Laporte a France frill but a Pep pill

Manchester City's Riyad Mahrez (far left) and Aymeric Laporte during training ahead of today's away Champions League clash with Lyon. City need only a draw to seal their place in the last 16 of the competition.
Manchester City's Riyad Mahrez (left) and Aymeric Laporte during training ahead of today's away Champions League clash with Lyon. City need only a draw to seal their place in the last 16 of the competition.PHOTO: REUTERS

Guardiola hails defender's importance to City despite his national coach overlooking him

LONDON • Aymeric Laporte may still be trying to win the confidence of France coach Didier Deschamps but, as Manchester City travel to Lyon in the Champions League today, Pep Guardiola's trust in the defender is indisputable.

He is a certainty to line up against the French Ligue 1 club, a chance for City to avenge the only blip in a near-perfect season so far.

They suffered a shock 2-1 defeat in the reverse Group F tie in September, but a scintillating run of 12 wins and a draw in 13 games has since put them back on top of the Premier League and within a point of sealing a place in the last 16 of Europe's top-tier club competition.

Signed for a then club record of £57 million (S$100.6 million) in January, there was scepticism as to whether City needed to splash out on another centre-back after investing more than £80 million in John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi.

On his arrival from Athletic Bilbao, Laporte took time to settle, with all three of his European outings last term ending in defeat.

However, having had a full pres-season under Guardiola as he missed out on Deschamps' World Cup-winning squad, Laporte has become the stalwart of a City defence that has let in just eight goals in 19 games in all competitions.

In an incredibly deep squad with choices aplenty for Guardiola, the 24-year-old is the only outfield player to have played every single minute of City's Champions League and league games.

"I can move the squad but, when one player plays good, good and good, it gives me confidence so I give him another opportunity. It is not complicated," said Guardiola of his reluctance to rotate Laporte.

Laporte has continued to be overlooked by France despite his solid start to the season with the likes of Crystal Palace's Mamadou Sakho and Adil Rami of Marseille retaining Deschamps' faith instead.

But Guardiola believes that it is only a matter of time before the uncapped Laporte makes his international bow because "it is difficult to find a better left central defender than him in the world" although his non-selection has been to City's gain as he "gets rest".

The three international breaks in the past three months have given Laporte the recovery time he needs while many of his teammates have been putting tired bodies on the line, with the Nations League coming hot on the heels of the World Cup in the close season.

"Laporte didn't have the World Cup, was fresh and arrived in top condition," added Guardiola, before highlighting another key attribute, his left-footedness, that has elevated his importance to the team over the likes of Stones, Otamendi and captain Vincent Kompany.

The City manager said: "He helped us to make our build-up and, when the ball comes from the right, he immediately controls to the left and plays it to Leroy (Sane) quicker than we would play with a right-footer in that position."

Only Chelsea midfielder Jorginho has completed more passes in the league this season and, with Laporte an ever-present, France's loss has been City's gain.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LYON V MAN CITY

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 27, 2018, with the headline 'Laporte a France frill but a Pep pill'. Print Edition | Subscribe