Aymeric Laporte. Credit: Getty.
There were times during the summer transfer window when it looked like Aymeric Laporte had played his final game for Manchester City.
The experienced centre-back was so regularly linked with an Etihad exit that it seemed highly unlikely he’d have a role to play at the club this season.
But the 27-year-old remained and now looks close to his best in the blue of City and the Spanish red. He has featured for the latter in each of their recent World Cup qualifiers, the first of which saw him put in an outstanding tackle to deny Alexander Isak a clear shooting opportunity, although Spain did ultimately lose to Sweden 2-1.
In Sunday’s comfortable 4-0 victory over Georgia, Laporte started the game but was replaced at half-time due to a knock, putting his participation in Wednesday’s meeting with Kosovo into doubt.
Will Laporte miss the Leicester game?
It seems unlikely that he’ll be ruled out of the clash through injury, with Spain manager Luis Enrique explaining it was a minor problem that forced his withdrawal.
"Most of the changes were due to some discomfort for the players. I hope there are no serious injuries. That’s the bad news," he said on Sunday. "Laporte has nothing, it’s just a small overload. I don’t think they’ll even test him.”
While the City centre-back may be rested for the upcoming encounter with Kosovo, which Spain are expected to comfortably win, the positive prognosis on the injury means he should be in contention to face Leicester City this weekend.
However, with the Premier League champions facing a tough task against RB Leipzig on Wednesday, Pep Guardiola might decide to rotate his defenders across the four-day period.
Why Laporte’s stock’s on the rise
Laporte’s City career has come full circle. In 2018/19, the former Athletic Bilbao man was Guardiola’s first-choice centre-back and missed just three Premier League games that season, as the Blues successfully retained their crown.
A year later, and Laporte’s absence through a long-term knee injury was seen as the primary reason City failed to muster a serious title defence, leading to Liverpool’s canter towards top spot.
Last season, the emergence of the reliable partnership between Ruben Dias and John Stones stalled Laporte’s progression and he only started 14 league games all term.
Yet 2021/22 couldn’t have begun much better for Laporte, who is perhaps benefitting from playing regular international football for the first time in his career. The defender has started the club’s last two matches and has looked solid and assured alongside Dias.
In fact, Laporte was so impressive in August that he was nominated for City’s Player of the Month award.
Is he in Guardiola’s first-choice XI?
That might be something of a stretch following the excellent relationship established between Dias and Stones, who are yet to play alongside each other this season.
The former is undoubtedly Guardiola’s first choice, and the Portuguese defender almost always plays when fit. Elsewhere, it’s a safe assumption that Laporte is above Nathan Ake in the pecking order, with the Spanish international selected ahead of Ake in each of the last two league games.
Therefore, the real battle this season could be between Stones and Laporte for a starting berth in the heart of defence alongside Dias, with Guardiola rarely opting for a back three.
Stones, who missed the beginning of the campaign with a knock, is the stronger on the ball, but Laporte often displays more defensive nous and contributes to fewer mistakes at the back.
Selecting between two outstanding defenders is an enjoyable headache for Guardiola to have, but one he’ll have to effectively manage in 2021/22.