Right, now we’re getting into the good stuff. Centre backs.
We’re as desperate for centre backs right now as we were for any kind of hope or ambition during the Ashley era. With Fernandez seemingly not trusted, Ciaran Clark doing Ciaran Clark things, and Lascelles and Schar looking shadows of their former selves, January could easily see us snap up two of more defenders to marshal in middle of our back four.
Leaving out the much-mooted players (Tarkowski, Ake, Botman), here are my choices.
Jason Denayer – Lyon
The former Sunderland loanee (booo, hiss!!!) has gone from strength to strength since leaving the Stadium of Light. A key player in both Lyon and Belgium’s back lines, Denayer’s education in the Man City academy means he’s classy on the ball, calm and composed and capable of playing the kind of passes Shelvey and Schar enjoy playing too often. But more than that, he’s a reliable defender with a swift turn of pace who’s no shrinking violet in the air. Add into the mix that he’s got 6 months left on his contract and he’d be a sensible and impressive signing. The downside, however, is that he’s currently out until February with an ankle injury, meaning he won’t be able to contribute to the busy January we’ve got ahead of us. That said, I still think he’d be worth the gamble; French finances mean it’s unlikely we’d have to pay through the roof for his services, and it’s possible Denayer feels he has a point to prove in the Prem.
Nat Phillips – Liverpool
Turn the clock back 12 months and I doubt even Jurgen Klopp had heard of Nat Phillips, but the Bolton native performed admirably amidst Liverpool’s defensive crisis, making up for his deficiencies (read: not being Virgil Van Dijk) by throwing himself in front of pretty much everything. Somewhat of a throwback defender, Phillips’s strengths lie in his defending, with an eagerness to head away every ball and win every tackle. That’s not to say he can’t play football – he’s been doing Cruyff turns for Liverpool in the Champions League this season – but that’s not what’s eye-catching about him. Linked with West Ham as well as us, Phillips is 5th choice at Anfield and eager to ply his trade elsewhere. Tempt Liverpool with enough money to allow them to finance Salah’s bumper new deal, and he should be ours.
Malang Sarr – Chelsea
There was a time, around 2019, when Malang Sarr was being linked with the biggest clubs in Europe and wracking up over 100 appearances in the south of France by the time he was 20. Things haven’t gone to plan for Sarr since then. He chose to join Chelsea on a free from Nice and was then enlisted to their army of loaned-out players, with an underwhelming season in Portugal with Porto. When he made his Chelsea debut earlier this season against Brentford, I imagine most everyone had forgotten he was even at Chelsea. But the last couple seasons shouldn’t take away from what is, when fit and confident and trusted, a very top defender. Left-footed, quick, and strong, Sarr embodies the characteristics of the modern French defender. Still only 22, Sarr could easily be available on loan (we all know Chelsea love a good loan deal) and, like everyone else on this list so far, would be eager to prove his doubters wrong.
Clement Lenglet – Barcelona
In case you’ve missed it, Barcelona are strapped for cash these days. If they rack up any more debt they’ll have the bailiffs knocking on the Nou Camp, meaning pretty much everyone except for a select few are available. Chief among them is Clement Lenglet, capped 15 times by France and signed for over £30mil 3 seasons ago. Of all the players I’ve listed, Lenglet is, when on form (which he hasn’t been recently), the most ‘Rolls Royce’ defender of the lot. There’s the sense of a genuine bargain to be had if the right deal can be struck and Lenglet nurtured back to his best, but any deal wouldn’t be without its risk. Bring the best out of him and he’s an 8 out of 10 every week, capable of playing through the press; fail and he’s a defender with an error in him and suspect in the air. He wouldn’t be my first choice signing, but he might be the one I’d be most excited about.
There are, of course, other options out there. Phillips’s teammate Joe Gomez is a name we’ve been linked with, as well as Arsenal duo Holding and Chambers and Fulham’s Adarabioyo, while Brooks of Wolfsburg, Zagadou of Dortmund, and Luiz Felipe of Lazio (amongst many others) have limited time left on their contracts and could be available for cut-price deals (even once the anticipated NUFC premium is added).
But what do you think? Let me know in the comments, and join me in praying we bring in reinforcements sooner rather than later!