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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Return to fitness of Benjamin Mendy feels like a new signing for Manchester City

French full-back instrumental in City's 2-0 Premier League win over Arsenal after missing most of title-winning campaign through injury

Manchester City’s Benjamin Mendy, dark blue kit, in action with Arsenal's Matteo Guendouzi. Reuters 

As the old saying goes, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Pep Guardiola's end-of-season analysis of his Manchester City squad that set a new benchmark in terms of points and goals to power to the Premier League title will have left the Catalan relaxed about the need to add to his already exorbitantly expensive assembled cast. How do you improve on perfection?

Only one major signing was acquired over the summer. Given City's embarrassment of riches in wide forward positions already, a cynical view would be that Riyad Mahrez was acquired from Leicester City not so much to strengthen City but to deny their rivals of the Algerian's attacking talents.

But while Mahrez may be the only new face at the Etihad Stadium, the return of one player already on the books feels like a new signing all over again.

Benjamin Mendy was instrumental as City opened their 2018/19 campaign with a 2-0 win at Arsenal, supplying the assists for scorers Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva as well as helping keep a clean sheet. His strong-arm marking and marauding runs from left-back were a constant threat down Arsenal's right-hand side, although one rampage up field that saw him occupy the centre-forward position left the bald-headed Guardiola, metaphorically speaking, pulling his hair out.

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While Guardiola, like most managers, must manage the workload of his players involved in the World Cup over the summer - Belgian midfielder Kevin de Bruyne and Brazil striker Gabriel Jesus started only on the bench - Mendy must be chomping at the bit to make up for lost time. The 24-year-old defender was a peripheral figure as France lifted the World Cup last month in Russia, making just the one appearance in arguably the dullest game of the tournament against Denmark.

And while Russia may have come too soon for the full-back as he overcame a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right leg saw him sit out most of City's title-winning campaign, one that saw them become the first English top-flight team to amass 100 points in a season, his return to the City line-up bolsters a championship-winning team in an area they had looked vulnerable last season. Fabian Delph, a midfielder by trade, squared the circle by plugging the gap at left-back by virtue of being left-footed. The England international performed the role competently enough, but his lack of positional sense was exposed on occasions, most notably in the Uefa Champions League.

It speaks volumes of Mendy's ability, amiability and energy that he became a cult hero at City after only seven games after joining from Monaco for a reported fee of £52 million (Dh244m) last summer before the injury curtailed his campaign.

Another reason for his popularity with fans was his social media posts, particularly on Twitter, in which Mendy is a prolific user. Whether exaggerating the number of assists for teammate De Bruyne or calling out some of his teammates more questionable antics, the affable Frenchman was keen to show he was still part of the team as he continued his long rehabilitation on the sidelines. The sight of Mendy skipping down the touchline to celebrate Raheem Sterling's 95th-minute winner against Southampton last November will live long in the memory. "Benjamin is crazy. He has a six month injury and is running!" Guardiola said at the time.

And while most take a relaxed view to Mendy's impish posts, it seems a bone of contention for his ever-demanding manager.

When asked about Mendy's performance against Arsenal, Guardiola replied: "Mendy is Mendy. Sometimes we want to kill him and sometimes you think wow what a player we have. He gives us energy.

"Mendy has a lot of things to improve and hopefully we can convince him to forget a little bit the social media and improve a few things."

While too much importance may be attached to the amount of time it takes to type and post a tweet, it is harder to deny Mendy's importance to City's ambitions to keep winning trophies. The left-back position was a chink in the armour of City's defence last season. Now manned by Mendy, it promises to be an area of strength.

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