Former Bayern Munich defender Phillip Lahm once said, if given the chance, Pep Guardiola would play 11 midfielders in the same starting XI.
And while the 2014 World Cup winner may have been exaggerating Guardiola’s obsession with tidy midfield technicians, the Catalan boss has not been a million miles away from achieving the feat.
City’s current second choice left-back Oleksandr Zinchenko dons the No.11 shirt, because he was signed as an attacking midfielder.
Fernandinho has often been shafted into central defence, Phil Foden – a natural central midfielder – is regularly on the left-wing, and Ilkay Gundogan and Kevin De Bruyne both took turns spearheading City’s title triumph as a false nine.
In fact, eight of Manchester City ’s starting line-up could be made up of players who either started or grew up as central midfielders.
This is not even including goalkeeper Ederson, whose immense passing range and nerve-jangling composure on the ball has earned comparisons with… you guessed it: a central midfielder.
However, Guardiola’s obsession with flooding the team with technicians has somewhat calmed this season.
Ferran Torres has spearheaded the attack on multiple occasions this season, and City desperately tried to sign England captain Harry Kane from Tottenham Hotspur.
Unfortunately for Guardiola, City were not able to retrieve Kane from Daniel Levy’s stone-like negotiations, and they have now lost Torres to injury.
Manchester Evening News reporter Simon Bajkowski reported the 21-year-old forward picked up a knock while on international duty for Spain.
It is estimated he could be absent for as long as six weeks.
Torres’ injury means Guardiola is now without a No.9 striker, except from the actual City No.9 Gabriel Jesus, who as of this season, is no longer considered to be a No.9 striker; therefore, in Guardiola’s eyes at least, City are now completely devoid of No.9s.
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However, this could mean an excellent opportunity for Jack Grealish to assert himself as the man to lead City to glory has opened.
The former Aston Villa captain has performed well for City since his arrival, but the unfortunate burden of becoming the first player to be signed by the Premier League for £100m means his levels and numbers come under greater scrutiny.
Guardiola deployed Grealish as a false nine in City’s exhilarating 2-2 away draw to Liverpool at Anfield.
Unfortunately, the 26-year-old looked to be overwhelmed by the pace of the match as he was soon hauled off after 66 minutes.
Trial and error could, however, be the best way to explain Guardiola’s management of Grealish so far.
He has featured as one of the three midfielders, on both flanks, and as the focal point of City’s attack.
Grealish will surely play a huge role in this City side, but the question remains: where can the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich manager extract his talent most effectively?
False nine could be the answer, particularly with Torres injured and Jesus no longer fancied as the main striker.
He has the swagger, confidence, bravery, and technique to lead the line for a team like City.
Questions were asked when De Bruyne was deployed into the hole by Guardiola last season, and City strolled to the Premier League title and came so close to winning the Champions League.
City’s public chasing of Kane connotes their desperation and disappointment of not signing the 28-year-old, but Grealish may have the chance to right that wrong.
Just like Kane, he will be able to drop in and find those spaces between the lines, except he can turn around and put defenders on their heels with his direct running and dribbling ability.
The ice-cold finishing of the England captain is something Grealish perhaps lacks in his arsenal, as his relatively humble statistics demonstrate.
But Guardiola has proven before a midfielder can sometimes do everything a striker can do and more.
And Grealish could be his next personal project.