Manchester City’s hunt for the elusive defensive midfielder – Part 2

Set on scouring the global football market for a suitable heir to Fernandinho, Pep Guardiola and co. have a fight on their hands if they are to secure the best long-term option for the Blues. City Xtra takes a look at the most likely candidates to complete the Catalan’s tactical jigsaw.

After our search for Manchester City’s ideal midfielder got underway yesterday with an inspection of a former German wunderkind, today’s piece has a focus slightly closer to home, albeit still across the waves in the east of France. 

There, in the city of Lyon, a Frenchman is emerging from his footballing cocoon, catching the eye of a number of high profile clubs with his impressive contributions and sheer presence on the ball. Not in the least of these interested clubs will be City, who are perhaps most aware of this player’s incredible talents in having fallen victim to them in a torrid Champions League opener at the Etihad Stadium.

Blues who were there that night will certainly know the name. Without further ado, today’s candidate is…

Tanguy Ndombele – Olympique Lyonnais, 22


Depending on your criteria, Lyon midfielder Tanguy Ndombele could possibly be the most intriguing name in this whole search. As mentioned, this is not merely because City have already caught a frightening glimpse of his abilities courtesy of two hard-fought games in the UEFA Champions League, but also because the Frenchman is a different style of player than those more fitting of the Jorginho mould which Guardiola had been so heavily considering.

Having made an initial loan move to Lyon permanent last summer, the 22 year old already has all the hallmarks of an absolute blockbuster box-to-box midfielder, capable of creating chances just as easily as strong-arming players off the ball. In fact, it is the Frenchman’s force of will that makes him so eye-catching, and likewise what differentiates him from more fluid footballers at the base of midfield. Rather than sit back and keep the ball moving, Ndombele prefers to carry the ball forward himself, forcing the game to move with him as he dribbles or passes through the lines. 

There is obviously some cause for hesitation then if Manchester City believe they are looking at the next Sergio Busquets. Far from it — Ndombele seems to actually have far more in common with City legend Yaya Touré. Similar to the Ivorian, Ndombele is famed for his combined power and poise, which will entice Guardiola as he searches for a force capable of matching Fernandinho’s contributions. Vitally though, Ndombele is known to be versatile, having played both central, defensive, right midfield and even right back in his career, and is renowned for his reading of the game. 

“He’s thoughtful and intelligent,” said Lyon manager Bruno Genesio last year. “With the ball, to make the best use of it, he takes in information before anyone else to make the right choice.

“He’s interesting because he’s one of those players capable of solving tactical problems with his game intelligence.”

Interestingly, this is the same Genésio who Ndombele has fallen out with briefly in recent months, though no there have been no signs of major repercussions. The manager, who originally took charge of Lyon on a temporary basis, is seen as a frequent subject of criticism in France for his team’s inconsistencies, seeing him earn the ironic nickname of ‘Pep Genésio’. For the time being though, the prevailing theory seems to be that his and Ndombele’s dispute was an isolated incident, but who is to say that any possible tension is not being stoked by the very obvious attention Ndombele is gathering from City, Tottenham, Manchester United, and Paris Saint Germain?

Regardless of context, the timing may well prove opportune for others. Ndombele, who has been quoted as saying he prefers to “speak on the pitch” seems to be proving that more and more day by day, recently conquering a slight aversion to goalscoring to twice save his otherwise indifferent side from European misery in their two fixtures against Julian Nagelsmann’s Hoffenheim, his goals ensuring successive 3-3 and 2-2 draws with the German outfit. The more his maturity is seen to rise, the closer his market value will follow suit.

This will suit Lyon. The French club has a well-known history of selling on hot prospects, with notable former players Michael Essien and Karim Benzema providing good proof, and it looks like Ndombele could very well be the next to follow suit. With club president Jean Michel Aulas recently stating he “can not guarantee that we can keep Ndombele or [Houssem] Aouar next summer”, there may be no better time to consider a move for the Frenchman; City have been previously reported to have been interested in making a £40m bid during the January window (though this has been revised).

Should further approaches be made, the cycle of City moving for European opponents would be set to continue, just as Jorginho caught the eye during the Champions League group stages last year. However, with results going Lyon’s way to ensure qualification for the last 16, Ndombele will yet have a chance to prove himself over two legs against Barcelona. Should the Frenchman emerge with merit, it may tip the scales in Ndombele’s favour for City, making it an even greater priority to begin negations sooner rather than later, particularly if other clubs remain interested amidst their own midfield crises. 

Indeed, it remains to be seen if Barcelona’s business with messrs Adrien Rabiot and Frenkie De Jong (more on those two in the coming days) will resolve itself soon. Should it not, then come February, it could be that Ndombele is auditioning for Catalonia too.

Likewise, Tottenham are already known to be interested, and their lack of summer spending may well see the North London club put a heavier emphasis on securing the Frenchman’s services. Circumstantially, their interest might shed further light on the type of player Ndombele is, whereby both club and fans are interested in landing a replacement for the 31-year old Mousa Dembele, who is all-but-confirmed to be leaving the Premier League. Intriguingly, their interest can be seen to be more than justified, given by how statistically similar their playing styles appear.

(Statsbomb, 2018)
(Statsbomb, 2018)

This illustrates that for City, perhaps the only concern would be one of tactical flexibility. Given his similarities to Fernandinho and Dembele, the Frenchman would evidently function as similar option to the club’s Brazilian bruiser rather than as a tactical alternative. Should Guardiola desire a more placid passer in the short-term, then it could mean the current Lyon man misses out.

City Xtra score: 8/10

Author’s note: The other player Lyon president Aulas mentions, Houssem Aouar, has also brought himself to City’s attention. Whilst he has not attracted the formal attention or bids that Ndombele has, Aouar often plays deep next to Ndombele, attracting the specific praise of Guardiola in the aftermath of the 2-2 draw in Lyon last year. Though not a concrete transfer option for now, it may benefit City for him to remain in Ndombele’s shadow should other transfer plans fall through.

Disagree with our critique? Reckon you’d give a different rating? Be sure to leave a comment down below!

Our next piece will see us look closer to home still, charting the incredible rise of a player who’s journey to the English Championship gave him all he needed to shine and bring his team into the Premier League in record style…

Previously in this series:
Manchester City’s hunt for the elusive defensive midfielder – Part 1

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