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Josko Gvardiol: What is he good for? Well actually, quite a lot!



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In this week’s edition of his City Xtra column, Amos Murphy crunches the numbers behind Josko Gvardiol’s performances in the Manchester City team this season. 

The Cheltenham Festival kicks off next month and given Manchester City’s propensity to win trophies in the last year or so, you wouldn’t bet against Pep Guardiola and Co. lifting the Gold Cup as well. 

City are pretty much the reigning champions of everything there is to be champions of. England, Europe, and even the world – Manchester City stand alone as the number one across all three categories. 

But much like in the song sung by Angelica Schuyler during the hit musical Hamilton, some people will never be Satisfied.

The latest grumbling among Manchester City supporters appears to focus on the performances of summer signing Josko Gvardiol, with assessments ranging from ‘overrated flop’ to ‘gigantic waste of money’.

It’s understandable that the Croatian international has split opinions ever since arriving from RB Leipzig last summer, as after all, his showings in sky blue have been far from perfect.

Often deployed as the widest defender out on the left-hand side of City’s backline, it’s a position that is by no means natural to Gvardiol, who has traditionally operated as an orthodox centre-back. 

The recently-turned 22-year-old has been shown up in that position a couple of times before as well, most recently for Burnley’s consolation goal in the recent 3-1 meeting at the Etihad Stadium, when David Datro Fofana skipped past the defender with ease, before crossing into the box for Clarets man Ameen Al-Dakhil to tap home.

But has the criticism thrown Josko Gvardiol’s way really been warranted this season? The numbers suggest no.

The biggest takeaway comes from the amount of football Gvardiol has played. It’s been made pretty clear by Guardiola in the past that he doesn’t hand out token minutes to players if they aren’t good enough and given Gvardiol has racked up 26 appearances across all competitions already, it’s clear he’s earned the trust of the Catalan coach.  

In fact, of Manchester City’s 23 Premier League outings this term, Josko Gvardiol has sat just four of them out, suggesting Pep Guardiola likes what he’s seeing from the £77 million man.

So what has Guardiola seen in Gvardiol that continues to catch his eye?

Without psychoanalysing the Blues boss for his true thoughts and feelings, one can only guess why Guardiola is sticking with Gvardiol, but as pointed out recently by X user @4lex_mcfc, the former RB Leipzig man boasts unique physical traits that make him unique to both City’s attacking and defensive play. 

It’s rare to see a 6ft 1in framed footballer glide across the pitch as elegantly as he does, with Gvardiol an accomplished operator when the ball is at his feet. 

That’s been evident all campaign, as not only does Gvardiol sit fourth in the City squad for the most touches this season, but he’s also the highest-ranking defender for shots taken too. 

Granted, Gvardiol is yet to score, but given his shot-on-target percentage (38.9%) is higher than Jack Grealish, Jeremy Doku and even Kevin De Bruyne, it’s clear the centre-back-turned-left-back has threatened when given a sight of goal. 

Yet, despite his impressive on-the-ball statistics, the real beauty with Gvardiol’s performances this season has actually been his defensive work. 

Even though many have questioned his positioning and reading of the game, Gvardiol leads the way out of the City squad for interceptions made, illustrating the Zagreb-born starlet’s immense defensive ability. 

It’s a similar story with other defensive metrics too, as Gvardiol sits below Kyle Walker, Manuel Akanji and the widely-recognised best-holding midfielder in the world, Rodri, for the number of times he’s been dribbled past this season

Add it all together and what do you get? Well, a pretty incredible defender, who can offer plenty on the ball, while holding his own off it, and one given the time and space to develop under Guardiola, could prove an invaluable addition to the City squad across the next decade or so. 

Just don’t expect him to be coming first in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham though…