Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 14 December 2019

Aymeric Laporte interview: Of course Manchester City can win the league... Liverpool had a similar lead last year

French defender also discusses his return from injury, settling into English life, and filling the void left by Vincent Kompany

Since the Abu Dhabi takeover in 2008, Manchester City have attracted some of the most talented footballers to grace the Premier League. Indeed, this current, record-breaking squad is one of the finest assembled in English football history.

Yet, for all their wealth of on-field resources, central defence has – comparatively – been somewhat of a problem area as City searched for a capable partner, and eventual successor, to the incomparable Vincent Kompany.

Ten centre-backs have been recruited between Kompany’s arrival in 2008 and his retirement at the end of last season, with varying degrees of success. Many came and went – Joleon Lescott, Kolo Toure, Jerome Boateng, Stefan Savic, Matija Nastasic, Martin Demichelis, and Eliaquim Mangala – whether due to age, struggling to settle, or simply failing to make the grade.

Two others – Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones – remain part of City’s setup and have contributed to the club’s success under manager Pep Guardiola. But still, the feeling lingered that in the absence of Kompany – which became a regular occurrence as injuries blighted the final years of his career – City were significantly weaker defensively.

As the Belgian’s retirement loomed, City were in danger of failing to find a long-term replacement for their commanding captain at the heart of the defence. That all changed in January 2018 when City signed Aymeric Laporte from Athletic Bilbao for €65 million (Dh263m), a club record fee for a defender.

It has proved money well spent as Laporte slotted seamlessly into the City side, helping the club win back-to-back Premier League titles as well as an unprecedented domestic treble of league, FA Cup, and League Cup last season.

Such has been Laporte’s stunning start at City, the 25-year-old Frenchman holds the record for longest unbeaten run for a new player, the 24-game stretch only coming to an end last December. It meant Laporte went 11 months – granted with the summer break in the middle – without tasting defeat with City.

“I feel my importance to this team. Pep has given me all his confidence and I’m very happy for that,” Laporte told The National during a visit to a Manchester City Soccer Schools day in Abu Dhabi. “I believe in the team, I hope we can do many, many good things and this year win many trophies, just like last year.”

It is no coincidence that a long-term knee injury sustained in August has had a destabilizing effect to City’s form. Three wins and a draw in the first four games of the season with Laporte in the team, City have lost three and drawn one of the 10 games in his absence to slip 11 points behind leaders Liverpool.

Aymeric Laporte, right, has proved to be the successor for Vincent Kompany, centre, at Manchester City. EPA
Aymeric Laporte, right, has proved to be the successor for Vincent Kompany, centre, at Manchester City. EPA

Despite Liverpool’s relentlessness, Laporte has not lost hope City can win a third successive league title, referring to last season as a case in point when the Manchester club overturned a 10-point deficit to retain the trophy on the last day.

“Yes, of course [City can win the title],” Laporte said. “Last year was quite similar when [Liverpool] had a similar lead but we still have time this year to recover, to catch them and to again try to win the Premier League, so we hope we can do that.

“We need to make sure we work a lot and don’t lose any more games.”

Having Laporte back in the team will no doubt boost City’s chances of chasing down Liverpool, but the Etihad Stadium faithful will have to wait a bit longer before he is back marshalling the defence.

“[My recovery] is going very well,” he said. “Still I need time but I hope as soon as possible I can come back and play with my teammates. I can’t say when exactly but more or less one month-and-a-half to two months.”

Aymeric Laporte is stretchered off the pitch during the match between Manchester City and Brighton & Hove Albion on August 31. Getty Images
Aymeric Laporte is stretchered off the pitch during the match between Manchester City and Brighton & Hove Albion on August 31. Getty Images

There is never a good time to sustain a serious injury, but for Laporte the timing is particularly unfortunate. The Frenchman has settled well in his new surroundings and has thrived under the pressure that is inevitably attached to such a large transfer fee. However, he is still in the early stages of his City career and such a setback will be frustrating as he looks to grow his authority within the team.

Having spent his entire career at Athletic Bilbao in Spain, there has been one notable aspect of English life that has required some adjustment, but overall Laporte is happy at City and is looking ahead to a bright future.

“I enjoy it at City because I have my friends and family come to visit me sometimes,” he said. “The only one thing is the weather is not too good but it’s okay, I am happy in the city, in the community and in the team.

“I am here to play football and I am happy to be doing that.” City will hope, for the sake of their ambitions this season, Laporte will be back doing exactly that sooner rather than later.

Updated: December 2, 2019 01:09 PM

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