Football News

World’s best in Van Dijk’s position? Aymeric Laporte vows to validate Pep Guardiola praise

By CJ Smith

Published: 16:45, 22 January 2020

Aymeric Laporte has insisted he’ll “keep going” to make sure he stays at the top following Pep Guardiola’s labelling of him as the “world’s best” left-sided centre-back.

Laporte returned to first-team action having last played in August on Tuesday night as Manchester City ran out 1-0 winners at Sheffield United — their first win by that scoreline in any competition since the FA Cup semi-final against Brighton in April.

Laporte’s City return by numbers: Five key stats…

  • Minutes played: 78
  • Aerial duels won: 3
  • Times dribbled past: 0
  • Successful passes: 72
  • Pass accuracy: 87%

It was no coincidence that Laporte’s comeback resulted in a much-improved defensive display from City, who were certainly not at their best going forward. After the match, former midfielder Owen Hargreaves hailed the former Athletic Bilbao man as the second-best centre-back in the Premier League behind Virgil van Dijk.

“The return of Aymeric Laporte is absolutely huge. Outside of Virgil van Dijk, he’s the best centre-back in the Premier League,” Hargreaves said. “It’s a big question about whether he can add that stability again.

“Laporte was the one who could have played every game. Having lost him and Vincent Kompany, even the great Pep Guardiola has been impacted. It’s going to be huge. They just need to get him back up to speed.”

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But just as he did back in August, Guardiola took the praise one step further, championing Laporte as the “world’s best” left-sided centre-back — the position which Van Dijk fills for Liverpool.

“He’s the best left-centre-back in the world when he’s fit for me. Imagine the best teams in the world lose their best central defenders, we missed him a lot,” said the Catalan boss.

“He is a specialist with his left foot, he’s strong in the air with personality. We knew he could not play 90 minutes, we said to be ready before the game, but Eric (Garcia) is an incredible guy too.

“I’m glad to put 65-70 minutes in his legs, and that first step is good hopefully and he can help us until the end of the season. He is so important to the way we have to play, his character and mentality too. He has all the attributes.”

Laporte has responded to the praise by labelling Guardiola as the best manager in the world and insisting he’ll be working hard to stay so high in his reckoning.

“You would have to ask him about that, but I think it’s great to hear that from this manager because he’s one of the best in the world, if not the best,” the 25-year-old said.

“I’m very happy to hear that, but I have to work to be this. I have to keep going to stay there [at the top].”

City’s next challenge comes against Fulham in the FA Cup on Sunday before they host rivals Manchester United in the second leg of their Carabao Cup semi-final the following Wednesday.