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Has Fabian Delph been given a career lifeline at Manchester City under Pep Guardiola?

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Sergio Aguero, Kevin de Bruyne, David Silva, Gabriel Jesus, Fabian Delph – spot the anomaly.

If you asked 100 people to come up with their strongest Manchester City line-up from the current crop of players it can almost be assured that Delph wouldn’t feature in many – if any – of the sides.

The 27-year-old has been facing fierce competition for midfield spots since his surprise arrival from Aston Villa back in 2015 and it hasn’t got any easier this season after Pep Guardiola’s summer spree.

Bernardo Silva was added to Manchester City’s central midfield options in a £43 million move just weeks after the end of last season, meaning that Delph is now battling with the former Monaco man, De Bruyne, Silva, Yaya Toure, Fernandinho and Ilkay Gundogan for just three starting positions.

And, in somewhat predictable style, the former England international was left on the side-lines for City’s first five Premier League matches as the destructive duo of Silva and De Bruyne caused chaos.

He has failed to make a true stamp for first-team football in recent seasons – admittedly partly due to injury problems – and in Guardiola’s debut season he made just seven Premier League appearances.

Yet he has been handed the most unexpected reprieve in recent weeks, being utilised in a left-wing back role for City’s past three matches as a result of an untimely injury to first-choice man Benjamin Mendy.

The £50 million summer signing from Monaco had proven to be a revelation in his first few games since making the move from France, giving City a new dimension in attack with his natural wing-back play.

However, an injury picked up during the 5-0 win over Crystal Palace at the weekend has proven to be a worse knock than first thought and, speaking after the Shakhtar Donetsk victory on Wednesday evening, manager Pep Guardiola expressed his fears the 23-year-old could face a ‘long spell’ out on the side-lines.

Speaking to Sky Sports post-match, the Spaniard confessed:

“He is travelling to Barcelona and we are going to see what he has. Our first impression is that it will it be a little long, longer than we expected which is unfortunate. But I am pretty sure it will be longer than we would like. The way we want to play, we will miss him a lot. He is a unique player, the joy he gives on and off the pitch. I think it is a major setback.”

In Mendy’s five appearances the Blues have only conceded once – scoring 22 goals at the other end – on their way to winning all five games, and it is fair to say that he’ll prove to be a big miss at the Etihad.

Guardiola has shown the flexibility of his squad in the past two matches by utilising Delph in a defensive position, and he went on to say in his interview that ‘we have alternatives’ in the squad.

Whilst the 27-year-old has made a name for himself as a box-to-box midfielder, he is no stranger to playing on the left side of defence, and he actually played against his current side there back in 2011.

On that occasion, he was one of few players to come out of Aston Villa’s FA Cup fifth-round exit able to hold his head high, and despite the eventual 3-0 score-line he adapted well to the make-shift role.

Reflecting on his previous experiment in defence to the Manchester Evening News, and talking about his potential return to that role for Manchester City this season, Delph recently said:

 “I’ve played left back before, not many times, under Gerard Houllier when I was a young kid of 20 or 21. If I can help the team I am happy. I am a team player – if we win I go home happy.

“All the players know the system of how the manager wants us to play. I have played left-back in training, and at Aston Villa, and as a young guy coming through at Leeds. I’m not a left-back but I feel can do a job there, but there are others in the team who can do a job at left-back as well.

“Leroy can play there as well, but if I’m selected you will get nothing less than 100 per cent and if I’m not selected I’ll be on the bench screaming and shouting, pushing the lads on to do well.”

It is certainly not a strange move by Guardiola to try him there, as for the majority of the last Premier League campaign defensive midfielder Fernandinho was utilised in a make-shift right-back position.

But, whilst it will no doubt be intended as a short-term fix whilst Mendy rehabilitates from his latest injury set-back, Manchester City’s top-six rivals have shown in recent years that these sorts of experimental measures can quickly develop into something much more beneficial in the long-term.

Antonio Conte has converted former midfielder Victor Moses into a fully-fledged wing-back, Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia has been a revelation since his transformation into a right-back whilst James Milner – so often a dependable midfielder – played last season as a left-back for Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool.

It seems that the modern game of football is creating more and more of these experiments, with a number of them working better than expected, and this new role could be the making of Delph now.

He has made an early claim for a regular starting berth with his displays against Palace and Shakhtar Donetsk over the past week, with the England international man-of-the-match against the Ukrainian champions on Tuesday night after a display full of attacking nous and good old-fashioned discipline.

He managed to complete 90% of his 62 passes in an incredibly end-to-end encounter, showing he can have an impact going forward by being successful with four take-ons and making three chances.

His natural defensive instincts as a central midfielder stand him in good stead when facing the opposition, and against Shakhtar he made two key tackles, four interceptions and three clearances.

Tougher tests will undoubtedly come, starting with the visit to Stamford Bridge on Saturday to face Premier League champions Chelsea, but his promising start will give him confidence moving forward.

What is more remarkable about Delph’s turnaround in fortunes though is that there was a point over the summer where he looked destined to leave, with a number of Premier League rivals pursuing him.

The Telegraph reported in the midst of the transfer window that Stoke City were almost nailed on contenders for the signing of Delph, set to beat off the competition from West Brom and Newcastle.

The Potters had already secured the services of Darren Fletcher from West Brom and they looked towards Delph to add more experience and steel to their midfield, with a guarantee of more regular first-team action than he was getting at the Etihad, but the 27-year-old had a late change of heart.

The Stoke Sentinel reported on deadline day that he had instead decided to fight for a role in the Manchester City side and – to his credit – that is something that Delph has already managed to do.

Speaking to the Manchester Evening News over the past week about the interest in him from rival clubs over the summer, Delph said:

“There was talk of me going, but I’m here and happy, and as long as I can contribute I will stay happy. No player would ever want to leave a club like this. If you do leave the club it’s because your services are no longer required.

“That wasn’t the case for me – I wasn’t being pushed out of the door, and I’m so happy to be here and contributing.”

It is this final statement that has arguably been the foundation of Delph’s recent revival, with the fact that he wasn’t ‘pushed out of the door’ by Guardiola or the Manchester City hierarchy during the summer inherently suggesting that the Spaniard sees him as an important part of his ongoing plans at the club.

If there was ever a second that Delph was deemed surplus to requirements in Manchester he would have been straight through the exit door in the same vein as Samir Nasri, Wilfried Bony and the rest.

Guardiola has clearly seen potential in the former Aston Villa man that is worth clinging on to, particularly as his team looks to challenge on all fronts, and Delph needs to take this second chance.

Will is a Multimedia Journalism graduate from the University of Salford, specialising in the art of sports. Long-time suffering Northampton Town fan who once saw us win a league title. Find him on Twitter - @96PearsonW.

Arsenal

Who is best-placed to challenge Manchester City next season?

Pep Guardiola’s side will be looking to defend their title during the 2018/19 campaign.

Martyn Cooke

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Photo: Getty Images

Manchester City were crowned as Premier League champions on Sunday afternoon after Manchester United suffered a surprise defeat at the hands of struggling West Bromwich Albion.

Pep Guardiola’s team have ripped apart the top-flight of English football this season with a devastatingly effective style of play that has left their rivals struggling to hold on to their coattails.

City are currently 16 points clear of second place with five games still to play and now have the opportunity to break the 100-point barrier as the season comes to a conclusion.

Here, The Boot Room evaluate which top-six team is best placed to challenge Manchester City’s dominance next year.

(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Manchester United

There are currently mixed feelings around Old Trafford regarding how Manchester United have performed this season and the long-term direction of the club under the stewardship of Jose Mourinho.

A failure to maintain the astonishing pace set by Manchester City has left supporters having to be content with a top-four finish and FA Cup semi-final whilst there has been a deluge of criticism aimed at the pragmatic style of play utilised.

Mourinho remains one of the best managers in world football and he is still in the process of moulding a team in his own image.

The Portuguese maestro has already spent big in the transfer market, as demonstrated by the arrivals of Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku over the past two years, and the club are expected to make further significant investments in the summer.

He needs to find the missing piece to the Manchester United jigsaw and that will mean addressing the lop-sided defence, demonstrated by Ashley Young’s emergence as first-choice left-back.

Mourinho has overcome Guardiola in the past but there will be no room for excuses next season if, after two years of building a team, Manchester United are unable to challenge their cross-city rivals.

(Photo by Glyn Kirk/Getty Images)

Tottenham Hotspur

Tottenham Hotspur have continuously improved year-on-year under the stewardship of Mauricio Pochettino but you still feel that the club is some way behind their rivals in terms of winning the Premier League.

Spurs have a young, dynamic squad of players that play fast, attacking football and, in Harry Kane, they possess one of the best strikers in the world right now. However, something is still missing and it is hard to put your finger on exactly what it is.

Perhaps it is simply a mental issue? Tottenham have not won a league title since 1960 and last secured silverware of any kind almost a decade ago – do the current group of players have the right mentality or experience to enable them to maintain performances over the course of a full campaign? Their upcoming FA Cup semi-final may provide an insight later this month.

Whilst you feel that Tottenham will always be in and around the top spots next season, it is difficult to see them overcoming Manchester City without significant investment or Pochettino uncovering the magic formula.

(Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

Chelsea

Chelsea have offered a feeble and limp defence of their title this year and still face a scramble to secure a place in the top-four.

Things have clearly not been right behind the scenes at Stamford Bridge and Antonio Conte is expected to depart the club in the summer after spending much of the season snipping at the Chelsea hierarchy.

Regardless of who the Italian’s successor is, it is widely expected that the club will bounce back.

Under the ownership of Roman Abramovich, the Blues have continuously maintained their standing as one of the leading side’s in the country and you would imagine that the Russian oligarch will be keen to reclaim their crown next season.

Chelsea will spend big in the summer to ensure that they build a squad capable of challenging Manchester City and a striker will be top of the new manager’s wish list. Alvaro Morata made a positive start to the campaign but has struggled for form and fitness in the second half of the season.

If the Blues can make the right appointment in the dugout and strengthen significantly on the pitch then history suggests they will be in and around the top spots.

(Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Liverpool

Since arriving at Anfield in October 2015 Jurgen Klopp thrown himself into the task of restoring Liverpool’s status as one of the leading club’s in Europe.

Each transfer window has seen the squad steadily improve and you now feel that the German has built a team that is capable of challenging for both domestic and European silverware.

Liverpool have a reputation for producing attacking, dynamic and exciting football and the attacking trio of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino possess an abundance of pace, power and creativity.

Under the stewardship of Klopp, the team have always looked capable of scoring goals but have regularly been criticised for being undermined by defensive fragile and frail.

However, the signing of Virgil Van Dijk in January, the emergence of John Robertson and the new-found confidence of Loris Karius appears to have put some of those concerns to bed – Liverpool have kept eight clean sheets in their last 12 matches in all competitions.

Klopp will continue to develop the squad during the summer and, as proven by their historic victory over Manchester City, the Reds are certainly heading in the right direction.

(Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Arsenal

There has continued to be a degree of frustration and dissatisfaction around the Emirates Stadium this season as Arsenal have continued to fall behind their rivals on the pitch.

The Gunners are currently 33 points behind Manchester City in the Premier League are relying on winning the Europa League in order to qualify for the Champions League next year.

The club under-performed last season, failing to qualify for Europe’s premier competition, and the decline has continued over the following twelve months with supporters becoming increasingly frustrated with Arsene Wenger’s failure to consistently secure positive results.

The same old problems persist – there is a lack of leaders, a lack of quality in central defence and no commanding midfield player.

Wenger has brought together an exciting forward line that possesses pace, power and experience with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan arriving in January to complement the likes of Mesut Ozil, Alexandre Lacazette and a fit-again Danny Welbeck.

However, Arsenal continue to be undermined by prevalent weaknesses throughout the remainder of the team and there are currently a world away from competing with Manchester City.

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English Premier League

Kyle Walker’s move to Manchester City justified and Tottenham must learn lessons

The England international has won the silverware he craved at Manchester City.

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Manchester City finally wrapped up the Premier League title yesterday evening, without kicking a ball. Manchester United’s shock loss to West Brom at Old Trafford gave City an unassailable lead at the top of the Premier League table.

For one City player, it was the justification of a big decision made last summer.

Kyle Walker made it clear to former employers Tottenham Hotspur that he wanted to leave the club last summer. The England international was subsequently dropped for Kieran Trippier and sold. City paid Tottenham a total transfer package reported to be in the region of £54 million by The Times.

(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

The motivation behind Walker’s exit was often questioned by Tottenham fans. He made it clear that his main reason behind leaving City was to win silverware, something that was not happening at Tottenham. However, in terms of form, Spurs had been the better team than City over the previous two seasons.

It saw some fans suggest Walker left the club for the money. Forbes suggested Walker doubled his Tottenham wages with the move to Manchester.

Now, Walker can certainly feel his move was justified. After years of near misses at Tottenham, playing under Pep Guardiola has helped him pick up both the Premier League and League Cup winners’ medals this season.

Undoubtedly, the money will have had something to do with Walker’s move. But he also clearly felt his chances of winning trophies were improved at the Etihad.

(<> at Wembley Stadium on March 27, 2018 in London, England.

It is a sickener for Tottenham fans, but one they will have to take on the chin. Instances like this certainly highlight how tough Tottenham will have it trying to pick up the Premier League trophy whilst always fighting a losing battle in the wages department.

The FA Cup is still on the cards for this season. Manchester United are Tottenham’s opponents in the semi-final this weekend and Spurs will hope to find some silverware at Wembley this season. That can hopefully be the catalyst toward Tottenham pushing for the Premier League title again next season, and keeping players like Walker happy in North London.

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English Premier League

Title-winning result proves Manchester City shouldn’t sign Jonny Evans

The West Brom captain has had a tough season at The Hawthorns.

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Manchester City are the Premier League champions and have an unlikely source to thank for pushing them over the finish line. Following their 3-1 triumph over Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley the Cityzens knew that a win for West Brom at Manchester United would hand them the Premier League title. Nobody, however, expected it to happen.

But Jay Rodriguez’s second-half header secured an unlikely win for the Premier League’s bottom club at Old Trafford and it handed City their well-deserved title.

But one player’s absence from the fixture might be of more interest to Manchester City.

(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

West Brom managed to keep United at bay, without the services of captain Jonny Evans. The former United man missed the game with a minor knee injury. Ahmed Hegazi and Craig Dawson, however, stepped up and put in an excellent performance to keep United at bay.

For many West Brom fans, the club has actually performed better without Evans in recent weeks.

He is, of course, a player who could have been on his way to Manchester City last summer. Pep Guardiola wanted to strengthen is back-line and saw Evans, an experienced Premier League pro, as the perfect option. The Sun reported that City were keen on the player, valued at around £23.5 million by the Baggies.

This summer Evans could be available at a much cheaper price. If West Brom are relegated, the Northern Irishman is available for a fee of just £3 million – as reported by Sky Sports.

(during the Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion and Burnley at The Hawthorns on March 31, 2018 in West Bromwich, England.

This week, The Sun claimed that Evans will be snubbing the interest of Arsenal and holding out for Manchester City. However, if there is one thing City should learn from West Brom helping them win the title at the weekend, it is that Evans might not be the man for them.

His form has been questionable this season and on top of that, he was one of four West Brom players who allegedly stole a taxi during a disastrous winter break to Barcelona.

Manchester City signed Aymeric Laporte in January and still have the likes of Vincent Kompany, Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones filling centre-back positions. With that in mind, and given his poor form, it is hard to see why City would bring in Evans at all this summer – even at the bargain price of just £3 million.

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