There was a noticeable absentee as Manchester City’s players bounced down the steps of their parade bus around the back of the town hall on May 20.
Benjamin Mendy, once the most expensive full back in history, was in Barcelona having keyhole surgery on his left knee. The left back had started just one Premier League game since November and merely watched on as City thrillingly held off Liverpool’s challenge.
Mendy’s battles have summed up Pep Guardiola’s constant quandary in the full-back positions since he arrived at City, an area his gameplan relies upon so heavily.
Benjamin Mendy's time in and out of the Man City team summed up Pep Guardiola's problems
In his three and a bit seasons he has used 16 players at full back — Kolarov, Clichy, Sagna, Zabaleta, Navas, Cancelo, Mendy, Laporte, Walker, Angelino, Danilo, Zinchenko, Delph, Fernandinho, Stones and Maffeo.
While title rivals Liverpool have the positions nailed, with Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson, City have used some surprising selections in Guardiola’s time. Winger Jesus Navas filled in on the right for a spell.
In his three years at City Guardiola has spent £200m on full backs but it's not always worked
Then Guardiola shocked his coaching staff by turning Fabian Delph into a left back and he became an integral part of their record-breaking ‘Centurions’ campaign of 2017-18.
Delph’s form dipped significantly last year and his time was up after a calamitous display in defeat at Leicester, when he was partially at fault for both goals and then sent off.
His replacement, Oleksandr Zinchenko, was told in the summer of 2018 that he was free to leave following the offer of a significantly improved salary from Wolves. He refused and within months became the club’s premier left back, earning a new contract that increased his wages at least five-fold. His absence with a knee injury is hurting City now.
Guardiola often asks his full backs to move into central midfield when possession is on the other flank. He needs them to be intelligent and adaptable. He needs their width to stretch packed defences.
At one stage, Guardiola surprised his staff by turning Fabian Delph into a makeshift wing back