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Kyle Walker has to FIX UP, or it could end up COSTING Manchester City this season!



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In this week’s City Xtra column, Amos Murphy analyses Kyle Walker’s increased role in the Manchester City side and questions whether the England international should be in the starting 11 following recent struggles for the Treble Winners. 

Forget getting relegated as champions or going eight months without scoring a goal at home, winning the treble in a transition season is probably the most ‘Typical City’ thing to happen. 

That was exactly the case last season, as a rampant Manchester City clicked into gear during the second half of the campaign and danced their way to three titles, including the club’s first-ever UEFA Champions League triumph. 

But a notable exception from the side during last season’s run-in was long-time servant Kyle Walker. 

It was largely down to the system implemented by Pep Guardiola, with the Catalan coach going on record to suggest Walker – who had been an ever-present in previous title-winning sides – wasn’t capable of playing in the inverted role, popularised by England teammate John Stones. 

That was reflected in his game time for City, with Walker adopting a much-reduced role in the side, most notably dropping out of the starting-11 for the Champions League final against Inter Milan.

Reported to have been frustrated by the decision, it had led to speculation that Walker would leave City during the summer transfer window, with Bayern Munich said to be interested in signing the 33-year-old defender. 

Of course, as we know now, that transfer didn’t materialise, with Walker instead sticking around at the Etihad Stadium following a personal plea made by Pep Guardiola over a dinner the two shared at a local Manchester restaurant.

As a result of staying, he was rewarded with a two-year contract extension and named the club’s vice-captain – a sharp u-turn for a player who had looked destined to leave just weeks earlier. 

Despite this, there were very few predicting Walker’s role in City’s current set-up would be this influential. But approaching the halfway point of the 2023/24 campaign, the ex-Tottenham Hotspur man has started all 17 of the champions’ Premier League outings and is the most-used player across all competitions. 

And it’s left many questioning, what is Kyle Walker actually bringing to this City team? The short answer, well, rather inconclusive. 

Since the start of the season, Walker has been pushed high up the pitch, providing width on the right-hand side, while allowing Phil Foden to drift into central positions too. It worked well at first, with City winning their first six Premier League fixtures, but it’s a role that doesn’t flatter Walker at all. 

For all of his brilliance, the 81-cap England international has never been a natural going forward. While he’s by no mean useless in the final third, having a player who creates fewer than two shot-creating actions per 90 minutes as the sole attacking outlet on City’s right probably isn’t conducive to long-term success.

And contrary to popular belief, City haven’t struggled to create this season. Quite the opposite. Guardiola’s side are the division’s highest goalscorers, having netted 40 times in the league this season. Going the opposite way is where City’s problems have been, particularly when dealing with opposition counterattacks.

And even then, it’s a position that doesn’t play into Walker’s strengths. Pace in transition and 1vs1 defending are widely considered his best attributes, yet his current role in the side only serves to expose those areas of his game. 

In the weekend draw with Crystal Palace, the visitors’ first goal came down the right-hand side, where a sluggish Walker failed to cover the space left behind the City backline, with Jeffrey Schlupp able to pick out Jean-Philippe Mateta inside the box for a simple tap-in. 

And while not totally to blame for the second goal, it was yet again problems down the right which cost City. Where a Walker of yesteryear would’ve dealt with the threat, the right-back was standoffish as Mateta burst into the City penalty area and drew a foul from Foden’s clumsy tackle. 

So if he isn’t in the side for his attacking contributions and Walker hasn’t been up to scratch from a defensive point of view either, why is Guardiola so reluctant to drop him for Premier League matches?

One often overlooked aspect of Walker’s game is his leadership. He’s seen it all at both club and international level and given the experience City have lost in recent years, having a player like Walker in the dressing room should be a net positive. 

Nonetheless, given the European champions have dropped eight points from winning positions in the last six league matches, there’s a growing sentiment – at least from the outside looking in – City lack leadership both on and off the pitch this season. 

Even after Saturday’s demoralising collapse from two goals up against Palace, the skipper was nowhere to be seen or heard during the immediate post-match interviews. Instead, the responsibility to speak to City’s in-house media fell on the shoulders of teenager Rico Lewis. 

Can anyone imagine a 19-year-old Phil Foden fronting up to answer questions about City’s poor form while Vincent Kompany had the armband? 

This isn’t to take away from Walker’s achievements in a City shirt either. With a bit of luck – and another major trophy or two – he’ll go down as a club legend, having proved one of the most important signings of the Guardiola era. 

But right now, for both City’s and Walker’s case, a stint out of the side might be the best solution, as it’s difficult to imagine success coming this season, should he continue to be used in his current hit-and-miss role.