Kompany's fragility becoming a concern

Posted by David Mooney

A week of warm weather, a brilliant Manchester City performance at the weekend, and a world-class centre-back limping out of action raising questions about the coming few fixtures ... It’s just like being in August all over again, but without the mad dash to decide whether the club should try to bring in cover for the injured Vincent Kompany.

Of course, that’s not possible at the moment -- and it doesn’t help that the guy they did bring in to cover for him in Martin Demichelis is still coming back from the maintenance department himself. There’s a sense of irony there, though that should be fading with the Argentine due back to fitness at the end of the month.

It seems bizarre to say, but the Blues are a completely different team with Kompany included. Yes, a team with title ambitions on top of hopes of performing on the continent should be able to cope with a couple of players missing -- City's injury list is no worse than others have to cope with, after all -- but the Belgian is like no other central defender. He not only adds a sense of calm to the back four, but he links defence with midfield well (he’s probably one of the best ball-playing defenders in world football) and leads the entire squad. The latter is something that's been missed in the weeks he’s been receiving his sick pay.

While the captain has suffered a series of injuries since having joined the Blues in August 2008, recently he seems to have been picking up niggles more frequently. Aside from playing the end of 2008-09 with (and subsequently missing the start of 2009-10 because of an operation to fix) a broken toe, the Belgian hasn’t missed too many games -- in fact, in the title-winning season he missed 13 of a possible 55, with most down to suspension (following red cards against Wolves and Manchester United) or rotation in cup games -- playing none of City’s five League Cup matches.

His problems really began at the start of the calendar year, leaving early through injury in City's 1-0 FA Cup win at Stoke. Up to that point, City’s record was played four, won four and with four clean sheets. From there, it all went downhill.

In the whole of 2013, Kompany has missed just under half City’s matches, and there is a huge difference in how the Blues perform. With him, the club has won 73.7 percent of games, compared to a mere 53.3 when he's sidelined.

The difference, however, doesn't appear to be in the defending -- the goals-conceded ratio is roughly the same (0.9 per game when he’s missing, 0.8 when he’s not) and the average number of clean sheets is actually better without him in the squad. But that’s by the by -- it’s whether the game is won or lost that matters, and that’s where his absence has been hitting the club.

Those who are his backups might well cover his defensive abilities, but his skill in playing the ball and linking up with the midfield is like no other. Samir Nasri’s goal against Manchester United was a key example; none of City’s other defenders would have made that burst forward into the Reds’ box to create the space for the Frenchman.

Few fans will argue that City were coping well without the captain earlier in the season -- as defensive partners of Joleon Lescott and a mixture of Javi Garcia or Matija Nastasic all seemed, for want of a better word, unstable. They didn’t defend terribly, but there was always the doubt that the wheels were about to fall off at any moment.

The biggest worry for City, though, is that this is no longer a "one-off" for Kompany, 27. He’s had several niggling injuries and all very recent, which could have an effect on the club’s future. For the rest of his career, he might always be one tackle away from another month in the treatment room.

Manuel Pellegrini will need to have a contingency plan ready. At 32, Demichelis is likely to be nothing more than a short-term option, but perhaps this could be a role for Dedryck Boyata. He’s still learning the trade, but in his few first team games he’s played he’s done well -- especially in the Premier League against Chelsea and Manchester United, and in preseason against Bayern Munich.

It would be wise for the Blues to keep a young centre-back like Boyata around the first team, exposing him to game time whenever possible -- if he can learn from his countryman and be moulded to play like him, then all the better. He could effectively be Kompany’s apprentice or protege.

If the captain’s niggles never stop, he’s going to miss a lot of games and that will be one of the biggest challenges facing Pellegrini: Can he find a way to temporarily replace the irreplaceable?

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