.
  2. David Silva’s class is permanent — Perhaps it would be easier to talk about Sergio Aguero still scoring goals for fun at age 31. But Silva is two years older and in his last season at the Etihad Stadium, and has two assists in each of his last two matches.
  3. The brilliant behind Mat Ryan angle of Sergio Aguero’s second goal begs you to imagine stopping it.

Man of the Match: Aguero — See above.


City needed 71 seconds to go ahead, with David Silva bursting toward the goal and cutting back for De Bruyne to zip into the goal.

Their momentum was flummoxed by the scary injury to Laporte, but Aguero settled the nerves before halftime.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

He’d add a third off another David Silva feed, and Bernardo Silva scored mere moments after joining the match. The 78th minute sub scored a 79th minute goal to make it 4-0.

Laporte stretchered off with apparent knee injury

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Raise your hand if you had Brighton and Hove Albion’s Adam Webster playing a potentially serious role in the Premier League title chase.

Webster’s hard challenge on Aymeric Laporte left the Manchester City star defender clutching his knee.

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The Frenchman was stretchered off the field, days away from making his long-anticipated debut for country.

Fernandinho took his place, as City sanctioned the departure of Vincent Kompany and Eliaquim Mangala this season and John Stones is yet to return to full fitness.

Laporte is one of the best defenders in the world, made even more valuable by how neatly his attributes meet Pep Guardiola‘s system.

It’s difficult to name a more difficult to replace player for Man City. Let’s hope for the best for the player.

Stay tuned.