Manchester City’s pursuit of Jonny Evans may seem strange to some but to those close to the clubs manager Pep Guardiola it makes perfect sense. It’s no secret that Pep harbours ambitions to move to a back three. However with a lack of plausible options at centre back, bringing in another one or two has become a priority. The ongoing fitness concerns of Vincent Kompany and sub par form last season of both Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones meant that Pep had to shelf his plans until this season. All three mentioned before will feature in this campaign to some degree or another depending on form and fitness but Guardiola needs is stability and a centre half that can offer this on a regular basis. He has strengthened well down the flanks with Kyle Walker, Danilo and Bemjamin Mendy arriving but now his attention has switched to the centre of his new look defence.
With an owner willing to give him whatever or whomever he wants, why chase Jonny Evans? Simply put he fits the mold perfectly. Evans offers not only experience both in the Premier League and in Europe but can also possess great positional sense and a deft touch for a centre back. Simply said he is a rare breed of old school centre half with a twenty first century brain. He clearly impressed Pep last year enough for him to write off giving £42m defender Eliaquim Mangala another chance in favour of pursuing the 29 year old Northern Irish centre back.
Playing with a back three is hardly new but it’s becoming increasingly popular in a division that lacks originality. Chelsea’s success last year with a makeshift back three (converting Azpilicueta from a right back to centre half to play alongside Cahill and Luiz was a masterstroke by Conte) has planted the seed in many fellow managers heads who likely spent the summer pondering if it could be applied to their club. Some clubs did test it towards the back end of last season including Arsenal and Everton but neither had the players needed to pull it off. Perhaps their summer investments suggest that a back three may be used again this campaign as a back up option to their starting systems. Either way more clubs will follow Chelsea’s and City’s lead in rolling this out with varied levels of success. Pep however is convinced that its the way forward for his side based on the evidence of last season and the opening couple of games of this one. Opening day jitters at the back against new boys Brighton and some suspect defending against Everton last night highlight the need for Guardiola to correct things before the season gets too far along.
At present Evans current club West Bromwich Albion appears in no mood to let their captain walk out of the door. Three bids, the last of which was for £18m have all been rejected outright with West Brom insisting that he is not for sale at any price. The truth however is that West Brom are prepared to let him go for the right price – closer to £30m and with the player wanting to move, its likely that Evans will become a Manchester city player by the end of the window if Guardiola continues his pursuit. Evans wont force West Brom’s hand like other players in the league have done to their clubs but will make it clear to Albion boss Tony Pulis that the club should cash in on him sooner rather than later in order for them to secure a suitable replacement before the window shuts at the end of the month.