Not much was known about Ederson when he signed for Manchester City from Benfica in June 2017 for £34.7million ($44.8m). But after watching just a handful of clips of him, it was extremely easy to see how he would fit into Pep Guardiola’s system.

His range of passing and ability to pick the right pass was obvious. Lo and behold, six years later, he has been a massive part of City winning all there is to win at club level, enabling Guardiola to implement his style of possession football from the deepest man on the pitch.

And there is an air of that about Josko Gvardiol’s potential arrival at the Etihad Stadium. Nobody can say for sure what he could win over the next few years but, in terms of his own style and how City like to play, they appear very well-matched.

Firstly, though, City need to agree a deal.

Josko Gvardiol, RB Leipzig

(Photo: Odd Andersen/AFP via Getty Images)

It is usual at this time of year for fans to become disgruntled at the slow pace of some of the club’s negotiations. City’s determination not to shift from their valuations has led to them walking away from countless players over the years — but it also shows the rest of Europe that they will not part with their cash as easily as is assumed.

This deal has been drawn out considering Gvardiol has already agreed personal terms and RB Leipzig are resigned to losing him (albeit for over €100million), but City certainly intend to get the deal done.

The fee is so high because both clubs know the quality and potential of the player — and the rarity.

There are not many left-footed centre-backs who are big, athletic, and good both defensively and in possession with Champions League and international experience, yet he is — and he is only 21 years old.

It all makes sense for City, especially considering that Guardiola has come to love playing “proper” centre-backs as full-backs, and Gvardiol is ready-made for that. There is also the fact that Aymeric Laporte — another top-level left-sided centre-back who is good on the ball — is expected to leave.



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Guardiola actually credited an ability to defend “properly” as his side’s biggest improvement last season compared to previous teams he has had. The question for City, having won the treble, is how they get better.

As truly impressive as their four-man defence was, and the individuals within it, there was a bit of a delineation of duties: Stones did a bit of everything (traditional defending and more adventurous use of the ball) while the other three generally kept things simple in possession.

Ruben Dias, Nathan Ake and Manuel Akanji are very useful with the ball — think about Dias holding onto the ball to bait the opposition to press or Akanji driving into space and finding Bernardo Silva in the build-up to City’s Champions League-winning goal — but are not especially expansive in terms of switching the ball or breaking lines over long distances. Defensively they are warriors: winning headers and one-v-one duels, and making blocks.

Stones is capable of the nuts-and-bolts defending, but is more accomplished in possession and has flourished moving into midfield, understanding the complexities of the game slightly higher up the pitch. Laporte is arguably even better on the ball and, on his day, is a very good defender, but fell out of favour during the second half of the season.



Meet John Stones - midfielder

What Gvardiol could become — and why Leipzig and City both value him so highly — is his blend of being both a traditional defender and an elite passer; somebody who could slot into that bruising City defence and unpick tight opposition defences himself with balls in behind for Erling Haaland.

This pass through the lines from Leipzig’s game against Cologne in February is a great example of what he can do.

And this one, where he steps out of defence in a cup tie against Hannover in the 2021-22 season, carries the ball to the halfway line and then plays a ball through to the striker.

Given Guardiola wants his players to pick out Haaland’s runs better than they did last season, and that Kevin De Bruyne was the only player who looked truly comfortable and capable of doing it, it is exciting to imagine Gvardiol using his skills to service City’s talisman.

Take this example below, against Hoffenheim last season, when he played Timo Werner through.

From this, it’s easy to see the value of the Croatian. He is equally assured in playing expansively with his weaker right foot, too: below, against Augsburg, he plays the ball out wide.

In this game against Eintracht Frankfurt, the ball is played into Gvardiol’s feet and he immediately pops it over the top of the defence, who are pushing up the pitch, to find his right wing-back running forwards.

The graphic below displays that Gvardiol is comfortable both carrying the ball and passing it forward.

It also demonstrates that the player is very similar to Stones in his use of the ball, which is a handy guide. Laporte’s own value is highlighted, too, as is Ake’s ability to play forward.

Both play for a team that can pen the opposition back for the majority of games and by joining a side that will try to maximise his abilities, Gvardiol’s progressive play could be exploited even further.

Analytics platform smarterscout gives ratings to players based on their statistics and also tries to predict how a player might perform in a new league. In this example, Gvardiol is compared to Ake, who was probably City’s most consistent defender over the course of last season, both at centre-back and left-back.

The rankings suggest that Gvardiol is more adventurous in his passing (and carrying) but that Ake is a bit more precise, possibly safer, with his use of the ball.

There are some contrasting fortunes regarding defensive output, too. The starkest difference is “defending intensity”, which is defined by smarterscout as how often a player is the most relevant defender when his side is out of possession: the higher the number, the more it shows that player to be actively applying pressure and making defensive actions as implied by smarterscout’s algorithms.

Some of these differences can be attributed to their respective teams’ styles and/or the players’ roles, and this is a good example.

Dias is City’s most aggressive defender, willing and able to engage a forward high up the pitch, whether pressing near the opponent’s area, contesting a high ball on halfway or diving into a tackle nearer his own box. Ake is not tasked with engaging quite so much, so his rating is extremely low.



‘Josko Gvardiol is the best centre-back in the world’ - the Croatia defender by those who know him

Gvardiol has a similar approach to Dias — but beware, it is probably the area of his game that needs the most work.

Overall, he has good attributes for a defender in spotting danger and having the speed to stop it. Below, in Leipzig’s 2-0 DFB-Pokal win over Borussia Dortmund, Gvardiol realises he cannot get to his man and that Dortmund’s Julian Ryerson has the advantage over his marker.

He changes direction and sets off to deal with the ball in behind.

He has the speed to catch up and then executes a clean slide tackle to win back possession.

And given how important good old-fashioned defending became to Guardiola and City last season, tackles like the one shown below will be a welcome sight — even if Gvardiol did get a booking.

You can see what is unfolding before it happens, which is probably what earned him the yellow…

He did get there first and win the ball, but it was a very robust tackle and, as you can see, Gvardiol continued into his opponent.

All good stuff, then. But when looking at the Leipzig man’s ability in one-v-one duels in particular, the kind that City’s defenders so relished during the treble run-in, he has some catching up to do.

Just as there are countless examples of his ability to play impressive passes, it is common to see him jump out of the defensive line to engage the opposition forward only to be bypassed or concede a foul.

This is a good example, against former City winger Leroy Sane. Gvardiol spots Bayern Munich’s Sane beat a team-mate to get into space, so he steps up to engage.

But lunges in, misses the ball and catches Sane on the ankle.

City fans may not be especially surprised by this because Gvardiol had a bit of a shocker at the Etihad in March as Guardiola’s side beat Leipzig 7-0.

Admittedly, this was late in the game, but he stepped up to engage De Bruyne, only for the Belgian to flick it past him and run around the other side. Gvardiol brought him down and conceded a free kick.

Strangely, given his aggression in some scenarios, he can also sometimes look passive when facing up a winger. Rather than engaging — like we might imagine City’s defenders doing — he can hang back and not really affect the play.

With a 40 per cent success rate when it comes to tackling dribblers, FBref puts him in the bottom two percentile in the Bundesliga. For comparison’s sake, Guardiola’s go-to centre-backs last season rank much higher.

While this element of defending may have taken on greater significance for City and their fans given how the final months of the season panned out, it is just one area of Gvardiol’s game — and he is still just 21 years old.

City know what they are getting into and know the areas that he will need to improve. At Leipzig, Gvardiol is referred to as “the Erling Haaland of centre-backs” and those who have worked with him over the years believe he could go on to become one of the best of all time in his position.

So, yes, it is very easy to see why City want him and how he can improve their already excellent defence, but there are also enough examples of new arrivals at the Etihad taking a while to show their best — even those the club were happy to spend £100million on. So maybe the bar should not be set quite so high from the very beginning.

If City do get their man, though, they can be very happy with their business.